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Re: Mathworks hosting GPL'd software

From: forkandwait
Subject: Re: Mathworks hosting GPL'd software
Date: Fri, 19 Feb 2010 04:52:38 +0000 (UTC)
User-agent: Loom/3.14 (

I don't want alienate anyone here, but, as a happy user of FreeBSD, which is 
licensed with a BSD license, I feel the need to chime in...

> In more detail, the Mathworks used to allow almost any license on
> their site, even no explicit license at all, but they recently decided
> to only allow the modified BSD license, which is not a copyleft
> license (it allows including the free code in non-free software),
> unlike the GPL which Octave and the rest of the GNU project uses,
> which explicitly forbids locking up the software (and has other
> provisions). Software that couldn't or wouldn't be relicensed to the
> BSD was removed from their servers.

I actually would have no objection to this.  While I love free software, I am 
OK with people who decide to not use the infectious GPL -- their choice 
really.  I also run FreeBSD, X, and PostgreSQL, all of which are BSD'ed.

> In addition, they added a clause to their website's Terms of Service
> saying that the software they host is only to be used with Mathworks
> software, in an attempt to lock the software to only Matlab and
> disallow its use in Octave and similar, contrary to the spirit of free
> software. 

Nice -- that IS utterly lame. It also doesn't seem possible if a code is 
licensed BSD, since that licensing means that basically anyone can do anything 
with it as long as its original copyright holders are acknowledged (or so I 

> A basic freedom is use the software for any purpose. The BSD
> relicensing is an obvious step in an attempt to add more restrictions
> to the free software that other people wrote and uploaded to the
> Mathworks' site.

By using a BSD license, one does NOT restrict the software so licensed -- in 
fact, the BSD license is LESS restricted, in that a commercial company can fold 
the code into a product, copyRIGHT that product, and resell it with full 
restrictions like hidden source and licensing (Mac OS X, for example).  Such 
behavior is directly prohibited by the GPL.  

By using a BSD license, though, you wind up allowing a continuing ecology of 
copyrighted and restricted software, while the GPL actively fights it.  By 
GPLing a library, for example, you prohibit someone like Mathworks from folding 
it in to their codebase and restricting the codebase.  Only if they agree to 
release the rest of their codebase once they have done so are they following 
the terms of the license.

So, it isn't exactly true that by insisting on a BSD license mathworks is 
limiting how the code on their sharing site can be used, though other things 
are important in this debate.

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