On Taking License With Language: Using Links To Explain Jokes, Licenses, and Pun Fun

I ended my previous post with the line:

I won this one for: the kippah-er, for:shane.

This play on words occurred to me as I was writing the post. Since the rhyme of “gipper” with “kippah-er” was not obvious, I published the line in the form of a link that clarified my intent.

I then realized that I can’t recall explaining a joke or a pun this way before, though I probably have.

One of my goals in writing this blog about the fun that is open-source is to do what I can to have fun while writing it.

For example, I wrote nineteen posts on the topic of open-source forking about a year ago. The title of each begins with the words, “Yogi Yarns.”

Though I didn’t know how many posts it would take, I did know before I wrote the first that the title of the last would contain this phrase:

If you come to a fork in the road, pick it up

One of them — Yogi Yarns – Inbound and Outbound Licenses — was visited yesterday as a result of a web search on “what is inbound licensing.”

The phrases “inbound license” and “outbound license” are often used by attorneys who deal in open-source matters.

For example, the response to the query “What is the outbound license?” is usually “IPLA,” an acronym for IBM Program License Agreement, which is an example of what is called a “commercial” license.

Licenses such as BSD, MIT, and Apache are said to be “liberal” in that they permit the code to be relicensed under a commercial license. For example, “The inbound license for this package is BSD, the outbound license is IPLA.”

Licenses such as GPL and GPL are said to be “conservative,” or “viral,” in that they dictate the outbound license. For example, “The inbound license for this package is GPL so we have use GPL as the outbound license.

Licenses such as Mozilla, Eclipse, IBM’s CPL (Common Public License), and Sun’s CDDL (Common Distribution and Development License) fall in between. They allow the use of a commercial license for the code you write, but also required that if you made any changes to the underlying code then you must make those changes available under the terms on the inbound license.

As is always the case when discussing the licensing of intellectual property such as open-source code, you should consult your attorney and not rely on the statements of non-attorneys such as the author of this post.

As a further cautionary note, licenses should only be interpreted, or written, by attorneys versed in this art.

Certain words and phrases have very precise meanings when they are included in a license, and so, as a non-attorney, you can not apply your everyday, “common sense” knowledge of language to interpret a license.

Programmers are especially likely to make false interpretations when they view “license language” as just another kind of programming language. Indeed it is, but you have to go law school to learn how to code in it.

I was first made aware of this soon after the Jikes code was released late in 1998, and related posts can be found in the Jikes Archives that are part of this blog.

Soon after the Jikes code was released in open-source form, there were a number of queries about the license — one that had been created by IBM — mostly as comments to a Slashdot story about the release. I responded to several, but was soon called by an IBM attorney (yes, IBM attorneys do read Slashdot from time to time) who said that while I had played a role in drafting the license, now that it was out only IBM attorneys should make statements about it.

Some of the objections to the license were valid, and I arranged for a call with Bruce Perens, whom I had engaged as my advisor on licensing issues several months earlier. During the call, which included me, an exec, and an IP attorney on IBM’s side, Bruce said that he found some of the language used in the license to be quite obscure, and suggested that IBM should “clean up” the license by using simpler language.

The attorney responded by saying that first-year law students shared his view when they took their first course in drafting license and contracts, and that the professor then demonstrated why things were as they are by asking them to attempt to draft that “simpler” language on their own.

Try, for example, to fully explain the language that can be found at the end of the BSD License, language that reflects centuries of legal practice and court decisions: [2]

THIS SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED BY THE COPYRIGHT HOLDERS AND CONTRIBUTORS “AS IS” AND ANY EXPRESS OR IMPLIED WARRANTIES, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE ARE DISCLAIMED. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE COPYRIGHT OWNER OR CONTRIBUTORS BE LIABLE FOR ANY DIRECT, INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, EXEMPLARY, OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES (INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, PROCUREMENT OF SUBSTITUTE GOODS OR SERVICES; LOSS OF USE, DATA, OR PROFITS; OR BUSINESS INTERRUPTION) HOWEVER CAUSED AND ON ANY THEORY OF LIABILITY, WHETHER IN CONTRACT, STRICT LIABILITY, OR TORT (INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE OR OTHERWISE) ARISING IN ANY WAY OUT OF THE USE OF THIS SOFTWARE, EVEN IF ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGE.

It was shortly after that call that I announced my policy of dealing with future questions about open-source licensing only with “a pleasant nod and a smile,” though I must confess I have violated that policy in this post. So please try to imagine that the smiling face that can be found at the top right of this blog’s home page is nodding as you read this post.

But I have digressed, as I am often wont to do, and so hereby “licence your departure.”

To get the licence, search for “licence your departure ” at Open Source Shakespeare: An Experiment in Literary Technology, where, in the play Henry IV, Part I can be found the words (emphasis added):

Thou dost belie him, Percy, thou dost belie him;
He never did encounter with Glendower:
I tell thee,
He durst as well have met the devil alone
As Owen Glendower for an enemy.
Art thou not ashamed? But, sirrah, henceforth
Let me not hear you speak of Mortimer:
Send me your prisoners with the speediest means,
Or you shall hear in such a kind from me
As will displease you. My Lord Northumberland,
We licence your departure with your son.
Send us your prisoners, or you will hear of it.

I do wish that my last name were Hunting, for if it were then this post might have resulted in my hearing of it by receiving the following comment to this blog post:

“Good Will, Hunting.”

Someone might even have then made a movie about me with that phrase as its title …

Notes:

Indeed, this is one of the reasons I wanted to join the project that led to Jikes, as I knew Philippe was already on the team. We had worked together at NYU before he left for IBM. I worked with him briefly when I joined IBM, but he soon left to get his Ph.D. on IBM’s dime. Soon after he returned from NYU he left to spend several years working for IBM in Silicon Valley. We only got to finally collaborate in what has been the most productive collaboration of my IBM career when we started to work on what became Jikes. He had already produced the front-end of the compiler, and I volunteered to write a bytecode generator so we could run real programs. The rest is history.

I attended IBM’s first “Open Source Summit” in Austin in the early days of September, 1998. The first part was open to a few invited non-IBMers, and it was there I first met Jon “maddog” Hall, and I also recall that I may have met Joe Barr, too. I learned later that IBM was drafting a new open-source license to replace the Jikes License.

That work led to the IBM Public License, the IPL. It was flawed in that it identified IBM as the “original contributor,” and was thus replaced by the Common Public License, the CPL. The Eclipse License, EPL, is based on the CPL. I’m not an expert on either, as I leave license analysis to attorneys, though I think they are very similar except for small differences in the language about patents.

I have often boasted that I am one of the few people who can say their caused their employer to write an open-source license that was then approved by the Open Source Initiative, and that I am thus entitled to a free drink in any open-source bar in the world.

Sad to say, I have yet to find such a bar. So if you know of one, please post a comment here, and I’ll see if I can get a beer there for free, where by “free” I mean:

free as in beer

2. I now license my writings using License Dave Shields, LDS. (My initials are also LDS.).

There are two forms of the license, one for writing that is not code, the other for writing that is. They differ in that the code license includes the text of the BSD license that is in capital letters.

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