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Re: Mathworks-hosted GPL'd software

From: Jaroslav Hajek
Subject: Re: Mathworks-hosted GPL'd software
Date: Tue, 16 Feb 2010 11:37:54 +0100

On Tue, Feb 16, 2010 at 9:20 AM, Judd Storrs <address@hidden> wrote:
> Here are some ideas for modifications to the email/letter.

It's a little long for my personal taste. Can something be dropped?

> Dear Sir/Madam,
> We are writing regarding the software <package name> hosted at the
> MATLAB File Exchange service, provided by the MathWorks. We think your
> code could be useful not only to users of MATLAB, but also to users of
> GNU Octave or other similar software. Although your code is currently
> available under the BSD license from the File Exchange service, recent
> changes to the File Exchange Terms of Service may effectively restrict
> access to your contribution to paying Matlab customers only.

"paying Matlab customers" -> "MATLAB users" or "MathWorks customers"

> For this
> reason we are establishing a secondary repository for user-contributed
> software and invite you to submit your files there also.

"secondary" -> "alternative" ?

> MatlabCentral has been is an important community resource for users of
> MATLAB and similar numerical systems. However, whether intended or
> not, recent changes by Mathworks undermine this community and the
> charity of MATLAB's users to Mathworks corporate benefit. We sincerely
> hope it is not the intention of the Mathworks to isolate MATLAB users
> from users of other numerical environments--however, recent actions
> undermine important freedoms of the user community.

Numerical systems/numerical environments. Maybe we can just speak of
Octave? Also, I think it's not fair to say that MathWorks is trying to
undermine the community of Matlab users. They are just trying to limit
the service to Matlab users, which even Matlab users may not be happy

> Briefly, we
> believe that new restrictions mandated by the Mathworks on licensing
> of files hosted in File Exchange may limit your ability to share and
> derive benefit from your work

As we previously agreed, the author's ability to share his work is of
course not affected. We shouldn't say this.

> and secondary changes to the File
> Exchange Terms of Service may limit access to your contribution to an
> extent you may have been unaware.

> One concern relates to the Mathworks decision to standardize the BSD
> license for all user-contributed File Exchange software. This change
> serves the corporate interests of Mathworks at your expense. Now,
> should the Mathworks chose to incorporate your work into their
> commercial products, they no longer have any obligation to negotiate
> with you for a license nor to publicly acknowledge your contribution
> nor to compensate you. Previously, your freedom to select a license
> for your own work on File Exchange gave you control over the use of
> your work. Control that the Mathworks is now working to subvert. This
> is not merely a hypothetical concern. Your contributions may be very
> valuable to Matlab. For example, Tim Davis' sparse matrix software was
> distributed under the GPL on File Exchange prior to the policy change.
> In fact, Mathworks recognized the value of his work and negotiated a
> license to incorporate his software into Matlab rather than implement
> the techniques themselves. Mathworks would not have been obligated to
> negotiate, compensate or even acknowledge Dr. Davis' contributions if
> his software had been BSD licensed. Dr. Davis has removed his software
> from File Exchange. This diminishes the Matlab user community.

I was sort of assuming that these conclusions (resulting from the BSD
license enforcement) will be mostly obvious to developers. After all,
they either chose BSD themselves or agreed to a change, so they
probably know what's going on.

Although Tim Davis' example is instructive (and worth following), it
also makes the whole text longer. I would at least start a new
paragraph with the words "For Example", so that the reader may skip it
more easily.

> Secondly, the Mathworks has updated the MatlabCentral Terms of Service
> to ban all use of the website not related specifically to using
> Mathworks products. It is not clear what the intent this change
> signals about the future of the File Exchange within the Matlab user
> community. At the very minimum it appears that Mathworks intends to
> isolate Matlab users and contributors from the knowledge, feedback,
> and experience of users of Matlab competitors. But the Mathworks may
> also intend to limit access to your contribution to customers--the new
> Terms of Service may go so far as precluding users of other systems
> from viewing, studying and adapting your software.

Too much speculation, I say. Let us not make guesses what MathWorks
may or may not do in the future.
I think we should focus this on the simple primary concern: the new
restriction in the ToS you have discovered. Whether or not it is
actually legally effective, it was surely put there on purpose and
therefore we are rightfully concerned about getting into trouble by
violating it.

I say, chances are some authors will not sympathize with us and alert
MathWorks about the action; some authors are even MathWorks employees.
I think we should reduce all speculations and campaign-like statements
to a minimum, if not zero, because they could be eventually used
against us. I assume most (if not all) of the developers are
intelligent enough and will easily understand what are we trying to do
and why, based on the bare minimum of information we provide. The
point is to alert them about the ToS restriction, because many of them
are surely not aware of it. One thing I usually dislike about
commercial software companies is that they tend to speak to users like
they were idiots.

> We therefore kindly ask you as the author of the code to provide us
> with a copy of the software that is free from this restriction, under
> the BSD license or any free software license of your choice. We intend
> to make your software part of the OctaveForge project so that it can
> be used freely with GNU Octave or for other purposes.

A purely technical matter is that I would like to stress that the
authors may simply send their package by email in response. Many of
them will surely not want to maintain their code at two places and
will remain loyal to the MathWorks site, so we should minimize the
actions required on their part.

I'll try to make a third attempt.


RNDr. Jaroslav Hajek, PhD
computing expert & GNU Octave developer
Aeronautical Research and Test Institute (VZLU)
Prague, Czech Republic

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