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Explaining the GPL to Non-Lawyers?

Cliff posted more than 12 years ago | from the converting-the-legalspeak dept.

GNU is Not Unix 415

peddrenth asks: "Software licenses are, we keep saying, difficult to read. The public clicks OK without reading, either implicitly trusting or mistrusting us the software authors. There have been calls recently for companies to clean-up the license, to bullet, section, and colour their licenses, to remove THE UPPERCASE and to draw charts and graphs to explain the license. Anyone who's had to read a 3-page document in a 3"x1" textbox knows how useful this would be. The GPL is one of the most important licenses in the world, and appears on thousands of products. Everything from windows programs to operating systems to people's artwork requires understanding and acceptance of the GNU GPL. Should we, the free software community, take the first step in this effort, and show the world what an easy-to-read license looks like? Would it be useful if long textual software licenses stood out like a sore thumb amongst the cool, pretty, and clear free licenses?" Many may think the GPL Preamble to be clear enough, and this may be true. However there are a lot of people out there that would like to read the entire license so that they know exactly what they may be getting into, before they agree to it. This usually implies being able reading the actual license, and not just the preamble.

"Should we use such a comparison to show the public how they're being manipulated by terms in a EULA they don't read or understand, and encourage other license-writers to include the graphs and tables themselves, showing the public what a license really means?

What would be your ideal license, what poster would you draw to explain the GPL to a child, a PHB, or an artist? Would you stick with the text, or can you think of anything better?"

jamie interjects: The root of the problem is that "intellectual property" is a kludge of a natural human understanding of property rights. Useful, but a kludge. You have to invent many oddball concepts to keep up the pretense that ideas are property. The GPL is a kludge (strict and precise licensing terms) implemented on top of a kludge (copyright law) and, in English or in code, there is no short and simple way to describe complex things.

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first post (-1, Troll)

kingharrison (574393) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458106)


Re:first post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3458139)

Long Live The KING!

I have a similar problem (0, Troll)

Dr Kool, PhD (173800) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458108)

I just can't explain the GPL to non-Marxists. Can someone help me out??

Re:I have a similar problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3458133)

I just can't explain the GPL to non-Marxists. Can someone help me out??
Yeah, just drop some funky dialectic on their white asses!

The Justice has won again (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3458345)

Hän varastaa koneen, hänet tuomitaan,
tuomitaan ja viedään vankilaan.
Alla vartijan silmien harmaitten
hän muuttuu koneeksi todetaan:
Oikeus on voittanut taas

Murhaa miehen, hänet tuomitaan,
tuomitaan ja viedään vankilaan.
Alla vartijan silmien surullisten
hän muuttuu ruumiiksi, todetaan:
Oikeus on voittanut taas.

Oikeus on voittanut taas
Silmä silmästä ja rauha on maass'
Oikeus on voittanut taas
matkaa kohti elotonta maailmaa

Hän polttaa pilvee, hänet tuomitaan,
tuomitaan ja viedään vankilaan
Alla vartijan silmien sameitten
hän tarttuu piikkiin, todetaan:
Oikeus on voittanut taas

Hän ei kestä ilman naista, hän raiskaa vaan,
hänet tuomitaan ja viedään vankilaan.
Alla vartijan silmien kiimaisten
hän rasvaa peräaukkoaan, todetaan:
Oikeus on voittanut taas

Hän ostaa, myy, kiristää,
Hädänalaisten rojut pois kerää
Yllä silmien ahdistuneiden
hän rahastaa, todetaan:
Oikeus on voittanut taas

Hän varastaa koneen, hänet tuomitaan,
tuomitaan ja viedään vankilaan
alla vartijan silmien harmaitten
hän muuttuu koneeksi, todetaan:
Oikeus on voittanut taas

Re:I have a similar problem (5, Interesting)

weinerdog (181465) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458461)

How to explain GPL to capitalists:

This software contains the intellectual property of several people. Intellectual property is a valuable resource, and you cannot expect to be able to use someone else's intellectual property in your own work for free.

Many businesses and individuals are willing to trade their intellectual property in exchange for something of value; usually money. For example, in return for a sum of money, you might be granted the right to incorporate code from someone's software program into your own.

The developers of this software are willing to trade you the right to use their intellectual property in exchange for something of value. However, instead of money, the developers are willing to trade you the right to freely incoroporate their code into your software in exchange for the right to freely incorporate your code into theirs. This exchange is to be done by way of and under the terms of the GPL.

If you do not think that this is a fair bargain, you are free to decline and to develop your own code or purchase it from someone else. You will still be allowed to use the software yourself, which is awfully nice of the developers, since you probably didn't pay them a penny for it in the first place. If you feel that this would make you a freeloading communist welfare addict, you may instead opt to purchase similar software from a less generous developer.

Post Toasties (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3458122)

The first,

Non-lawyers? (3, Funny)

pdh11 (227974) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458123)

I find it's hard enough to explain to lawyers.


Re:Non-lawyers? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3458158)

I find it's hard enough to explain to lawyers.
The main thing you would have to explain to a lawyer is that if they were to take a case defending the GPL, they would have to do it pro bono.

Re:Non-lawyers? (1)

paiute (550198) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458183)

Forget lawyers. Who's going to explain it to the experts? The International Fine Print Dealers Association (IFPDA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the highest ethical standards and quality among fine print dealers, and to promoting greater appreciation of fine prints among art collectors and the general public.

first post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3458125)

first post

Keep it short (1)

UCRowerG (523510) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458138)

If at all possible, get rid of that tiny scroll box. It's important, it's long, so it should be larger and easier to read the words.

I would suggest a brief summary, with a note that the complete "lawyer" version is appended. Something like "you can use this, copy it, share it, change it, whatever you want as long as you release your source and keep everything free".

...or whatever.

Re:Keep it short (1)

asobala (563713) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458172)

Yeah, that's right. ...keep everything free. Write a pre-preamble to the GNU GPL that's wrong and misrepresents the license.

Re:Keep it short (3, Interesting)

beleg777 (551987) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458356)

I think a good structure with something amounting to code comments might do the trick. Have the short version be a breakdown of the practicle implications. Write up a document of what each piece means, then write the lawyer speak translation in a sub-section.

I think keeping the lawyer language seperated and in confined and in smaller sections if necessary for someone who doesn't already understand it to figure it out.

simple (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3458140)

(i know i'll get troll/flamebait, but it's friday ... wtf)

it's free, but not really; don't use it. use the bsd/mit style licenses

FGP (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3458143)

First Golem Post Mother fuckers!!!!

Eminem ripped Cage's style, don't buy the hype.

short and simple way to describe complex things (5, Funny)

Lord Omlette (124579) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458144)

Give the person Richard Stallman's home phone #. Then tell the person to call up and ask "What's the big deal about the GPL?"

Problem solved.

Re:short and simple way to describe complex things (1)

doubtless (267357) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458201)

and that would be a Toll Free number right?

Re:short and simple way to describe complex things (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3458244)

and that would be a Toll Free number right?

Not necessarily, but it would be accompanied by a license granting the recipient the right to freely redistribute the number or any modification thereof as long as the license was included.

Re:short and simple way to describe complex things (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3458407)

Right, I mean why would the phone company charge for this call? It's not like they want to make money!

Re:short and simple way to describe complex things (-1)

MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM (537317) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458304)

Richard Stallman have no phone number. He is homeless.

short and sweet (3, Insightful)

skidrash (238760) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458147)

What was my stuff is now our stuff.
In return for this gift, I ask that if you improve our stuff it remains our stuff.

Re:short and sweet (1)

aonaran (15651) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458238)

I like that.


Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3458374)

that's the best 2-line explanation of the GPL i've ever seen.


Sexy License (1)

say (191220) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458148)

Let's just throw away the entire GPL. It sounds old and awkward. Let's get a better name for it.. Like License X or License 2002.

And then we could start to sprinkle it with pie-charts and diagrams and drawings and small flash animations - to make everyone understand that our SeXy License 2002 is a Good Thing.

After we're through, only those who know how to disable all the funky marketing^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H information would be able to read what our license is about. That way, everyone would like this cool license (OK, not those who can't play Flash movies) and we, the little elite, would know what it is about.

Sounds like FUD?

Its wordy and hard to read for a reason... (4, Insightful)

FortKnox (169099) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458150)

Should we, the free software community, take the first step in this effort, and show the world what an easy-to-read license looks like?

Licenses are lengthy, wordy, and hard to read for a reason. They try to ensure that no "loophole" can be made. The simpler you make the license, the more likely lawyers can "see multiple meanings in words", and avoid the license entirely.

IMHO, the free-software licenses SHOULD be wordy, because companies like Microsoft have lawyers constantly looking for a loophole...

Re:Its wordy and hard to read for a reason... (2)

jeffy124 (453342) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458313)

well, you pretty much hit most of what I wanted to say, so I'll expand on it.

how about having licenses retain the full legal text that they currently have, but also have a short portion at the top using simplified terms and other mediums (graphs, highlighted text, etc) that explains and summarizes what follows. (As cliff said, some say the preamble meets this)

And (1)

sulli (195030) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458382)

It's also lengthy and hard to read so the user won't read it, and the publisher can include objectionable terms deep in the HIGHLY UNREADABLE ALL CAPS SECTION, so the user will accept them unread!

Re:Its wordy and hard to read for a reason... (1)

anonymous cowpie (31472) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458466)

Companies like Microsoft have lawyers constantly looking for a loophole...

Um, not likely. Microsoft, and for that matter any company that relies on its "intellectual property" for its livelihood, will err on the side of caution. They're not going to get within a mile of anything licensed under the GPL or a similar license. Although BSD is clearly more permissive, the M$ lawyers would more likely spend their time poring over that license, making sure there are no loopholes that would threaten their IP.

Besides, Microsoft has an extreme case of not-invented-here syndrome. They are far more likely to do their own thing, ignoring everything that has been done in the past, than they are to appropriate anything from the free software world. (And it shows!)

Our ip lawyers (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Crowhead (577505) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458155)

got stuck on the word 'or' in the perl license (GPL or Artistic)

I think there will always be a problem no matter how clear it seems to be.

What's nice about the GPL (5, Insightful)

XaXXon (202882) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458159)

One of the things that's nice about the GPL, and that I've just come to understand recently, is that it doesn't really matter if you 'accept' it, in the sense that you accept a EULA from MS. Since accepting the GPL actually gives you MORE freedoms than the normal copyright laws, if you don't accept the GPL on a program you get, you are actually more limited in what you can do with it. You can't distribute it, and surely can't distribute a modified version.. Whereas the other EULAs restrict you in addition to copyright restrictions, the GPL actually reduces the restrictions put upon you by copyright law.

Re:What's nice about the GPL (2)

anthony_dipierro (543308) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458314)

Since accepting the GPL actually gives you MORE freedoms than the normal copyright laws, if you don't accept the GPL on a program you get, you are actually more limited in what you can do with it.

Yes, the GPL grants permissions, but it also takes away rights, such as the right to first sale of binary-only copies.

Re:What's nice about the GPL (2)

SmileyBen (56580) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458412)

The what? Since when has there been a 'right to first sale'???? Huh?!?!?

Re:What's nice about the GPL (2)

ajm (9538) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458452)

The software is copyrighted. You have no "right to first sale". If you accept the GPL you have some additional rights over what copyright gives you. You don't accept the license you don't get the extra rights. Don't like it? Write your own damm code.

Re:What's nice about the GPL (2)

Steveftoth (78419) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458468)

It doesn't take away that right, you never had it in the first place!

Does there exist EULA that gives you, the user the right to distribute binary-only copies of a program?

Not resell your copy, actually distribute more copies? There is no such EULA.

Stop propagaging the myth that the GPL takes away your rights as a user. Most companies want to be a monopoly and to control what you do with their products. (Meaning that if you do something with their product that they didn't sell to you then you have to pay for it)

For developers, the GPL is not a nice as say a public domain license. There you can do whatever you want with the code. There's a reason that most people don't release code in the public domain. And that's because anyone can take it, compile it and claim that the compiled binary is unique in some way and sell it for $$$$. At least with GPLed code, the person that compiles it has to make his changes public so that you can create the same binary.

Re:What's nice about the GPL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3458470)

What are you talking about? You never had
a right in other peoples works. If you are
looking for handouts, such that you will profit (but not others)
then talk to the owner of the work.

Re:What's nice about the GPL (2)

Arandir (19206) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458484)

If you purchased GPL software as a binary-only copy, then you do have the right of First Sale. The trick is getting the buying that binary-only copy to begin with. I don't think the First Sale doctrine applies to free-beer software, and if you did "buy" the software (otherwise known as making a donation), it's going to going to come with the source code.

Acceptance of GPL? What? (2)

Kaz Kylheku (1484) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458161)

You don't have to accept any license to use the GPL'ed software. Only people who redistribute should understand the license, because it only covers that activity. Doh!

Re:Acceptance of GPL? What? (2)

anthony_dipierro (543308) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458350)

Only people who redistribute should understand the license, because it only covers that activity.

That's not actually true. For instance, if you use GPLed software on someone else's computer, then you need to accept the GPL in order to have the right to copy the software into ram.

What about liability (1)

systemaster (174904) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458405)

OK so I haven't read the GPL license, but doesn't it also say that it doesn't come with a warrenty. Maybe I'm wrong, but if not you are wrong, because that would matter to people who use it. Not just those who change/redistribute it.

Free The United States Of Amerika @ +2; High @ (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3458164)

Lame stories are posted to Slashdot about science
while Biker Gangs On Turf Warpath [] .

I wonder if John Ashcroft will call them as material witnesses or
Donald Rumsfeld will call in the Special Forces.

Thanks in advance.


My complaint about John Ashcroft

May I be cynical for a bit? I hope you don't mind,
but with Ashcroft's latest barrage of
malodorous notions, I can't resist the urge to make a
few cynical comments. To get right
down to it, some of the facts I'm about
to present may seem shocking. This
they certainly are. However, it's time that a few
facts had a chance to slip through the fusillade of hype.
What's my problem, then? Allow me to present it
in the form of a question: Where are the people
who are willing to stand up and acknowledge
that Ashcroft, in his infinite wisdom, has decided
to destroy the natural beauty of our parks and forests?
On the surface, it would seem to have something to do
with the way that his whole approach is repugnant.
But upon further investigation, one will find that
by allowing Ashcroft to put mephitic thoughts in our
children's minds, we are allowing him to play puppet master.
As for the lies and exaggerations, Ashcroft's
epigrams are rife with contradictions
and difficulties; they're entirely maladroit,
meet no objective criteria, and are unsuited
for a supposedly educated population.
And as if that weren't enough, if Ashcroft is going to
obstruct important things, then he should at least have
the self-respect to remind himself of a few things: First, a
true enemy is better than a false friend. And
second, many people respond to his debauched vituperations
in much the same way that they respond to television
dramas. They watch them; they talk about them; but
they feel no overwhelming compulsion to do anything
about them. That's why I insist we pronounce the truth
and renounce the lies.

Even people who consider themselves scornful
foolhardy-types generally agree that Ashcroft's slurs
symbolize lawlessness, violence, and misguided rebellion
-- extreme liberty for a few, even if the rest of us
lose more than a little freedom. One might conclude
that Ashcroft is incapable of writing a letter without using
such phrases as "crapulous pop psychologists", "loquacious
exhibitionists", "oppressive personae non gratae", or
some combination thereof. Alternatively, one might conclude
that Ashcroft has a different view of reality from the rest of us.
In either case, if you're not part of the solution,
then you're part of the problem. His historical record of
fickle pleas is clearer than the muddled pronouncements
of his apple-polishers for a variety of reasons. For
instance, the worst sorts of inconsiderate Neanderthals there
are must be treated with political justice, not with
civil justice, as they are sincerely not real citizens. Let me
rephrase that: I wonder if he really believes the
things he says. He knows they're not true, doesn't he?
A complete answer to that question would
take more space than I can afford, so I'll have to give
you a simplified answer. For starters, if
we let him cause riots in the streets, then greed,
corruption, and tribalism will characterize the government.
Oppressive measures will be directed against citizens.
And lies and deceit will be the stock and trade of the
media and educational institutions.

Even Ashcroft's bedfellows couldn't deal with the full impact of
Ashcroft's refrains. That's why they created "Ashcroft-ism," which is
just a garrulous excuse to force square
pegs into round holes. He plans to drag everything
that is truly great into the gutter. He has instructed
his votaries not to discuss this or even admit to his
plan's existence. Obviously, Ashcroft knows he has
something to hide. Most of you reading this letter
have your hearts in the right place. Now
follow your hearts with actions. I have traveled the length and
breadth of this country and talked with the best people. I can
therefore assure you that Ashcroft's artifices cannot stand on
their own merit. That's why they're dependent on elaborate
artifices and explanatory stories to convince us that Ashcroft's
warnings can give us deeper insights into the nature of
reality. We can and we must protect ourselves by any means
necessary against the unrestrained bestiality
of stupid, quasi-macabre paper-pushers. And that's the honest truth.

I don't understand... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3458173)

the EULA. Suppose I pirate some software, that means I didn't pay for it, how can I enter a contract with the maker of the software? Isn't that like stealing a car and ending up with the owner's wife and kids?

Re:I don't understand... (-1)

MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM (537317) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458393)

Exactly! But if you read the fine print, the owner's wife and kids are fat and stupid, and she will give you yeast infections. Do you still want the car?

It's nearly a one-liner most of the time (5, Insightful)

petard (117521) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458174)

Most of what the majority of non-lawyers need to know about the GPL can be summed up in one line:
The GPL does not impact users of the software, only distributors.
That's it. For that simple reason, the premise of this question is flawed. Most of the world simply uses software and doesn't redistribute it, therefore understanding and acceptance of the GNU GPL is not an issue.

Anyone who is distributing software (GPL or otherwise) really needs to take the time to understand the details of their redistribution agreement. As redistribution licenses are concerned, the GPL is very easy to understand and truly does stand out as a marvel of simplicity. The only simpler things are BSD and public domain :-)

Re:It's nearly a one-liner most of the time (1)

LMCBoy (185365) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458342)

You got it spot-on, petard. I've never said this before, but: Mod parent UP! :)

Re:It's nearly a one-liner most of the time (3, Insightful)

dbc (135354) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458348)

The GPL does not impact users of the software, only distributors. This isn't strictly true. Software development organizations producing closed-source works need to be very careful about residuals. That is.. they need to prove that no GPL source "leaked" into their code because some programmer saw both some GPL'd utility (or whatever) that they were using and then wrote similar code into the closed-source product. (Note: I did not say cut&paste, I said saw-and-wrote-similar) This is a *huge* worry for some companies, and quite validly so. Plenty of potentially expensive litigation lies down that path.

Re:It's nearly a one-liner most of the time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3458359)

More and more users are becoming distributors throught the use of p2p software. So they better read the GPL to make sure they're distributing properly (ie including source)...99% of what's on my harddrive came from this distribution method...including my OS.

Re:It's nearly a one-liner most of the time (2)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458433)

  • The GPL does not impact users of the software, only distributors.

Huh? I don't need to be told that the distributor must provide the source at minimal cost if asked? I'd call that pretty darn important.

And when I do get the source, I don't need to read the license to find that the "free" source is copyrighted and strictly licensed? I can do whatever I like with it and only worry about the license terms after I become a distributor?

Haven't we seen enough examples of newbie distributors shipping GPL binaries and when asked where the source is, saying "Oh, we'll get around to that. Give us a few days/weeks/months/versions." That is simply not acceptable, ever. If you don't follow the license terms to the letter, you are commiting theft.

I agree that the GPL is easy to understand - if you read it. Far too many people look at the length of it and say "Phwah, it's free. What do I need to know?" I'd suggest that we need to grab their attention on the very first line, by saying "Stop! Copyrighted code! All rights reserved, except as specified below. Use of this code without reading and following the license terms is theft, and can and will be prosecuted."

Basically, there is a prevailing attitude that GPL and open source code in general is something for nothing, and there's no cost associated with using it. That's simply not true, and it's something I'd like to see us addressing at every opportunity.

That said, Microsoft is going a fair way to helping out in that respect, by screaming about how viral the GPL is. Well, sure, that's rather the point. ;-)

What is a distributor? (1)

Slashamatic (553801) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458463)

If I use a GPL tool to develop a program, what are my rights? What happens if part of that tool becomes embedded in my work? Is it distribution if third-parties use the s/w on my system (think a telephone exchange, for example)?

It isn't quite so simple as that sentance seems.

Less licenses... (4, Interesting)

curunir (98273) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458176)

Licenses are naturally complex things. That's ok. What isn't ok is that every company feels they need to write their own license specific to their product.

The strength of Open Source licenses for me is the fact that once I've read them through once, I can install countless applications without needing to read a license agreement.

If commercial software had a bunch of shrink-wrapped licenses that companies were free to use and each license was clearly identifiable near the top, then people could just click the "I agree" button and actually know what they were agreeing to.

Re:Less licenses... (mod parent up) (2)

Mr. Sketch (111112) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458440)

Dang, I already used my last mod point on a worthless comment (compared to this one) in another thread not too long ago, boy I wish I had saved it for you. This, so far, the best commment in this thread.

I think if users knew that several products were under the XYZ license, they could just read it once and know what they're getting themselves in to. However, most users assume that all EULAs are the same so they just mindlessly click through them when in many cases (i.e. Microsoft) they are NOT the same and their use of the software and their privacy is limited more by some licenses than by others. I think if more people know that the Window XP license granted Microsoft the right to spy on their computer, most people would think twice about it.

I think commercial companies should draft up a 'Standard Software License' (or a suite of licenses) that the user can refer to or be familiar with. So, on the box instead of just saying that you agree to the license agreement in the box, it can say that this software is released under the 'Standard Software License' (or another XYZ license) and the user will know what that is.

However, I should point out that even in the Open Source community, there are some company-specific software licenses such as the QPL, the Mozilla License, the Aladdin License, etc. But the number of products released under these licenses is very small relative to the numbers released under the GPL, LGPL, etc.

it's hard (0, Informative)

Dr Kool, PhD (173800) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458178)

Try to convince your friends that viewing women-on-women is pleasurable for all heterosexual males, not just lawyers. I mean, why should those suits get to have all the fun?? I really don't see what intellectual property has to do with anything unless you bring your video camera or one of the chicks is very intelligent. But most lesbians are very kinky and stuff, so they probably won't mind if you record them. And if one the chicks is smart then just RUN. Nerdy chicks aren't hot, everyone knows that.

You should forget about software licenses too. I mean Lesbian pr0n videos are alright, but they are no substitute to being there in person. I also wouldn't recommend getting into kludge unless you are into kinky stuff like that.

Remember: Girly Pink Lesbians should be for EVERYONE.

The first comment :) (0, Offtopic)

saibee (80206) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458182)

And i have nothing to say..

Re:The first comment :) (-1)

MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM (537317) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458411)

Wow, that was fast! You are as sharp as a pocket knife.

GPL vs. BSD (0)

G0SP0DAR (552303) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458186)

Easy-to-read license? Anyone ever heard of a BSD license? That actually fits on a low-res console screen! Sure, it'd be nice if GPL were translated into English, but it wouldn't be the first.

The GPL FAQ is pretty good - (4, Informative)

jackDuhRipper (67743) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458188)

Jamie said it pretty well w/r/t "complex ideas being complicated to explain," but the GPL FAQ [] presents some 'real-world scenarios' I've found helpful.

Re:The GPL FAQ is pretty good - (1)

jlowery (47102) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458427)

Reading the GPL FAQ has only confirmed to me that *they* don't know exactly what in the hell the license means.

For example, you can have your non-free software invoke GPL software through fork and exec; you can't link. That's clear enough... but then you get to questions concerning sockets and pipes, and what is or isn't allowed to be exchanged on a socket or pipe, and then they throw up there hands, say that in some cases it's okay, but in others it is not, and that the distinction is one to be determined by judges (oh god, yes-- I'd love to have my business hanging on the thread of a judges decision).

The fact of the matter is that it's difficult to know where you've crossed the line for any project of meaningful size and complexity (hell, no program manager can be sure he knows exactly what each one of 10 or 20 programmers has coded for interaction with GPL code). The only safe bet to keep lawyers at bay is not to use GPL code in commercial, for-sale software.

Seems Simple Enough... (1)

nherc (530930) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458189)

But, it's hard to argue that _free_ code which is meant to be redistributed (GPL) should have a simpler user agreement than something your company has developed at great time and expense which you _must_ protect.

On the other hand all of the extraneous crap (not related to protecting the creators rights) that's recently been packed into EULA's needs to go.

Re:Seems Simple Enough... (1)

nherc (530930) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458209)

Of course, this also ignores the point that reading a EULA for most, is like showing your Grandmother the latest Perl hack you've written.

Laudable but perhaps futile (2)

i0lanthe (198512) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458193)

No matter how well-written "fine print" is, most people still won't read it. They don't read assembly instructions or operating instructions, how can we expect them to read anything that's even less apparently-relevant to their endeavors.

Have none of you, when filling out paperwork of some kind, say to open a checking account, as you are sitting there reading through the stuff you are about to be legally bound to, had the bank employee say "you know, I think you're the first person I've seen who has actually read that before signing it"?

Still, for the few people who do try to read things, I completely support making the text more comfortable to read and easier to comprehend. :-)

Summary (2)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458195)

I would like a summary at the beginning of the GPL. Not the preamble explaining why the license exists, but above that should be a quick plain-english (or whatever language :) summary of what license you have with this software. Maybe 3 or 4 sentences at most. That way at the very least people would less mind reading the summary at the top, and those that care can read the details.

Although, it still must be clear that accepting the license means accepting the whole license, not just the summary.

I think it's important to note that the GPL is a relatively short license. Most EULAs I see are HUGE. Let's face it, if you need graphs and color codings to read an EULA, the EULA is too complicated. Of course it's the lawyers who sort of get us into this situation in the first place, but most licenses are rediculously long.

give me negative karma (-1, Troll)

super-flex-o-matic (517410) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458199)

thats all what slashdot is about.

go the way of the goatse []

Re:give me negative karma (-1, Offtopic)

super-flex-o-matic (517410) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458305)

yadadadada :P just -1 come on - a lower rating is possible you stupid moderator.

Legalese (2)

Alien54 (180860) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458213)

Most People are Lazy.

That said, Legal documents tend to have a monopoly on dry reading. To make a license perfectly clear will often required some sort of definitions. You can have a fairly simple concept, but when you go into the legal details, you can wind up with all kinds of extra verbiage, which makes people nervous about the whole thing, and then, at best, they will tend to bail out of the document.

There probably is a way to do this, although a lot of folks freak on anything too long.

Will it matter? (2, Insightful)

techwolf (26278) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458235)

Sure, I'd love to read a license and understand it. But what if I don't like it?

How many retailers are going to accept an opened copy of Office because someone actually read the print and found out that they were selling their soul to Microsoft?

I don't see it happening.

GPL can be summarized succinctly (5, Insightful)

bshroyer (21524) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458236)

In a preamble to the preamble, which would very nearly fit into the aforementioned 3" by 1" box:

Before the preamble, state:

Through the GPL, this software is licensed with certain freedoms.

You have the freedom to view and change the source code to this software.

You have the freedom to freely copy and distribute this software, and to demand payment for its distribution.

In exchange for these freedoms, you agree, again through the GPL, that these freedoms will be present in any modifications of or distributions of this software. In addition, you agree to provide the source code for any modifications or distributions you may make.

Please read below for the full text of the GPL.

Or is that too simplistic?

Note that this does not accomplish one important end, in that it does not clearly distinguish itself from other EULAe, except that it devotes the first few sentences to "freedoms" rather than "limitations".

Can't do it (3, Insightful)

anthony_dipierro (543308) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458249)

Sure, you could try to simplify the GPL, but the fact of the matter is that what the GPL is attempting to do is very complicated. I challenge you to propose a simplified GPL which accomplishes the same goals as the GPL. I'm not even sure if the GPL itself accomplishes the goals of the GPL, this hasn't been tested in court at all yet.

I have a simple license, called the QingPL [] , but it is quite different from the GPL. Most significantly, it does not require that source code be released when a derivitive work is released.

But *my* open source license *is* small... (2, Informative)

seek31337 (520238) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458261)

The problem is, you cannot put an entire political agenda in a 3"x1" window.

From l [] :
<OWNER> = Regents of the University of California
<ORGANIZATION> = University of California, Berkeley
<YEAR> = 1998

In the original BSD license, both occurrences of the phrase "COPYRIGHT HOLDERS AND CONTRIBUTORS" in the disclaimer read "REGENTS AND CONTRIBUTORS".

Here is the license template:

Copyright (c) <YEAR>, <OWNER>
All rights reserved.

Redistribution and use in source and binary forms, with or without modification, are permitted provided that the following conditions are met:

* Redistributions of source code must retain the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer.
* Redistributions in binary form must reproduce the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer in the documentation and/or other materials provided with the distribution.
* Neither the name of the <ORGANIZATION> nor the names of its contributors may be used to endorse or promote products derived from this software without specific prior written permission.


Legal Syntax (1)

Mittermeyer (195358) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458264)

Contracts and other legalese are a highly specialized form of syntax with very precise meanings. The license/contract writer has to consider all possible contexts and jurisdictions the EULAwhatever will be used in.

To put it in programming terms, the contract 'program' has to be able to compile and run successfully in 50 different Unices and possibly other national legalOS, be federal standard compliant, and stand up to peer review and active hacking attacks in situations the 'programmer' never considered but has to account for.

Now wouldn't YOU end up with spaghetti code under those circumstances?

Re:Legal Syntax (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3458450)

No, I wouldn't. That's because sophisticated languages and tools have been developed to prevent spaghettification even when the program is extremely complex. Applying the same process to legalese is exactly what we're discussing here.

Forget the license, what about the code? (0, Offtopic)

electricmonk (169355) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458266)

Sure, it can be problematic when one cannot understand or sometimes even read their software license, but there are greater problems afoot in the open source movement.

The primary problem is the absolute unreadability of most of the code. Now, I don't mean to flame or troll or anything like that, but there are a lot of parts of the Linux kernel (especially those written in assembler) that are difficult to read and understand. Why can't the Linux kernel maintainers write these illegible functions in a clearer, more concise language like Perl?

Speaking of Perl, there is a lot of awfully illegible code written with this language as well. Take Slashcode, for instance. Have you ever tried to read Slashcode, let alone make improvements to it? I have, and let me tell you, it ain't pretty. This kind of illegibility led me to dump a Perl-based site altogether in favor of something better-documented and more legible, such as (regrettably) ASP.NET.

The point of my little tirade here is simply thus: you defeat the purpose of opening your source when no one else can make heads or tails of it. Furthermoree, you are only shooting yourself in the foot when you try to audit the code, since you won't be able to use the "many eyes make every bug shallow" model to fix things (a concept first posited in Eric Raymond's masterpiece The Cathedral and the Bizarre). So please, comment your code, people, and code legibly.

Re:Forget the license, what about the code? (1)

flatulus (260854) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458403)


You just articulated my personal tirade as well. When working with other people's "open source" code, I frequently reach the point of deciding that writing my own from scratch will actually be quicker....

Audio licenses? (2)

mcwop (31034) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458268)

Maybe licenses should be an audio recording that plays back to the user. A narrator can read the license and explain it. The software won't work until it is done playing.

Of course the user could just get up and go to the bathroom during playback.

My case (5, Interesting)

jsse (254124) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458269)

I worked for a local Government, who were already brainwashed by Microsoft's sales. Here is the dialogs during a meeting debating with a MCSE whether we should use GPL's code:

Me: We could save money using this pieces of GPL code..
MCSE: Doesn't that make all the derived work GPL?
Me: Yes.
MCSE: Then we must release our source code to public! This is confidential!!
Me: No....we are only required to release the source code when the recipents has the binary. We wouldn't release our system to public...
MCSE: but according to GPL, the source code is open to all to read!(?) The other department could read it and might release them to public!
Me: You might have misunderstood the concept...according to GPL's FAQ [] we do not need to release the source code if we use them within an organization. A Government is one big organization, which is very suitable to adopt GPL....
MCSE: That's NOT I heard about GPL. I don't believe in what you said! GPL is about opensource and any dervied works must be made opensource, this is a very restrictive license and there's no way out!

and things went downhill from there. My boss trusted him because he has an MCSE.

I still ponder, what qualification in MCSE would make him know GPL better than others...

Re:My case (1)

hagardtroll (562208) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458399)

The only justification I can think this guy has is this...

The value of my certification increases as more Microsoft software is installed. The more FUD I spread about weenysoft, the higher my salary.

I faced a similar debate with my boss once.

Me: We should look into using some open source software

PHB: But EVERYONE has the source code, it must be full of viruses!

At that point I realized what a moron he was, but didn't have the guts to tell him to his face.

I'm an MCSD, but not a Microsoft cheerleader. I won't put all of my eggs in one basket either, so I write code in C++, PERL, VB, you name it. The right tool for the job.

Microsoft hates it. Don't change it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3458270)


A good summary (2)

nuggz (69912) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458272)

A good summary should highlight the key points

You may freely use this software.

Certain conditions are required to distribute this software.

That is pretty much it as I see it anyway

EULAs and GPL (1)

Aknaton (528294) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458275)

Is the GPL the same as an EULA? If so, can it really be enforced?

Let me say that I don't have a problem with the GPL. I only ask because in a recent Slashdot story about EULAs, there were many people with some interesting arguements about why how EULAs are breakable.


The problem is in writing, not reading (2)

Seth Finkelstein (90154) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458284)

The problem is not that people "don't read" the licenses. It's that they don't have any way of objecting to the license itself. Take a look at the site Badsoftware [] , e.g. []
Backers of UCITA insist that it leaves consumers and small businesses with our existing rights, and gives us new ones. But it doesn't. That's why every consumer advocate we know (including Consumers Union and Ralph Nader's Consumer Project on Technology) has called for termination of the UCITA project. A July 9, 1999 analysis by the Federal Trade Commission points out that UCITA allows software companies to place "restrictions on a consumer's right to sue for a product defect, to use the product, or even to publicly discuss or criticize the product." The analysis concludes, "we question whether it is appropriate to depart from these consumer protection and competition policy principles in a state commercial law statute."
It doesn't matter if the software has a license which said "One line license: We own you!". That would be simple to understand, but the problem is ruling it legal.

Sig: What Happened To The Censorware Project ( []

How does this sound? (2)

2nd Post! (213333) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458295)

Copyright gives the rights of ownership, copying, distribution, and modification of a work to the author of a work, unless they decide to give those rights to others. GPL modifies basic copyrights to automatically give the rights of copying, distribution, and modification to anyone else who also chooses to everyone with access to the work as long as they continue the right of unlimited access to the work.

In short, as far as I understand it, a clear description of the GPL would be as follows:

This source and binaries (work) is protected by the General Public License (GPL). This work belongs to the original author or authors (owners), but the owners have granted everyone rights to copy, modify, and redistribute the work under the stipulation that any changes to the source are made available to anyone with access to the binaries, as defined by the GPL. This work is protected under standard copyright law if you do not agree to the GPL, meaning you cannot redistribute a modified binary without the consent of the owners of the source.

state diagrams (2, Interesting)

rapid prototype (551089) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458299)

have a state diagram, showing what is required to go between states.

i.e., have initial state of [PURCHASED], have an arrow to [MODIFY], [DISTRIBUTE], etc, with proper conditions which must be met to go to that state.

actually, this might make the GPL look much more complicated that most commercial licenses, which would just have the state of [LICENSED] and no way to get to modify or distribute, etc.


All I needed to know, I learned from Pulp Fiction (4, Funny)

Darth RadaR (221648) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458300)

I guess you could explain it the same way that John Travolta explained the basics of marijuana laws in Amsterdam, NL to Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction.

(Jules and Vincent driving in a car)

Jules: Okay now. Tell me about the GNU GPL.

Vincent: What do you want to know?

Jules: Well, it's about free software, right?

Vincent: It's free, but it has some standards. I mean you can't just write a GNU GPL program and restrict it's usage. You're supposed to provide the source code.

Jules: That's the GNU GPL?

Vincent: Yeah, it breaks down like this: It's legal to copy it, it's legal to have access to the source code and, if you're a programmer that wants to add to it, you can as long as your additions to the code go under the GNU GPL. It's legal to keep the program free, which doesn't really matter 'cause-get a load of this- if a company wants to add to your program and not offer the source code, it's illegal. Taking GNU GPL'd programs and not offering the source code is a right that companies don't have.

Jules:That did it, man. I'm f***ing GPL-ing my program. That's all there is to it.

Mod Parent Up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3458398)

Where are all my mod points when I need them?
The parent comment needs to be +5 now!

Copyright law + priviledges (0)

blueskies (525815) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458324)

The GPL does not mean anything to the user as long as they understand they are bound by normal copyright law. If they accept the GPL they have some extra priviledges including distribution rights (along with some distribution restrictions). Only when they start modifing the copyright protected work and distributing it do they have to start understanding the GPL.

What's the problem? (4, Insightful)

Otter (3800) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458325)

If you're talking about users, what's the issue? Install the software, do anything you want with it, don't bother trying to sue the maker if something goes wrong. The fine points of copyleft and derivative works have nothing to do with anything any user is going to run into. That's, to a large extent, the point -- you don't need a lawyer use your software.

Where you need to worry about the implications of the GPL are if you're a) a developer or b) a loudmouth who complains about alleged GPL violations. Come to think of it, you don't need to know anything to be a loudmouth who complains about alleged GPL violations.

By the way, Jamie and Michael, if you have something to say, please post it instead of giving yourselves an automatic (Score: 6, Editor).

The GPL is a work of Art! (4, Interesting)

zulux (112259) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458326)

Most people's eyes glaze over when they think they have to read a contract/license. Prod them into actaully reading the GPL - it's in real english and is honestly written. It's also a brillient bit of leagal-ese.

Courts have traditionally ruled in favor of the consumer if the contract is un-nesessarly obscure, so making the GPL hard to read in an vain attempt to close a loophole can be counterproductive if done in haste. Also, one must be carefull to not give a poorly thought out explenation of the GPL with the GPL - the court might rule that the explenation grants additional rights if the consumer is confused as to if the explenation is part of the contract/license.

So the short answer is to actually READ the GPL. There are no explenaions nesessary to an inteligent person - and no explenation will do the cosumer any good anyways. It's only us developers that need an explenation - we're the ones that can get caught in a GPL bind, not the average consumer.

Forget the GPL (1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3458330)

Whenever i try to explain the GPL to anyone, the chief problem i have is getting them to understand what "source code" is!

Once i can explain what source code is, the GPL becomes effortless to explain. But that first step is hard. So here's my question:

How do you explain the concept of "Source code" to non-programmers in a way that you can be certain they understand what you're saying and aren't just nodding in an "okay.. i don't get it , but go on anyway" fashion?

Authors get cute and that's a mistake!!! (3, Interesting)

gelfling (6534) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458336)

We've had a problem for YEARS with our legal beagles and the openSSH licence because the author thought he/she was being cute. The licence has a section that more or less says "I'm not entirely sure that I haven't borrowed pieces of code where those authors may decide to come after a user for any reason. At any rate that's not my problem and strictly a matter between you and them."

Which is a horrible way to protect the author from third party lawsuits. And the result is that our corporation does not officially sanction the use of openSSH. This leads to more suspicion and resistance to other open source tools and generally makes a mess of the whole effort.

I really wish authors would get a legal reading of their own licences for a reality check before doing what commercial licences do - that is "use this software and you are on your friggin own no matter what hombre!! I mean what next for licences? Rilly rilly kewl pictures and animations and shit?

licenses are code. (1)

bob_jenkins (144606) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458337)

Yo. Licenses are code. Laws are code. They're hard to read for the same reason code is hard to read; it's because they have to completely specify something. Every seen a simple picture or graph that implemented an OS? I thought not.

It's true that laws, unlike code, can't be compiled or linted. Somebody should fix that.

About time someone said this (5, Interesting)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458354)

As the resident office open source nut, a major part of my (non paid) role is stopping my employer stealing open source code. I have lost count of the number of times that I have found stolen open source code in our products. I say "stolen" advisedly, and it's the word I use when confronting the culprits.

The problem is that many of them simply do not understand that there is a cost associated with using "free" software. Sure, it's their fault for not reading it, but it would make my life a lot easier if we stopped wielding the word "free" like a weapon (it means too many things to too many people), and if the GPL (and other open source licenses) opened like this:

  • (C) Original developer

  • This code is copyrighted. It is not "free to use". You may not copy or use it in any way, including for non-commercial purposes, unless you follow strictly the enclosed license terms. If you do not read or follow the license terms, you will be in breach of copyright, and can and will be prosecuted for theft.

I'd say that a clear statement like this is way more important than the DISCLAIMER OF WARRANTY that we tend to splash first. The disclaimer is there to protect the author, but a clear warning that open source code is copyrighted and strictly licensed protects the recipient from doing something stupid and causing grief to both parties. I'd say that it's more in the spirit of open source development to prioritise the copyright/license warning than the disclaimer.

Re:About time someone said this (1)

glenstar (569572) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458486)

I like this. Perhaps it would stop developers from going with their knee-jerk reactions and slapping a GPL notice on every piece of code they write. It would make them think about the various ramifications of GPLing their code, and the fact that just because they can freely use the GPL for their projects, there is a cost to be paid, in that they a) won't make any money from their project, and, 2)have the same obligations of any other license holder in terms of defending their copyrighted works.

Personally, and I know this is horribly unpopular amongst the GPL crowd, I would like to see an extension to the GPL that allows for commercial use, so long as a royalty is paid to the developer. Heck, for those die-hard GPLers you could even make the royalty go straight to the FSF.

Food is a binary (3, Insightful)

Glytch (4881) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458360)

Unless you're an expert, it's hard to get the recipe (the source) from the food (the binary). The GPL is saying "Here's the recipe, and here's some food someone else has made with that recipe, all free for the taking. But if you make and give away or sell food based on the recipe I just gave you, you've got to give away your recipe for free as well."

I know analogies suck, but it's close enough.

just use FreeBSD (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3458370)

Just use FreeBSD and you won't have to hassle with loadable kernel modules that every company uses to defeat the GPL. What's the point of a GPL if every single company is just going to go around it?

What are mentally challenged people to do? (1)

The MoMo King (562894) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458377)

What are people that don't have very high IQs suppose to do if well educated college grads have a hard time understanding software, or any other for that matter, end-user license.

I guess only the very smart are allowed to use anything requiring an end-user license.

Ah darwinism at its best.

The simplest EULA (0, Flamebait)

NibbleAbit (528568) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458387)

"Feel free to give this to anyone you like, Click [here] for the details". It all you really need.

in print! (2, Interesting)

BennyTheBall (575374) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458392)

I say software should have a license that we can read from the package. I mean, If I go and buy a piece of software that comes in its nice little box, Id sure like to read the rules to use it before I go to the cashier and pay. Whats the point of the license if I cant read it until I pay for the thing!.

Its not only important to be able to read and understand an EULA, but to be able to read it at an adequate time; besides, if the EULA fits on the back of the box could be a good parameter for readability.

Simple GPL (1)

doconnor (134648) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458415)

If you distribute this program or a derivative of this program publicly you must include the source code.

EULA terms not enforceable (2, Informative)

saphena (322272) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458454)

The author of the EULA can, of course, write whatever he likes into the licence but the more obscure terms may well be judged to be unenforceable when it comes right down to it and this outcome is much more likely if the document itself is written in obscure legalese and presented in an unhelpful format.

The more presentable and easy to understand, the more enforceable.

In the UK, we have laws such as the Unfair Contract Terms Act which outlaw certain types of clause even if they are easy to read but might allow others ONLY if they are easy to understand.

By all means use the GPL as a shining example of the way it should be done, it may actually be used in court to help defeat some of the more ridiculous EULAs.

New Microsoft EULA (1, Funny)

Anti-Microsoft Troll (577475) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458459)

REports are that Microsoft is indeed responding to criticism of overly-wordy and/or unclear EULAs. Office XP 2.0, in fact, ships with a draft simplified EULA reproduced below: Office XP 2.0 User Agreement: 1 OWN2 jOO! -B1ll G. [] Ok [] Cancel

GPL as a Haiku (3, Funny)

EccentricAnomaly (451326) | more than 12 years ago | (#3458477)

this program is free
give it away or change it
but please keep it free


I give you my work
you must let your breath go free
we share the same moon

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