Re: XFree86 4.4.0 RC3

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Since we have been invited to express our opinion, I believe that the new XFree86 license does more harm then good. The goal of achieving equitable attribution is laudable, but this license is too blunt of an instrument to achieve it.

There has been a fair amount of emotion expressed over this issue and some of it could rightly be called FUD. The specter of GPL incompatibility has substantially muddied the waters due to long help political differences. However, there are legitimate problems with the new restrictions this license places on binary distributions.

At 3:50 PM -0500 2/13/04, David Dawes wrote:
This begs a couple of questions that I have yet to see answered:

  1. If other third-party contributions are acknowledged in, say, a CD
     booklet, why shouldn't XFree86's be?

This is the core of the argument. All reasonable people would agree that XFree86 should be given appropriate credit, but this license places conditions on how and where this credit should be given that make it problematic for binary distributors. I imagine the position of the XFree86 BoD is that the conditions on binary distribution are minor and easily satisfied. However, I agree with others that there are many actual and conceivable circumstances where the burdens placed by the new license are overly restrictive. Some examples are:

1. The many contributor problem: Others holding copyrights in the tree have been encouraged to consider adopting this license. The attribution requirements could soon become unwieldy.

2. The multiple acknowledgements problem: The license presupposes that there is one place acknowledgements are gathered. The OpenBSD CD case has been pointed out where only graphics designers are credited on the CD case. The only way to satisfy the new license requirements appears to be to credit XFree86 everywhere 3rd parties are acknowledged. This places a burden on documentation and package design, which could be substantial combined with #1.

3. The single file problem: What if I only want to borrow part of one file with the XFree86 copyright? In the past I could use this for my proprietary or other purpose as long as I retained the copyright/license notice in the source code. Now I have to credit the XFree86 Project in any binaries I produce. In answer to your question above, sometimes XFree86's contributions may be too small to warrant being specially recognized. The requirement that credit has to be given for even tiny contributions has the practical effect of making XFree86 copyrighted code unusable on certain projects. This goes against the original idea of the MIT/X11 license.

The core idea of MIT/X11 license is that the code can freely be used by anyone. The new license makes the "barrier of entry" too high for some people and thus runs counter to the spirit many X11 developers are working under. The XFree86 Project is recognized in the open source community because it produces good code that people use, not because it widely requires credit. My view is that we should return to producing code that no one has problems using.

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