Sunday, 16 November 2008

Lend me an ear while I call you a fool*

As the developer and maintainer of JamVM I get a regular stream of emails about licencing issues (2 so far this week). But this one left me speechless:
What is your intent for users of the JamVM code? Is it just the core of the VM that you have licensed using GPLv2, and so any changes to that core code or code linked with it must be provided as opensource? Since the class libraries come from Gnu Classpath, they are covered under the so-called 'classpath exception', and don't infect code that link with it, correct? Thus, is it allowed for a company to make a product using an unmodified JamVM as a standalone program that executes proprietary and unpublished Java code, without running afoul of GPLv2?
While the question is clear, the use of the pejorative terms "infect" and "afoul" towards GPLed code immediately gets my back up. My instinct is simply to ignore it, but is there any more appropriate response?

* With apologies to Jethro Tull.


Anonymous said...

What is the problem? The GPL is much less free (at least in the pure sense - not trying to play politics here) than other licenses (BSD, Apache, etc.). It isn't unusual at all to use those terms since it is intentionally a 'viral' license by design. Those terms therefore make sense to me.

Robert Lougher said...

I have a problem with the terminology the person uses. While the action of the GPL may be seen by some to be analogous to a virus, the terms "virus", "viral" and "infect" have no positive connotations.

GPL code cannot "infect" other code unless you have taken deliberate steps to derive code from it. This is not the action of a virus, as there is choice involved.

As far as the questioner is concerned, the use of these terms imply contempt or distaste for the GPL. I cannot imagine any supporter of the GPL using these terms.

As someone who releases his work under the GPL, I get no other reward than the support and respect of users. Remember, this person is soliciting my help to enable them to use JamVM with proprietary software. While in this case it is allowed under GPL, I do not condone it as it gives nothing back.

When someone is requesting my help I expect at least respect and support for my aims. I am under no obligation to reply, and when somebody shows neither I have no qualms to refuse it.

Phillip Lougher said...

'Anonymous' - You're a troll or act like a troll posting anonymously. While it is not wise to feed trolls, people release code under GPL for deliberate reasons. Third parties who solicit help while decrying the licensing terms should expect no favours.

GPL licensing terms are clear, it offers you a choice, you abide by the terms and enjoy the benefits the GPL conveys, or you choose not to abide by the terms in which case you don't have a licence, period. You then choose to either use other software or pay (if the project offers this) for a proprietary commercial licence.

Branding a respected widely used licence as viral merely because its terms are not ones you like is petulant. That's ultimately your problem, don't try and make it the software author's problem, as already mentioned, they'll have little time for this.

Dave Gilbert said...

I also object to the terms 'viral' and 'infect' with respect to the GPL. People need to accept that it is *their* responsibility to comply with the terms of the licence, or not use the software. Simple really.

Mark Wielaard said...

You have no obligation to reply to people. Especially not if you can kind of guess they won't be contributing back to the project, nor will they provide you with cash or resources for the project itself that you provide to them for free.

On the other hand people often truly are ignorant. They might not even realize they are using language that offends. Or that might reflect poorly on their intentions.

So it might be good to just factually reply with a little explanation why it reflects poorly on them and how they can asks questions in a way that has a higher probability that they get an answer from you.

So if you decide to reply, please do tell such people that your first instinct was to ignore the question because of the usage of pejorative terms. That you share your work for free with them. That the intention is to share-and-share-alike, that there is a tit-for-tat and that possibly unknowingly they show disrespect for the project and the community by usage of words to describe the goals with terms that have a very negative connotation. And that it reflects poorly on them for implying they want everything for nothing without contributing or even positively acknowledging the project goals.

Matthias said...

I think you may be overreacting. This guy might not be a native speaker (the way he builds sentences seems familiar to me, a German) and use simple terms to bring it to the point. Discussing licensing is difficult enough and using plainspoken terms to help "nail" the point helps. After all "viral" and "GPL" are discussed together frequently (268.000 hits) and I don't think that is all negative spin.

Anonymous said...

This user simply wants to avoid violating your license; what is wrong with that? At least he is asking for clarification. Many companies don't even bother to comply with the GPL and have indeed run "afoul" of the open source community. As for "viral", GPL is certainly viral by nature -- that is the very point! -- so terms like "infect" are valid. I think you should simply answer his question: Yes, the license allows JamVM to execute proprietary code as long as the source code to JamVM is distributed along with its binary, whether they modified it or not.

Anonymous said...

Robert & Philip are you brothers?

Anonymous said...

I also do not believe any offense was intended by the person asking the question.

He was just using the colloquial terms for these properties of the GPL. He could have chosen some more euphemistic terms, but common usage in the press have made the terms he used more or less mainstream and not necessarily always used in the pejorative sense.