Re: What is "free software"?

From: Paul Fox <>
Date: Wed, 04 Jun 1997 09:20:50 -0400

> > > That we assert a right to control the redistribution of modified
> > > versions does not mean we want to forbid all such modifications.
> > The existence of the provisions that allow you to forbid modifications
> > is---to be dramatic---a loaded but uncocked gun held at the head of
> > projects like Debian or OpenBSD.
> I understand why you might feel that way. But I also see an inconsistency.
> If this is such a deal-breaker for Debian, then why do its guidelines say:
> > The Debian Free Software Guidelines
> > 1. The software may be redistributed by anyone. The license may restrict
> > a source file from being distributed in modified form, as long as it
> > allows modified binary files, and files that are distributed along
> > with the source for the express purpose of modifying the source.
> It appears to me that this paragraph specifically *permits* licenses
> like that of ncurses. In fact I don't see how it could have been
> written with any other intention in mind.

it is not at all clear to me, reading the ncurses copyright notice,
that this is in fact the case. i quote (from lib_data.c):
 * ncurses is copyright (C) 1992-1995 *
 * Zeyd M. Ben-Halim *
 * *
 * Eric S. Raymond *
 * *
 * *
 * Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute ncurses *
 * by any means and for any fee, whether alone or as part of a *
 * larger distribution, in source or in binary form, PROVIDED *
 * this notice is included with any such distribution, and is not *
 * removed from any of its header files. Mention of ncurses in any *
 * applications linked with it is highly appreciated. *
 * *
 * ncurses comes AS IS with no warranty, implied or expressed. *
 * *

by contrast, the standard BSD license (from a file in FreeBSD's libc/stdio)

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

it is clear that the BSD license waives what someone here called the
"adaptive right", the sole right to produce derivative works.

i cannot see that the ncurses license waives that right for _either_
source or binary forms. it looks like the only way one could distribute
ncurses (legally) as part of, say, Debian, is to ship the unmodified source,
an appropriate set of patches, and have the end-user apply and build.

BTW, i see that the file "ncurses.lsm" that accompanies 1.9.9 releases,
and which appears in

    Copying-policy: BSD-like.

this is clearly _not_ the case, and is extremely misleading, since although
most people have a good idea, via common practice, of what their rights
are under a "BSD-like" Copyright, far fewer will note the omission of those
crucial few words allowing modification from the ncurses license.

in addition, the ANNOUNCE file that accompanies ncurses calls the software
"freeware", another fairly loaded term.

imo, if the Eric and Zeyd wish to retain rigid control over their products,
they should be more rigourous and up front about stating that policy in the
first place.


    paul fox, (arlington, ma)
Received on Wed Jun 04 1997 - 09:48:50 EDT

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