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Can an Open Source Project Be Acquired?

CmdrTaco posted more than 8 years ago | from the i-just-don't-get-this-one dept.

News 336

prostoalex writes "Can an open source project be acquired? ZDNet's Between The Lines says yes, one just did. Software startup JasperSoft acquired Sourceforge-based project JasperReports, which involved acquiring the copyrights and hiring the lead developer for the project." I guess the point he tries to make is that the new corporate overloads can essentially have a free and non-free version of the code, and more or less orphan the free version. The problem of course is that if the non-free version gets good, others will simply fork.

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336 comments

Easy to do and quite legal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348271)

the evil overlords at sun can just buy any decent java tools open source project that competes with sun's for profit tools

All Slashdot morons, attention (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348506)

Repeat after me:

Copyright != License
Copyright != License
Copyright != License
Copyright != License
Copyright != License


Get this into your gay-porn filled dickheads, you stupid morons.

Yes, you can acquire a GPLd project.

No, you can't change its license to something else.

Now: Let's dissect why this utterly useless "story" got accepted at all.

Software startup JasperSoft


This blob of corpspeak should make it clear for all but the most ignorant ./-fuckhead (UID100000) that this whole "article" is nothing but a PR-stunt by that "startup".

Let's all hope they fail (like Linux).

Re:All Slashdot morons, attention (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348522)

No, you can't change its license to something else.
Wrong. As the copyright holder you can change the license. What you can't do is change the license of already released versions.

Re:All Slashdot morons, attention (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348671)

Wrong. Obviously, you do not have a very sound legal background.

If they could change the license, they could also make changes to the GPLd code without contributing it back, something the GPL prohibits.

Therefore, you suck and are probably a clueless Firefox-user who thinks that it is a real browser.

Q.E.D.

Not possible in the EU (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348274)

At least in some large parts of the EU, for example Germany and Austria: You cannot sell the copyright to the work you did or give it away in some other way. It's just not possible. But of course you can sell exploitation rights.

What's the problem (5, Insightful)

javamann (410973) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348276)

The original source is still available. Another company is just going to continue on their own line and sell it. If you don't like it you can code to the original.

JasperReport announcement text (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348359)

Open Source Company JasperSoft to Advance JasperReports

A new company called JasperSoft (http://www.jaspersoft.com) has formed to invest in JasperReports and offer support, services and complimentary commercial products for JasperReports. I will be joining JasperSoft as Founder and Architect for JasperReports. This will allow me to work full-time on JasperReports enhancements, and direct a new team of professional open source developers to accelerate the JasperReports roadmap.

JasperReports has become more popular than I ever imagined it would. And the community has been demanding a higher level of investment and advancement in JasperReports than I alone can deliver, even working full-time. JasperSoft will help to increase the investment in JasperReports by adding full-time professional open source developers to the project.

JasperReports will stay open source forever, and its advancement will accelerate with the additional resources now being applied to it. JasperSoft and I are committed to investing in, and building the best open source reporting products available.

JasperSoft will also offer Support and Services for JasperReports, which a number of JasperReports customers have been requesting. See http://www.jaspersoft.com/services_tech_support.ph p for more information.

JasperSoft is a new company, headquartered in San Francisco that was formed by a combination of open source and commercial reporting domain experts. We have some of the brightest minds in the world now working on JasperReports. JasperSoft also has a commercial product line, JasperDecisions that will offer complimentary capabilities for advanced functionality to the JasperReports community. The JasperDecisions product line consists of:

Scope Server: a java server-based operational reporting solution for interactive, self-serve reporting and analytics.

Scope Designer: a swing-based report designer for Scope Server report development.

JasperDecisions is currently deployed in over 50 leading corporations and ISV's including IBM, British Telecom, Informatica and the US Department of Defense.

Today, JasperDecisions is based on its own XML report definition, called RDL (Report Definition Language) and does not support JRXML at this time. However, future versions of Scope Server will have support for JasperReports. For more information on JasperDecisions, see http://www.jaspersoft.com/products_jsps.php

This is a significant day for JasperReports, which has graduated from an open source project developed and supported by me when I could find time, to an open source product supported by a community of developers around the world, and now backed by a company and a team of professional open source developers who are committed to building the best available open source solution. I hope you will continue to work with me to make JasperReports better than ever.

Teodor

No Problem (4, Interesting)

mfh (56) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348363)

He's talking about the problem that exists when a company acquires an open source project to close it -- but it can't ever truly be closed now can it.

The problem of course is that if the non-free version gets good, others will simply fork.

That's only the problem for the company that bought it. It's no problem for any of us to take the open source version and de-orphan it. Having a deep pocket benefactor is actually a positive for open source. Look at IBM. They haven't acquired rights to anything yet, but in the future they may start buying up Open Source projects... you never know.

But acquiring an open source project can be a solid benefit for any business. This is good when companies take an open source project and fully fund it. That's part of the Open Source dream, IMHO. Money can still be made on services!

Who cares if it's forked into a closed area? There still is the old source to build on!

Re:No Problem (4, Interesting)

KarmaMB84 (743001) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348501)

And what happens when the lead developer only works on the closed version? Realisticly, most open source projects will die off if the core dev(s) stop working on it. The forking idea is a fantasy for anything other than the most important/popular projects like X.org/XFree86.

Re:No Problem (3, Insightful)

Total_Wimp (564548) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348553)

Who cares if it's forked into a closed area? There still is the old source to build on!

I think this breaks down somewhat when you consider the importance of the developers. In this particular case, the purchasing company not only got the code, but the lead guy who created and/or managed the code.

The FOSS community would not have a huge problem on it's hands if some company acquired and closed a branch of the Linux kernel, but there would be much wringing of hands if Linus went to the closed branch and stopped managing the free one.

TW

Re:No Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348606)

This is good when companies take an open source project and fully fund it. That's part of the Open Source dream, IMHO. That is the dream. It's too bad reality is something completely different.

This isn't the first project to have this happen.. (4, Insightful)

drunkennewfiemidget (712572) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348280)

Many other projects have had large corporations buy them up, fork them, and ignore the free version.

But as the article plainly says -- and where the real beauty in open-source lies -- if the free version is good ENOUGH, someone else will come along, pick up the pieces, and continue making a better product out of it.

Re:This isn't the first project to have this happe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348503)

It DID NOT happen. Ziff Davis was wrong AGAIN.

I'm sorry, what? (3, Insightful)

Dancin_Santa (265275) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348281)

You're going to have to give some concrete examples of dually licensed projects where the closed one is worse off than the open one.

That's a pretty big claim.

As for open source projects getting bought up, I think that's great for everyone. The open source stuff still remains open and the programmers who worked on the project get some real (read monetary) appreciation for their work.

Re:I'm sorry, what? (1, Informative)

swv3752 (187722) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348460)

Netscape.

Re:I'm sorry, what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348500)

I think you'd be hard pressed to argue that Netscape is worse than Mozilla. While it may be larger in size and possibly slower than Moz, it also handles plugins much better than either Mozilla or Firefox. In addtion, the integration in Netscape is much better done than in the default Mozilla release.

On top of that, that's only one example (a bad one). How about another example or two?

Re:I'm sorry, what? (1)

swv3752 (187722) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348688)

Netscape does not handle plugins better. It is also significantly behind on security updates.

Re:I'm sorry, what? (5, Interesting)

sylvandb (308927) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348524)

Sometimes the code for an open source project pretty much just disappears. I'd say that makes the open version much worse off than the closed version.

http://dvarchive.sf.net/ [sf.net] or http://www.sf.net/projects/dvarchive/ [sf.net]

It was GPL licensed, but the original author changed the license terms and managed to get sourceforge to delete everything that had once been available from the SF page. For a year or more he had claimed that he had lost the sources and was going to upload when the new version worked. Obviously that didn't happen.

I think this happened because the project's primary user base was not open source fans, so very few copies of the source were ever archived elsewhere. Apparently, open source developers were never interested enough to create a fork or even keep a copy of the source while the source was available.

Now the source simply is not available for the current version (3.x), nor even the last versions which were ostensibly GPL'd (2.1 or 3.0). (The license for the current version is not GPL.)

It has happened with other projects, and will undoubtedly continue to happen. It won't happen any time soon with Linux kernels or emacs, but when something isn't incredibly popular, it can and does happen.

My lesson leared from this, is to keep a copy of the source for anything and everything in which I am even a little bit interested. Still get burned sometimes though.

sdb

Re:I'm sorry, what? (5, Informative)

Redfriar (85415) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348550)

I think if you take a look at the TOra [sourceforge.net] project, you'll see an example of the closed fork doing worse than the open one. TOra stands for Toolkit for Oracle, it is a feature competitor to Quest Software's TOAD toolkit.

I was thrilled when I found TORa, and when I found the project had a windows port. It's DDL/Data extraction is by far the best feature for my day-to-day work.

At some point, Quest Software hires the TOra developer, and closes the source on the Windows port. I was still so enamoured with TOra that I pestered the Quest sales staff monthly to find out when it will hit the price sheet, so I can buy the now closed version. I don't think they ever intended to sell a competing product, though.

So, 9-12 months later, the Windows port is defunct [globecom.net], with Quest claiming that all features of TOra are now available in Toad.

I wouldn't call this a successful acquisition, unless you count Quest Software (for squishing a competing product) or the original developer of TOra (which, I admit, has to make a living some how). Perhaps you could count Mac and Linux users as winners here, as they still enjoy an open-licensed version, whose developer is now on a steady payroll related to the project.

Had they kept TOra intact for Windows users, and priced it competitively with TOAD, I would have been happy to be a paying customer.

Good example (1)

Dancin_Santa (265275) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348592)

That is a good example. But it's also a case of a company purposefully killing off the project (which is a feat in itself). I doubt that most project acquisitions are done specifically for that purpose, though.

fp (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348283)

First Post. Uberpenguin. http://ramble.host-dot.com

Yes (3, Informative)

kevin_conaway (585204) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348287)

The author answers his own question in the first sentence of the article (emphasis mine):

Here's a wrinkle that many devotees of open source either don't know about or don't talk about: Open source projects can get acquired by commercial software companies.

Re:Yes (4, Insightful)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348352)

either don't know about or don't talk about

Or don't care about. If you're a user of open source, you're free to continue using the open source version you received before they were acquired. If you're a developer of open source, it's your source to sell or not to sell, depending on how idealistic you are versus how hungry you are.

Re:Yes (2, Insightful)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348492)

And if you are a developer using other OSS for your development, you're also secure because OSS licenses cannot be terminated, except by violating them.

OT (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348520)

From link in your sig:
- You use an IANAx acronym (and spell out what it means in parentheses next to it.) If you have to spell out the acryonym, why even bother?

That has to be one of the dumbest things on Slashdot. IANACTATWPPOS (I am not a complainer talking about the way people post on slashdot) but this kind of stuff just gets ridiculus!

I agree with you 100%

Re:Yes (1)

birge (866103) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348525)

Yeah, great point out, given that the author also acknowledged that he answered his own question. Maybe you've got another one for your list...

Re:Yes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348537)

Ahh, the sweet act of posting a seemingly insightful comment that provides no value at all, merely to garner attention to my (err the posters) sig. :)

Re:Yes (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348577)

I suspect I'll be modded down for this, but, what the hey:

Actually all it shows is someone tried. The real sign of whether they've succeeded is whether they're able to lock down the code - if you like, put it in a safe that we can't crack by some kind of "key" which I'd guess would be some loophole in copyright law.

IANAL (I Am Not A Lawyer...), but if they succeed, then I expect MSFT and others to be interested because of the legal ramifications. This provides them with a way to destroy open source as they can essentially "buy up" critical parts of the infrastructure, Linux, various shells, etc, from people who are willing to compromise a little in exchange for $10,000,000 (and, yeah, the Slashdot groupthink might mean the vast majority of slashbots think they wouldn't do this, but I assure you, most of us would.)

I remember coding a Java app which, despite its slow speed, got bought up by a company that was interested that I'd have released as open source if it hadn't been. By itself, that tells you that money can count and prevent projects from even being licensed under the GPL. Who knows what would have happened to it had it been open source, perhaps ported to Mono or something so it could run at a decent speed rather than Java's chronic plodding style. Who knows. It reminds me of ESR's "Shut up and show them the code" essay, which I must submit to Slashdot at some point - true, you can defend your morals, but ultimately it's more important to get the code out under any license.

I can imagine what the responses to this will be, "You suck, I'd never sell out my morals", "Software should be freeeee!", plus, "1. Sell software. 2. ????. 3. Profit!", etc. But leaving aside the trolls and the sheeple, I think it's fairly obvious that it's mostly a matter of money. Everyone has their price.

So until we find out what this company intends to do, and see if they really can find a way of invalidating the licenses (so they never applied to begin with), I think I have to say "Move along citizen, nothing to see here".

Time will tell.

Re:Yes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348602)

That made my day, thanks!

MOD UP (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348618)

Parent is pretty much exploding the myth that simply because something is OSS now, doesn't mean it always will be. A mere loophole in the original license, or a problem with the original license that makes it technically illegal, could undermine the whole thing.

Old Version? (-1, Redundant)

Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348291)

If a company buys out an OSS, you can often still get the older, free version somewheres on the internet. It may not be as updated, but at least it is free.

Re:Old Version? (2, Insightful)

Professor_UNIX (867045) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348361)

If a company buys out an OSS, you can often still get the older, free version somewheres on the internet. It may not be as updated, but at least it is free.

But would you begin using a piece of software if you knew it was a dead end? Think about it, the authors will never produce another update for that version and if you want to continue using it you'll either have to hope someone else will come along and fork it (unlikely) or you need to buy the commercial version. Why bother using it in the first place in that case?

Re:Old Version? (0, Redundant)

m50d (797211) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348521)

If you're a developer, you can pick it up and work on it, and make it more of what you want than the commercial version is.

You -Really- Don't Get This? (5, Insightful)

American AC in Paris (230456) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348312)

I guess the point he tries to make is that the new corporate overloads can essentially have a free and non-free version of the code, and more or less orphan the free version. The problem of course is that if the non-free version gets good, others will simply fork.

Taco, please tell me you're not really having trouble wrapping your head around this one, and that you're just pretending to be staggeringly obtuse for the sake of, well, whatever reason you'd want people to think that you're staggeringly obtuse.

If I own a piece of code, I can do whatever the hell I want with it--including sell it to somebody else. It doesn't matter whether or not I've licensed it out under the GPL or other such Open Source license. Unless I surrender it to the public domain, I own that code, and I can license a GPL version, sell a closed version, offer a crippled demo, auction off a signed copy of the source code for a million dollars, and build an extra-shiny-and-nifty-for-my-eyes-only version--or whatever else I'd like to do with it.

Re:You -Really- Don't Get This? (1)

coyote-san (38515) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348387)

How much of the code was contributed by others?

Re:You -Really- Don't Get This? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348464)

Well, according to the article, the company obtained permission from ALL of the developers, in addition to hiring the lead developer, so it looks like they have their bases covered. Of course, with some niche project nobody's heard of unless you deal with exactly what the software does, that may have been like what, 3-5 main developers and 20-30 people who submitted a patch?

You'd be hard pressed to get all the developers of something significant like GCC or Linux to agree to such an action, and refusal from anyone with a significant contribution pretty much stops the acquisition.

Re:You -Really- Don't Get This? (2, Insightful)

Fjornir (516960) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348394)

Don't bother replying to Taco (or any other /. admin ) in the threads. They don't read slashdot. (Or there email, but that's another story).

Re:You -Really- Don't Get This? (5, Informative)

photon317 (208409) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348466)


There are some subtleties that most people don't realize, however.

For the sake of example, assume a given project has only a single author. Said author owns the copyright to the code, and distributes it to the public in an unrestricted fashion under the terms of the GPL.

If a random member of the public wanted to fork/commercialize his code, they are bound by the GPL to keep re-releasing their changes under the GPL. However if the original Author wanted to fork his own work and make a commercial effort out of it, he can do that and make his future contributions proprietary, as the GPL doesn't apply to the Author himself (he didn't license it to himself, he owns the copyright to begin with).

Therefore, it is entirely possible for an individual author to write and maintain a peice of free software for years, and then fork his own work into a proprietary commercial derivative that nobody has any future rights to the code of except him. What he cannot do, of course, is revoke any code he already published under the GPL. This leaves his user community able to pick up the work from the last GPL version the Author released and continue the effort under the terms of the GPL.

However, most significant projects have multiple Authors, and all of the Authors would have to agree on this course of action in order to do it. That's why such a thing can't really happen to a body of work like glibc, gcc, or the linux kernel: there are far too many authors with the copyrights in the code all over the place, and you could never get them to all agree to come under one commercial roof together and make a proprietary fork.

Re:You -Really- Don't Get This? (4, Informative)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348616)

Well, actually for code in the GNU project (GCC, glibc, etc.), you have to assign copyright to the FSF in order to contribute your code to the official version. Therefore from a copyright perspective, the FSF could actually make any such code proprietary. Of course actually it cannot anyway, because part of the copyright assignment contract is AFAIK that the FSF contracts not to do that, so if they did it anyway, it would be breach of contract (which is unrelated to copyright). Not that I'd suspect the FSF of a desire to do so. ;-)

Re:You -Really- Don't Get This? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348624)

That's why such a thing can't really happen to a body of work like glibc, gcc, or the linux kernel: there are far too many authors with the copyrights in the code all over the place, and you could never get them to all agree to come under one commercial roof together and make a proprietary fork.

Actually GCC has all its copyrights in one place: The FSF. But good luck on convincing them :)

Re:You -Really- Don't Get This? (1)

Mr Bill (21249) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348683)

That's why such a thing can't really happen to a body of work like glibc, gcc, or the linux kernel

Are you sure about that? I was under the impression that the FSF requires you to sign over copyright when contributing to these projects (Linux excluded from your list of course). I am not implying that they are going to fork a commercial version, but your reasoning is off, since one entity does own the copyrights to the entire codebase.

There are many other projects that require you to sign over your contributions. MySQL being one of them, since they dual license their code.

Re:You -Really- Don't Get This? (2, Insightful)

MrLint (519792) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348535)

Agreed,

It looks like these guys followed the proper channels. Bought the rights and hired the author. This is the same procedure as any other SW project (like a shareware author).

Nothing wrong with that (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348316)

We've always known that an author can remove the license on software they wrote. Of course, that doesn't change YOUR license, and they do still need to provide access to the source if it was under the GPL, specifically, when you got it. However, they're under no obligation to give you updates or changes from future versions of their own code.

So, the corporate buyout angle is a red herring. This is no different from any developer taking their ball and going home.

Re:Nothing wrong with that (4, Insightful)

karmatic (776420) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348559)

Actually, they don't have to provide the code at all, unless they distributed 3rd party code along with it. You cannot violate a copyright license on your own works; authors don't need a license from themselves to distribute their own works.

They don't even have to distribute it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348615)

"and they do still need to provide access to the source if it was under the GPL"

The author's right to use the code does not depend on the GPL. Therefore, the author does not even have to continue to distribute the code in any manner and does not have to distribute the source code. (Of course, he can't continue to use the GPL unless he does distribute the source code.)

The fly in the ointment is that if anyone else has made a contribution to the code, the main developer has to remove the contributed code before taking his own code private.

Corporate Overloads = Insightful Freudian Slip (-1, Offtopic)

rewinn (647614) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348319)

Not ragging on a typo; just inquiring whether "the new corporate overloads" refers to

"Too much work demanded of too little infrastructure"

or

"Too much output, not enough diaper"

Re:Corporate Overloads = Insightful Freudian Slip (2, Insightful)

plopez (54068) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348417)

"Too much work demanded of too little infrastructure"

sounds like a typical IT department to me :)

Looks good to me... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348323)

Yeah I agree, as there is no way they can stop people from using the open source code as a base to continue with a free version then you don't have any problems. What happens if the author removes all the links to the sourcecode though, are you legally entitled to ask for it?

Re:Looks good to me... (2, Informative)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348621)

What happens if the author removes all the links to the sourcecode though, are you legally entitled to ask for it?
for 3 years only copy of the gpl [tortoisecvs.org]
Accompany it with a written offer, valid for at least three years, to give any third party, for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code, to be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,
Of course, after 3 years the code is pretty stale anyway, so the only people who would want it would be litigious bastards [sco.com] so that they could incorporate it into their trailing-edge products.

And there's always the wayback machine, the internet archive, etc ...

I don't get it. (1)

ciroknight (601098) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348331)

Is this anything like a company buying another? Like how Novell bought SuSE?

Technically, all that makes a "project" a "project", is the fact someone's coding on it. Hire the coder, have him sign something to turn the license for the software over to the company, and poof, ownership is transfered.

So what's the whoop here?

Re:I don't get it. (2, Insightful)

Tassach (137772) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348605)

So what's the whoop here?
None at all. Taco's trying to drum up ad impressions by posting an intentionally inflamatory article. Push the GPL Violation hot-button around here and people get more worked up than a bunch of Southern Baptists do over gay marriage.

Can we moderate an entire story as "Flamebait"?

Re:I don't get it. (2, Interesting)

bsd4me (759597) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348693)

Can we moderate an entire story as "Flamebait"?

No, but people with mod points can refrain from moderating any posts in the story. It may not do much, but it's something.

GPL not retractable (2, Insightful)

redelm (54142) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348333)

Once out, the licensor of GPL code has no way of withdrawing the licence.

Sure, the corp can buy the original copyright (and maybe some important later contributions) but that only gives them the ability to relicence the code.

Practically speaking, they'd have to make substantial improvements/service (ala sendmail) or market to the uninformed before the product would be saleable. And any improvement likely could be added into the free tree.

Re:GPL not retractable (2, Insightful)

coyote-san (38515) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348419)

The owner can't withdraw the license of previously published code, but they can certainly change the license on subsequent releases.

(This assumes that the code has a single owner. Code with many significant contributors will need to have all of the contributed code rewritten before it can be relicensed.)

Profit.. (1)

PurpleXanathar (800369) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348336)

>> The problem of course is that if the non-free version gets good, others will simply fork.

This is the reason why you can profit off big open source projects, where support, maintanance, services, non free components, etc. have an importance.

Profit from small, simple applications is not feasible as now.

Depends who wrote the code... (5, Insightful)

Evro (18923) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348346)

If Bob writes a program (owns the copyright on 100% of the code) and releases it under the GPL, and then later decides to sell his project to some random guy, he is free to do so, but the people who have the GPL'd version would still have full rights to do with it everything specified under the GPL.

If Bob writes a program, releases it under the GPL, and incorporates contributed code into the project, that's another can of worms. I would think if he wanted to "go private" with the code base at that point he would need to get the permission of everyone who contributed any code, much like Mozilla did. If he couldn't get their permission he would have to rewrite those chunks of code.

Of course, IANAL, but that's what logic would seem to dictate; though logic has little to do with most software licensing schemes...

Multiple contributors (0)

aaarrrgggh (9205) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348505)

If Bob writes a program, releases it under the GPL, and incorporates contributed code into the project, that's another can of worms. I would think if he wanted to "go private" with the code base at that point he would need to get the permission of everyone who contributed any code, much like Mozilla did. If he couldn't get their permission he would have to rewrite those chunks of code.

No. One person owns the copyright to the overall body of code. Your contributions are just that... gifts. The alternative is to only contribute to projects where the EFF owns the copyright, so a "rogue owner" can't take advantage of your work.

Nature of the beast. The real check and balance is that if a project has a significant portion of outside contributors it doesn't make a very good canidate for "sale," as the maintenance of the package is outside the realm of hte primary contributor...

Re:Multiple contributors (1)

mindstrm (20013) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348595)

It's not that cut & dried. A small bugfix may be a gift, but larger submissions of code are not necessarily so. Unless you can show some kind of transfer of rights from the submitting author, they still retain copyright on their own code. This is an issue that should be addressed by more projects, and is often left untouched.

Also, regarding the EFF... they insist on copyright asignment for contributions.. this also means the EFF could re-license all their code any way they see fit, and nobody can do anything about it.

Re:Multiple contributors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348620)

No. One person owns the copyright to the overall body of code. Your contributions are just that... gifts.

/me thinks you are incorrect. If I contribute code to Linux (for example), I still own that copyright to that code. If you look any major GPLed project, like Linux (again for example), you see many, many copyright holders to sections of the code.

Re:Multiple contributors (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Custard (587661) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348645)

No. One person owns the copyright to the overall body of code. Your contributions are just that... gifts.

Wrong. You might have given them as gifts.

But if you didn't, and you released the code under the GPL, then the other guy must have agreed to your licensing terms in order to use your code. You own the copyright to your own portions of the code unless you transfer it.

If the person who owns the copyright to the rest of the code wants to release a non-GPL'd version, he either needs to get your approval, or he needs to remove your portion.

Re:Depends who wrote the code... (1)

Nasarius (593729) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348610)

If Bob writes a program, releases it under the GPL, and incorporates contributed code into the project, that's another can of worms. I would think if he wanted to "go private" with the code base at that point he would need to get the permission of everyone who contributed any code, much like Mozilla did. If he couldn't get their permission he would have to rewrite those chunks of code.

This isn't necessary if all contributors assign copyright to one entity. That's the FSF's policy, for example.

if your code is GPL it can (1)

Naikrovek (667) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348362)

... actually probably for BSD licensed code also, but my point is that even though the code is GPL, the copyright still belongs to the author. the GPL only allows anyone to copy/modify the code as if the copyright were their own. That is, the GPL gives non-copyright holders permissions that they would otherwise not have.

The copyright remains and the author can sell his copyright to someone who can then close the source. Whatever was already released will always be GPL, but the copyright holder always gets to determine the future openness.

the GPL does not apply to the copyright holder, remember. The author of the software does not have to obey the GPL - derivative works written by the copyright holder do not have to be licensed under the GPL because he actually owns the code. He can release a version under the GPL then turn around and close it if he wants to.

Size of the Project / Consent (2, Interesting)

Inkieminstrel (812132) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348370)

Doesn't it also depend on the size of the project and consent of contributors?

I mean sure for a handful of developers on a small project it'd be pretty easy to acquire the project, assuming none of them were OS zealots. However, good luck trying to acquire something as big as, say, the Linux kernel.

Author relicenses work! News At 11... (4, Interesting)

dominator (61418) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348374)

If you are a copyright holder, you've always been able to reassign copyright or relicense your work. This is not earth-shattering news just because it's a FOSS work being relicensed. Relicensing FOSS code is far more common than you'd think.

The good thing here is that the original work is still covered under the TOCs of its original FOSS license, so the original author and others can continue making improvements and otherwise maintain the software.

Otherwise, move along. Nothing to see here.

Someone please, acquire Debian! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348377)

Would someone *please* acquire Debian now that they are "broke" with only $40,000 in cash and start releasing more often?

So what? (2, Informative)

spiritraveller (641174) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348383)

Yes, like any software project, someone can come along, acquire the copyrights and rerelease it under whatever license they want.

The difference with open source is that you have to track down individual contributors. With any popular open source project, it's going to be very difficult to find and get all those contributors to sell you their copyrights.

Even still, versions released prior to the buyout would still be subject to the GPL (for example) and only new versions could be made non-free.

Yes, it can happen. No it isn't anything to worry about.

I'm not sure this is entirely evil (3, Interesting)

Noctrnl (110574) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348389)

Ok, so, a company bought up an open source project and put the lead developer on the payroll... How is this an inherently bad thing? Yes, I'm fundamentally pro-OSS, but one of the basic ideas is that it makes for better code. It just seems like the purchasing company in this case is taking a step in that direction by buying up a good project and paying a good developer.

Having said all that; I really hope it's not a continuing trend.

Re:I'm not sure this is entirely evil (2, Insightful)

Bluesy21 (840772) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348478)

Having said all that; I really hope it's not a continuing trend.

If own a company and I produce Product A and someone has figured out how to produce a version of Product A that is better than mine; I'm going to buy that company/product. If it happens to be from the Open Source community all the better. Then there are less people to buy off. Unfortunately, this is simply how business operates. It isn't usually a financially sound investment to try and copy an idea without violating copyright laws. It is much easier to just buy said product and try to "reinvent the wheel."

So if Open Source developers are making better products than commercial developers this will be a continuing trend. Especially when it's easier to hire the lead programmer, or buy the rights to their product than to develop your own version.

OSS Biz Model (0, Flamebait)

korekrash (853240) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348395)

Before I get flamed, let me just say I have nothing against open source, I just don't understand how it works financially. Could someone explain how "Open Source" software makes any money? I know that corps use services to make there money, but what about smaller companies and independants? How would software development be profitable? I'm just a hobbiest coder and don't do this for a living, so I don't know all the ins and outs. Can someone explain this to me?

Re:OSS Biz Model (1)

BraceletWinner (845950) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348496)

My company uses an OS library to read a certain file format. We wrote a GUI for it and now sell the whole package. We are also paying the company that owns the copyright to the code to modify it to fit our needs. Both of us are making money off of an Open Source project.

Re:OSS Biz Model (1)

korekrash (853240) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348607)

Great example, thanks. I didn't even think about "extending" the project for profit. Makes more sense. I shouldn't be too concerned anyway, since my job as an net eng. is the "implementation" part, I don't really care who writes it as long as it isn't $1000 a copy and doesn't put me over budget! Hence my support for OSS! MS just charges too much....

Re:OSS Biz Model (1)

Otto (17870) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348515)

Before I get flamed, let me just say I have nothing against open source, I just don't understand how it works financially. Could someone explain how "Open Source" software makes any money? I know that corps use services to make there money, but what about smaller companies and independants? How would software development be profitable? I'm just a hobbiest coder and don't do this for a living, so I don't know all the ins and outs. Can someone explain this to me?

Well, there's several ways, but all ways of making money are essentially identical: Convince somebody to give you money for services or products rendered. Not really all that complex here.

Maybe some company will hire the guy and pay him to write code for them, and aren't too finicky about releasing that code. They use the code the guy writes, and that's really what they're concerned about.

Or, perhaps the guy writes some software which he gives away, and then sells support for it (ala Red Hat) or sells books on how to use it or something.

Or maybe he just writes Open Source when he's at home as a hobby and gets paid for writing closed source at work (probably the most common situation).

Point being that you can sell anything if you can find somebody to buy it. :)

Re:OSS Biz Model (1)

grumpyman (849537) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348679)

I think there's no business model, i.e. pretty much no money involvement (can they accept donation?). It's all about quality software, sharing that fruit, and maybe some fame. I thought the open source idea evolves around:

1. "Gees, these tools sux, let me build my own, in which I can really make good use of"
2. "Hmm... lemme put it on ftp/web. Hmm... others actually find good use of it too"
3. "I may as well release the source coz there're people who's willing to make it even better and put more features..etc."

It can be tricky... (2, Informative)

Spoke (6112) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348434)

It can be tricky to acquire the Copyright an open source project if there are multiple developers involved, as each one will need to agree to the aquisition.

Unless each developer who submits code to the project also turns over the copyright to a single entity, it can only take 1 developer to dissent and prevent the aquisition from happening except under the terms of the original license.

Indeed (1, Interesting)

PsychicX (866028) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348436)

Yep, just like Ximian got acquired by Novell and now ships free and non free versions. Or perhaps like Sun's StarOffice and OpenOffice. But nobody seems particularly miffed about StarOffice. It's supposed to be better than OpenOffice so that people will use it instead, right? Come to think of it, SuSE got 'acquired' by Novell too. Where's their non free version? Stop screaming wolf slashdot. It's not "News for Nerds. Stuff that matters." anymore. None of this matters, and real nerds, who are supposedly smart people, can hopefully see through the massive ongoing FUD machine that is Slashdot.

forking is not the issue, dude (1)

karmaflux (148909) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348491)

They bought the copyright. The GPL is just a license to use copyrighted work. They own the copyright now, and they can license it however the hell they want. Including using a Microsoft-style EULA.

The point is that this is probably the last Free version of this software -- and is the source of the last available code to fork, ever. If the company so decides, nobody will ever get to see source to the newer versions.

Problem for whom? (-1, Offtopic)

elgatozorbas (783538) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348508)

The problem of course is that if the non-free version gets good, others will simply fork.

How is this a problem, and for whom?

Go Read the guys page, you know the link (1)

big-giant-head (148077) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348509)

he says it will remain open source and they will sell enhancements. This seems similar to JBoss. It is open source, BUT if you want consultants, training, or 24x7 support it costs. This is really not a bad way to develop business around open source. For the folks that will read the free docs and figure stuff out on thier own great. For the Corp types that must have training and 24hr support thats there as well.

Hrm, there's a wrinkle here, I think (1)

shatfield (199969) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348565)

If a company hires the developer (whether "lead developer" or not) of a project and that developer takes the GPL'd source code and creates a new closed source project out of it for this new company he works for, he can't distribute the new program without also adhering to the GPL... his program is based off of an older version of itself that contains GPL'd code.

Isn't that correct?

Re:Hrm, there's a wrinkle here, I think (3, Insightful)

the_germ (146623) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348614)

No, he ows the copyright, so he can do with it whatever he wants - including to start a commercial fork.

Others could not do that, but the copyright owner can!

No problem! The new products are "complimentary" (2, Interesting)

14erCleaner (745600) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348567)

According to the JasperReports page [sourceforge.net]:

A new company called JasperSoft (http://www.jaspersoft.com) has formed to invest in JasperReports and offer support, services and complimentary commercial products for JasperReports.

Unless, of course, he meant "complementary"...

Seriously, the above statement seems to be saying that they will be offering mostly support and add-ons, not taking the core product private. The JasperReports software is currently under the LGPL [sourceforge.net], so there is some assurance that the original will still be available in the future, if anybody cares enough to fork the project.

Turck (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348587)

Anyone remember what happened to Turck Mmcache when Zend hired the lead developer? ....

Not very good recommendation (3, Interesting)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348597)

Take a look at SourceForge. The project was acquired by some company and abandoned.

Another company forked, and brought us GForge, which incorporates SVN and other improvements. Too bad GForge isn't used by the SourceForge site itself.

Food for thought.

Hibernate (1)

aclute (94263) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348611)

The O/R mapping tool Hibernate was essentialy acquired by JBoss.

They hired the lead developer Gavin King, and now pay him, and part of his team, salaries to help further the product, under the guise of helping JBoss's business objectives.

For-profit open source? (0, Troll)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348627)

Do open source programmers profit? Do they do it for the fun of it? or for the potential future in the for-profit world?
How many people actually USE Linux? Is it as difficult to configure and set up as people say it is? Is there a stable Linux version that is ready to download and use right now?
I am not sure if and when a Linux operating system will be fully realized. I guess what I am asking is, does the average PC-illerate user consider Linux as a viable alternative to Windows? Here is an about one person's experience. [pcworld.com]

Uhm, what's new? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348637)

How is this different from, say, when Sun bought the company that created JXTA?

Relicencing happens (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348650)

This sort of thing happens from time to time. If you "own" all the copyrights then you do what you like with a project. Plenty of projects have started open and gone closed. That doesn't tend to stop the last free version being open source - it just means that *new* versions won't be. If something is popular AND has savvy developer users they can fork off from the last free version.

Was the ZDnet author's memory so short as to forget that SSH communications closed SSH when they produced their commericial version of SSH2 - History of SSH [hn.edu.cn]? Another project that this has "happened" to is TuxRacer but I don't think that had many outside contributions. I don't see the big deal - people should be allowed to change their mind if they are the copyright owners!

Palm Usenet newsreader "Yanoff" did this, too! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348662)

Check out my story (fuller details in the "manul" section):
http://www.PalmYanoff.com

GCC? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348666)

This could happen to GCC!! The FSF owns copyrights to all of the code (every contributor has to assign them their copyright). RMS could have been tricking us all along!!!

YES! fpP (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#12348673)

Cre3k, abysmal by clicking here Anything can

Quality (1)

lisaparratt (752068) | more than 8 years ago | (#12348680)

The problem of course is that if the non-free version gets good, others will simply fork.

This assumes that a company that dedicates full time resources to a product is unable to produce anything that would beat the part time input of volunteers.
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