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pondering on potential copyright issues

by schweini (Friar)
on May 05, 2005 at 19:40 UTC ( #454478=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Dear monks,

while browsing through the CPAN, i was wondering what would happen if the copyright holder of some really important module would get hit by the metaphorical bus or something like that, and the copyright he holds on his modules gets passed on to somebody else who doesn't agree with the common open-source principles (IANAL, but AFAIK copyright gets passed on to heirs just like anything else).
When that weird story about some company trying to 'buy' a copy of the linux kernel came up a while ago, the consensus seemed to be that it's almost impossible to achieve this since you'd have to get every contributor to relicense his contibutions to the kernel, which is a bit hard with the number of contributors being way over 400. Yet, some of the most basic modules seem to be 'owned' by at least one person, so what would happen if the copyright owner of such an important module would decide to revoke or change the license of the module? would that just result in a fork, or is it possible that this would prohibit us from (re)using the module in the way we do nowadays?
My legalese is extremely sub-par, and i guess i'm just being paranoid, but it still made me wonder.
Could anyone with more insight into the standard licenses and copyright law clarify this?
  • Comment on pondering on potential copyright issues

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Re: pondering on potential copyright issues
by merlyn (Sage) on May 05, 2005 at 19:57 UTC
    The existing code was already released under the existing licenses. Unless there's an explicit expiration date in the license, there's no form of revocation available.

    A future version of the module may be released under a more restrictive license (or not at all), but that wouldn't stop you from using the old license, or even derivative works.

    And yes, this has happened in the "real world". Consider the http://xfree86.org decision to change the licensing terms of the distribution, making it "less free". This has resulted in a forked distribution being maintained by a group of others now.

    -- Randal L. Schwartz, Perl hacker
    Be sure to read my standard disclaimer if this is a reply.

      Precisely so.

      As schweini suggested, this would effectively result in a "fork", where one development version becomes proprietary and the other remains FLOSS. This is basically the only way for someone to get a closed-source version of Linux into existence: get a separate licensing deal from all relevant copyright holders.

      Even so, they'd then end up with just another copy that they could take in different directions without contributing back to the FLOSS pool. There would be no revocation of FLOSS licensing outside the terms of the license itself (in the case of the Linux kernel, the GPL). The same sort of rule applies to FLOSS-licensed Perl modules: once released, it's in the wild. One could conceivably "buy" the rights to it, but could not then terminate the previously existing licenses, and thus the free version would remain.

      disclaimer: I am not a scourge of mankind lawyer.

      print substr("Just another Perl hacker", 0, -2);
      - apotheon
      CopyWrite Chad Perrin

Re: pondering on potential copyright issues
by eyepopslikeamosquito (Chancellor) on May 05, 2005 at 21:59 UTC
Re: pondering on potential copyright issues
by brian_d_foy (Abbot) on May 08, 2005 at 05:10 UTC

    This happened with a few modules already (including Carp). As I recall, the original author thought he had the rights to the code, but his New York employer asserted their rights to it under New York law.

    There was a scramble to replace the module. I forget the other details.

    If you want to talk about the law, the worst place to do it is in a room full of non-lawyers. :)

    --
    brian d foy <brian@stonehenge.com>

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