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Re: What license should I use when including code from subversion?

From: Ben Reser <ben_at_reser.org>
Date: 2004-02-29 10:22:31 CET

First of all I would like to point out that the Subversion license is
a slightly modified Apache 1.1 license.

On Fri, Feb 27, 2004 at 10:51:17AM -0500, Branden Robinson wrote:
> Er, uh, I hate to get involved in a licensing discussion with the
> Subversion guys, especially since I love Subversion to death, but I feel
> compelled to point out that I do not think it is true that the GPL is
> compatible with mandatory acknowledgement statements (unless preserving
> copyright notices, license texts, and warranty disclaimers suffices as
> "acknowlegement").
> The reason it's GPL incompatible is because:
> 1) the GPL doesn't make a requirement this broad (GPL 2c does mandate an
> acknowledgement for certain types of applications, but there are a lot
> qualfications on it, and it doesn't address documentation, so I won't
> quote it here); and
> 2) GPL clause 6 says that a GPL licensee "may not impose any further
> restrictions on the recipients' exercise of the rights granted [by
> the GPL]"; and
> 3) GPL clause 7 says: "If you cannot distribute so as to satisfy
> simultaneously your obligations under this License and any other
> pertinent obligations, then as a consequence you may not distribute
> the Program at all."
> I am assuming, of course, that the acknowledgement requirement is
> intended as an obligation, and not as a non-binding request.
> Don't just take my word for it; take Richard Stallman's, who, in a
> recent discussion about the XFree86 Project, Inc.'s decision to change
> their license, explained that mandatory acknowledgements, even in
> documentation (as opposed to advertising) are GPL-incompatible.
> See <URL: http://www.xfree86.org/pipermail/forum/2004-February/003974.html >.

More to the point, this discussion has already been had. The Apache 1.1
license is GPL incompatable and by extension so is the Subversion
license with essentially identical clauses:


I'd point out that the person asking the question is Brian Behlendorf,
founder and CTO of CollabNet. So I'm pretty sure CollabNet is already
aware of the GPL incompatability (even if Karl isn't <grin>).

Also note that Richard Stallman also comments on the thread to this

> I'd also like to ask a question about the intended meaning of clause 3
> of the Subversion license, if I could. It says:
> 3. The end-user documentation included with the redistribution, if
> any, must include the following acknowledgment: "This product includes
> software developed by CollabNet (http://www.Collab.Net/)."
> Alternately, this acknowledgment may appear in the software itself, if
> and wherever such third-party acknowledgments normally appear.
> Is this intended to be true even if the end-user documentation in
> question is not a derived work of Subversion (or any work authored by
> CollabNet) under copyright law? If so, then A) this requirement might
> not be enforceable under U.S. copyright law (though it may be in other
> jurisdictions), and B) this requirement would, as I understand, violate
> the Debian Free Software Guidelines, clause 9, and the Open Source
> Definition, clause 9.
> Quoting the OSD:
> 9. License Must Not Restrict Other Software
> The license must not place restrictions on other software that is
> distributed along with the licensed software. For example, the license
> must not insist that all other programs distributed on the same medium
> must be open-source software.
> Rationale: Distributors of open-source software have the right to make
> their own choices about their own software.
> Yes, the GPL is conformant with this requirement. Software linked with
> GPLed libraries only inherits the GPL if it forms a single work, not
> any software with which they are merely distributed.
> I apologize if this throws a wet blanket on the Subversion 1.0.0 release
> euphoria. License discussions are seldom fun. Congratulations on the
> release!

I don't think anyone is interpreting this license this way. In order to
do that you must expand the meaning of redistribution to include
everything on the CD, website, hard disk, etc... The license seems to
imply a more narrowly defined use of the redistribution.

Further, the license allows you to do the acknowledgment in the software
instead of the documentation. Which means that even if you use such a
broad definition of redistribution that there is still a DFSG/OSD
compliant way to comply with the license. These standards don't require
that every possible way to comply with the license be free, only that
there be a free way to do it.

The OSI has approved the Apache 1.1 license which has an identical
clause except for the text of the acknolwedgement and Apache has shipped
under this license as well, with Debian shipping the software. So I
tend to think this is a non-issue with regard to the license.

However, subversion does have a license problem. We actually don't have
the acknowledgement included in the documentation or the software that
we are distributing.

I'll be submitting a patch momentarily to add the acknowledgement to the
output of --version. Doing this would remove the issue entirely as the
least restrictive way of complying with the license would already be
done by default. Then only people making modifications or derived works
would need to worry about this clause.

Somehow I doubt CollabNet views derived works as broadly as the FSF
does. So linking to the subversion libraries probably doesn't invoke
this clause.

Ben Reser <ben@reser.org>
"Conscience is the inner voice which warns us somebody may be looking."
- H.L. Mencken
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Received on Sun Feb 29 10:21:41 2004

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