Author Topic: Copyright and Licensing: Nothing to fear but fear itself?  (Read 27755 times)

Krice

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Re: Copyright and Licensing: Nothing to fear but fear itself?
« Reply #15 on: August 09, 2014, 04:14:06 PM »
I'm amazed to see how unpopular the GPL seems to have gotten in the past ten years.

One of the reasons is that it's difficult or even impossible to use GPL projects in commercial sense. It's something that might become an idea when the game or other project becomes good enough that it starts to have a commercial appeal. In that point it can be difficult to change the license, because the viral nature of GPL. Also, if some parts of the software is intended in commercial use it's again a difficult task to make it happen. Like if you are creating scripts/addons to GPL project you want to sell.

This was the reason why SDL2.0 was changed away from (L)GPL. It was just too much trouble for nothing. It's now understood after all these years of open source development that it was not the golden path that leads mankind to salvation. On the contrary, open source projects are often not as good as commercial programs, because the way of developing them is different.
« Last Edit: August 09, 2014, 04:15:44 PM by Krice »

Bear

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Re: Copyright and Licensing: Nothing to fear but fear itself?
« Reply #16 on: August 09, 2014, 08:18:58 PM »
In order to relicense under some other license you have to get every copyright holder to agree to the relicensing. 

And one thing about GPL (or other open source) projects is that they are usually produced by many copyright holders.  In practice this does make it more difficult to get agreement to relicensing than it is for most commercial (ie, produced by a single copyright holder) licenses.

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Eben

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Re: Copyright and Licensing: Nothing to fear but fear itself?
« Reply #17 on: August 09, 2014, 10:02:19 PM »
I'm saying you probably shouldn't use GPL because, as far as I can tell, it has no positive benefits for either the code creator or the code user.
It's a rather odd stance to take to tell someone else that they shouldn't do something because you don't see the benefit.  It's almost certain they have a reason to do it and you just don't understand or agree with their motives.

Your options 1 and 3 are where I started at. I said I didn't want to look at GPL source code because I didn't want to risk the appearance (or actual act) of violation of copyright. But the response to me saying I wanted to play nice with GPL code (meaning not looking at it if I wasn't making my potential derivative work GPL) was considered by many to be too much paranoia on my part.
That's because it is, copyright simply doesn't work like that.  The rest of your argument is built on this flaw, therefore moot.

Of course that doesn't stop them from cloning your game :(
What's wrong with a clone?  Not a rhetorical question, I simply don't understand why someone making a copy of your game is a problem.

I agree that I don't understand the motives for using GPL. It doesn't seem to offer any protections but does offer annoyance. Hence the only reasons I see to use it are ignorance or spitefulness, neither of which are motives I agree with. If I could see how it would provide protections to the code developer, I'd not have this opinion.

So maybe I just don't understand at a very basic level how source code copyrights work. My understanding was they they were to control the ways in which the source could be used. GPL controls that use through requiring either mashed source to also be GPL or re-implementing the source instead of mashing it. What have I missed here?

There's nothing wrong with a clone, in the abstract. Some people think that too close of a clone is an infringement on their own product, even if that clone is perfectly legal. Someone concerned with a "new version" of their game being out of their control is likely to also be worried about clones to some extent.

Paul Jeffries

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Re: Copyright and Licensing: Nothing to fear but fear itself?
« Reply #18 on: August 10, 2014, 12:19:00 AM »
As I understand it, the stated aim of the GPL is to give an advantage to the free open-source software community by producing libraries that they can use but that proprietary software developers can't, even indirectly.  So no, I don't think there are any particular benefits for the code creator or the code user; the aim is to benefit and promote free software development as a whole.

The problem is that it not only locks out people who want to (boo! hiss!) make a living out of writing software, it also locks out people who write free and open software, but who don't mind commercial developers making use of it, people who are hobby coders, but don't want to adopt something that might prevent them from making money off of their work in the future, people who just don't want the potential hassle of going open-source, people like Eben who don't want to even look at the code for fear of exposing themselves and so on.  So, to me, it seems a little puritanical and overlooks the massive grey area between open-source zealotry and evil money-grubbing capitalism in which rather a lot of useful software development takes place.

Kevin Granade

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Re: Copyright and Licensing: Nothing to fear but fear itself?
« Reply #19 on: August 12, 2014, 04:27:03 AM »
I agree that I don't understand the motives for using GPL. It doesn't seem to offer any protections but does offer annoyance.
Doesn't offer protection from who?
Commercial development companies will NOT infringe on GPLed code any more than they will infringed on closed source code.  This is precisely what it's for.
Independent developers can and will ignore the copyright on the code, again just like they do with closed source code.  Not many developers who release their code under the GPL care about this, so it's not really a problem.
So maybe I just don't understand at a very basic level how source code copyrights work. My understanding was they they were to control the ways in which the source could be used.
There are several misunderstandings packed into this.
1. Copyright is not for source code, it was written to apply to books, and got applied to software much, much later.  The reason it doesn't make sense is they were never intended to interact in any way, but corporations forced it to happen.
2. Copyright is not about controlling the way works are used, it is simply a prohibition on copying them, that's it.
2a. GPL leverages this prohibition to say you're allowed to use the copyrighted material with certain restrictions, which are themselves anti-copyright.
GPL controls that use through requiring either mashed source to also be GPL or re-implementing the source instead of mashing it. What have I missed here?
What you've missed is that the GPL isn't about protecting individual programmer or user rights, it's about protecting the rights of all programmers and users.  It's not just a license, it's a cause.  You may legitimately disagree with that cause and prefer a world where corporations are permitted to either maintain a monopoly on interacting with computers, or where they're allowed to pull code from permissively licensed projects and make it so the original authors can't use the things they've built on it, but if you're evaluating the GPL as simply a license, you are indeed missing the entire point.

I'm having trouble reconciling
Of course that doesn't stop them from cloning your game :(
with
There's nothing wrong with a clone, in the abstract.
It's either "someone cloned my game <frownie face>" or it's ok, which is it and why?  If it's "ok in the abstract", HOW is it not ok in a specific case.  And please don't say, "Some people think..."  I'm talking to you, what do you think about it?  Those other people can make an account and post themselves.

The problem is that it not only locks out people who want to (boo! hiss!) make a living out of writing software,
Odd, I make a living writing software and I've never been locked out by GPL.  I use it constantly at work, and have for over 10 years now.
it also locks out people who write free and open software, but who don't mind commercial developers making use of it,
As above, commercial software developers can and do "make use of" GPLed software all the time, all they are not allowed to do is slap their own license on it.  It's really simple, if YOUR contribution is more important than the GPLed software, just write it all yourself, if you're leveraging GPLed software and just need a few tweaks, release your contributions, how hard is that?
people who are hobby coders ... making money off of their work
You're having some definitional problems here, you might want to sort that out.
people who just don't want the potential hassle of going open-source,
What hassle?  You slap a LICENSE.txt file on your project and away you go.  There is zero compliance burden for the original author, and people acting in good faith almost never run into compliance issues of any kind.
people like Eben who don't want to even look at the code for fear of exposing themselves and so on.
Yes, making licensing decisions based on unfounded paranoia is a great idea.
So, to me, it seems a little puritanical and overlooks the massive grey area between open-source zealotry and evil money-grubbing capitalism in which rather a lot of useful software development takes place.
It doesn't overlook a thing, I'm aware of and sympathetic to the "I just want to give my software away with no strings attached" point of view, and I don't have a problem with it.  This view is shared by most of the Free Software community, it's just the community has decided as a whole that building a GPLed or otherwise copyleft software ecosystem is a Good Idea.

Krice

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Re: Copyright and Licensing: Nothing to fear but fear itself?
« Reply #20 on: August 12, 2014, 06:20:53 AM »
It's not just a license, it's a cause.  You may legitimately disagree with that cause and prefer a world where corporations are permitted to either maintain a monopoly on interacting with computers

GPL is a monopoly of a kind. In reality GPL has caused more harm than good. Same as those ridiculous software patents. Both are inventions from USA, the land of freedom.

Paul Jeffries

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Re: Copyright and Licensing: Nothing to fear but fear itself?
« Reply #21 on: August 12, 2014, 08:05:27 PM »
it also locks out people who write free and open software, but who don't mind commercial developers making use of it,
As above, commercial software developers can and do "make use of" GPLed software all the time, all they are not allowed to do is slap their own license on it.  It's really simple, if YOUR contribution is more important than the GPLed software, just write it all yourself, if you're leveraging GPLed software and just need a few tweaks, release your contributions, how hard is that?

Sure, as a commercial software developer you can 'make use of' GPL software in lots of different ways; you could print it out and turn it into a pretty hat, for example.  You can't make use of it as a library in your commercial application, however, which I think it's pretty clear is what I meant.  Also just because your own code might be more important to the overall enterprise, it doesn't follow that re-writing a GPL library is a trivial thing to do - otherwise why bother with the GPL in the first place?

people who are hobby coders ... making money off of their work
You're having some definitional problems here, you might want to sort that out.

No I'm not; you're having reading comprehension problems.  It's perfectly possible to be a hobby coder presently, but wish to retain the option to turn your hobby project into a commercial one in the future, which is the part of that sentence you hilariously edited out.  Many many indie developers have 'gone pro' in exactly this manner.

people like Eben who don't want to even look at the code for fear of exposing themselves and so on.
Yes, making licensing decisions based on unfounded paranoia is a great idea.

I didn't say it was; although I do actually condone Eben's decision there, for reasons that have nothing to do with 'unfounded paranoia'.  I agree that the risk of running into legal trouble by doing that is pretty small, but I think there's also a moral issue of respecting the original author's intent.  They may be using the GPL because they don't want their work going to help commercial software development in any way.  Probably not, but if you're being super-conscientious you might still not feel comfortable with using it even indirectly (without checking with them, at least).

So, to me, it seems a little puritanical and overlooks the massive grey area between open-source zealotry and evil money-grubbing capitalism in which rather a lot of useful software development takes place.
It doesn't overlook a thing, I'm aware of and sympathetic to the "I just want to give my software away with no strings attached" point of view, and I don't have a problem with it.  This view is shared by most of the Free Software community, it's just the community has decided as a whole that building a GPLed or otherwise copyleft software ecosystem is a Good Idea.

You may not have a problem with that point of view, but the GPL does because it explicitly prevents it.  Its whole purpose is to attach strings.  Which is perfectly fine by me if it's what people want - I fully support their right to release code they've written under absolutely any terms they like and there are far worse things than wanting to support a healthy free software ecosystem.  My only worry with the GPL is that sometimes people may use it as a 'default' open-source license because it's popular without fully thinking through the consequences, which might not match their intent.  I suspect that the decline in use of the GPL compared to more permissive open source licenses is partly because those consequences are being more widely understood.

AgingMinotaur

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Re: Copyright and Licensing: Nothing to fear but fear itself?
« Reply #22 on: August 13, 2014, 12:53:51 AM »
A main point of the GPL is of course to make sure that software you release as free, shouldn't be redistributable as closed source (or the technical/legal equivalent). Complaints that the GPL inhibits reuse of code in non-free projects exemplifies why the GPL is conceived as it is. The fact that the license remains relevant after all these years say a lot about the foresight of the people who originally composed it. The whole free software thing (Linux et al) would have been much more difficult to pull off if it weren't for the "viral" properties of the GPL. People who want to make non-free software should of course follow their vision, but they're no more entitled to use free code to that end than people are entitled to reuse closed code in open source projects.

Luckily for me, my own code isn't interesting to anyone in that sense, and I've been considering just putting my pet projects in the public domain. The GPL wasn't made to cover artistic works, and games fall a bit between two chairs in that respect. If I were doing any serious work in IT that I wanted to be free, however, I'd probably want to license it under the GPL. (And I'm pretty sure I could make a living out of it, if I had the technical skills, it's not as if there aren't myriad examples of professional free software developers.)

As always,
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Eben

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Re: Copyright and Licensing: Nothing to fear but fear itself?
« Reply #23 on: August 13, 2014, 06:49:46 AM »
Okay, so it appears there's 3 reasons to use GPL:

1) It's a default choice and/or for some reason the dev had to choose a license without taking the time to learn all the ins and outs of them.
2) The dev doesn't want someone else to make money off their code without their permission.
3) The dev is making a statement about what restrictions should be on free code for the good of all

My thoughts:
1) The default should be either "You keep all rights, so closed source." or "You keep no rights, fully open public domain." Since anything between is so muddy and grey it's unreasonable to expect people to choose well in between unless they're a software copyright lawyer or have too much time on their hands to learn the difference between BSD and MIT as pertains to real-world use. Not to mention learning the validity of various licenses in different areas of the world.

2) Fair enough, but GPL doesn't stop this. Since we've established that re-implementation is OK, then at best the someone else has been inconvenienced if they really want to use your code anyway and re-write it. Of course the original author won't be getting credit either. So big fail for choosing this reason for GPL

3) This is the most legitimate, and worst, reason for choosing GPL. It's basically the same as having a political sticker on your car. At best it will be used to support confirmation bias for or against those in the car and and worst will cause your car to be vandalized by people who don't share your political opinion. In either case it won't get the sticker's party elected / whales saved / mines funded / whatever.

tuturto

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Re: Copyright and Licensing: Nothing to fear but fear itself?
« Reply #24 on: August 13, 2014, 07:19:58 AM »
No, there's no reason for not to let anyone else to make money from the GPL code you wrote and the license does not stop that. It just states that if they distribute the program, they also have to distribute the source code. That's two different things. GPL is about making code free as speech, not free as beer.
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Bear

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Re: Copyright and Licensing: Nothing to fear but fear itself?
« Reply #25 on: August 13, 2014, 05:50:12 PM »
Okay, so it appears there's 3 reasons to use GPL:

1) It's a default choice and/or for some reason the dev had to choose a license without taking the time to learn all the ins and outs of them.
2) The dev doesn't want someone else to make money off their code without their permission.
3) The dev is making a statement about what restrictions should be on free code for the good of all

I think you're ignoring the reason that's most important to a lot of the people that use it.  They want to create code that's better than they as individuals can create, code that will take literally hundreds of man-years to develop, and GPL is a way of leveraging each other's efforts to achieve that.

They want future versions of their code, even if worked on/improved by others, to remain available as a basis for further work or improvement by themselves and others. GPL is intended to concentrate improvements and development in the public version of the code.  And it works. 

For exmaple, If I write a spreadsheet program and GPL the code, then I am confident that if someone adds, I dunno, a formula addressing feature or something, to it, then I (and everyone else) will have access to that future improved version and the ability to build further improvements on top of it. 

It's about the development process.  Without GPL, if someone just makes PD code, it gets snarfed by a hundred people, each and all of them make one or two incremental improvements, and it comes out as one unimproved PD program plus the bones under a hundred different closed-source programs. 

With GPL, it's useful to maybe half as many people, but fifty people making one or two incremental improvements each and, because of the license, giving everyone access to those improvements, results in a GPL program with fifty or a hundred incremental improvements rather than PD program with none and a hundred closed-source programs with one or two. 


Eben

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Re: Copyright and Licensing: Nothing to fear but fear itself?
« Reply #26 on: August 13, 2014, 06:46:04 PM »
Okay, so it appears there's 3 reasons to use GPL:

1) It's a default choice and/or for some reason the dev had to choose a license without taking the time to learn all the ins and outs of them.
2) The dev doesn't want someone else to make money off their code without their permission.
3) The dev is making a statement about what restrictions should be on free code for the good of all

I think you're ignoring the reason that's most important to a lot of the people that use it.  They want to create code that's better than they as individuals can create, code that will take literally hundreds of man-years to develop, and GPL is a way of leveraging each other's efforts to achieve that.

They want future versions of their code, even if worked on/improved by others, to remain available as a basis for further work or improvement by themselves and others. GPL is intended to concentrate improvements and development in the public version of the code.  And it works. 

For exmaple, If I write a spreadsheet program and GPL the code, then I am confident that if someone adds, I dunno, a formula addressing feature or something, to it, then I (and everyone else) will have access to that future improved version and the ability to build further improvements on top of it. 

It's about the development process.  Without GPL, if someone just makes PD code, it gets snarfed by a hundred people, each and all of them make one or two incremental improvements, and it comes out as one unimproved PD program plus the bones under a hundred different closed-source programs. 

With GPL, it's useful to maybe half as many people, but fifty people making one or two incremental improvements each and, because of the license, giving everyone access to those improvements, results in a GPL program with fifty or a hundred incremental improvements rather than PD program with none and a hundred closed-source programs with one or two.

I'm not ignoring the reason that's most important to a lot of people. That reason is #3 on my list. And despite what they want, creating code that's better isn't guaranteed by using GPL (or any other license). Hence my bumper sticker analogy.

Using GPL as you've described to promote future work only makes sense in terms of gigantic projects. The kind that are so huge they have someone actually monitoring the use of code and folding changes back into the main branch. Otherwise there's nothing to stop those 50 people from making an incremental change on their own, same as with PD. And if they're that big then using PD and folding in changes that people suggest be added is exactly as feasible.

Also you've created this straw man where PD code doesn't have anyone folding back in changes and GPL people all making improvements that don't conflict, are publicly available (which implies known about and accessible), and of good quality. Without some sort of reference to show these two cases are the common cases, you've got nothing to stand on here.

The thing GPL does that PD doesn't is increase the time and effort it takes to use the code if you don't want to be part of the GPL group. Which quite specifically means primarily being anti-commercial.

So even if it made sense to GPL code in a giant project, it makes absolutely no sense to do it for a medium sized or smaller project. Certainly it makes zero sense to do it to an indie game.

Paul Jeffries

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Re: Copyright and Licensing: Nothing to fear but fear itself?
« Reply #27 on: August 13, 2014, 07:05:20 PM »
No, there's no reason for not to let anyone else to make money from the GPL code you wrote and the license does not stop that. It just states that if they distribute the program, they also have to distribute the source code. That's two different things. GPL is about making code free as speech, not free as beer.

That's technically true, but in reality it's a bit of a meaningless distinction.  You can charge money for a copy of a GPL program, but then the very first person you sell it to can also sell copies or distribute it for free (as in beer) to whoever they like, so it's not like it's a particularly brilliant business plan.

Edit: It's worth adding that this neatly exemplifies my concerns about people using the GPL not being aware of the implications.  Somebody looking into using the license might ask whether their code could still be used in commercial software and be told by a GPL proponent 'Yes, of course!', when that's about as misleading an answer as it's possible to give while still remaining entirely truthful.
« Last Edit: August 13, 2014, 07:37:40 PM by Paul Jeffries »

Omnivore

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Re: Copyright and Licensing: Nothing to fear but fear itself?
« Reply #28 on: August 13, 2014, 07:50:14 PM »
So even if it made sense to GPL code in a giant project, it makes absolutely no sense to do it for a medium sized or smaller project. Certainly it makes zero sense to do it to an indie game.

Using a GPL on a small, or even tiny toy, project makes every bit as much sense as it does on medium and large projects, albeit for partially different reasons.  For small projects, such as a coffee break roguelike, GPL encourages honest people to publish their modifications, whether any do a fork/merge/submit or not.  This is educational.  I get to see how others improve upon what I did.

However, let us suppose for a moment there is no benefit to be obtained by publishing roguelike source under GPL, why then would you ever want to publish under a lesser license?  Better to not publish at all unless you are doing a library of some sort and expressly want closed source and commercial developers to use your library hoping that you may see some feedback and improvement for the library itself.  Yet you are saying that a library like libtcod, a small project targeting a tiny niche, does not gain by being open source, this is demonstrably false.

All of us have benefited, directly or indirectly, from GPL'd roguelikes such as Angband, DC:SS, Nethack, Moria(freeMoria), etc.  I believe the authors of those games have benefited as well.  While games like ADOM contribute nothing except the example of the game itself.   That's what GPL is all about when it comes to roguelikes, giving back to the community.

There are admittedly some rare developers who do not publish their source but who do write various
articles explaining algorithms and thus giving back to the community in that manner.  I applaud those developers.

While there is little real protection, GPL keeps honest people honest, and I'd like to believe honest people are by far the majority, though admittedly some days I have my doubts.

That's technically true, but in reality it's a bit of a meaningless distinction.  You can charge money for a copy of a GPL program, but then the very first person you sell it to can also sell copies or distribute it for free (as in beer) to whoever they like, so it's not like it's a particularly brilliant business plan.

Edit: It's worth adding that this neatly exemplifies my concerns about people using the GPL not being aware of the implications.  Somebody looking into using the license might ask whether their code could still be used in commercial software and be told by a GPL proponent 'Yes, of course!', when that's about as misleading an answer as it's possible to give while still remaining entirely truthful.

It is not meaningless.  Oh it discourages trying to overprice, but you could well charge a dollar or three.  Shareware works as a business plan for the same reasons a commercial yet GPL'd offering could.

You might, in a commercial offering, sell a mix of closed and GPL'd, it is quite possible under the license.  Many modern games are beginning to incorporate social aspects (ToME for example), in such a game it is easy to make some content dependent upon server approval.  A similar argument can be made with auto-updating. 

When it comes to GPL, like so many other things, ignorance is curable, deliberate ignorance is not.
« Last Edit: August 13, 2014, 07:59:34 PM by Omnivore »

Eben

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Re: Copyright and Licensing: Nothing to fear but fear itself?
« Reply #29 on: August 13, 2014, 10:28:00 PM »
While there is little real protection, GPL keeps honest people honest, and I'd like to believe honest people are by far the majority, though admittedly some days I have my doubts.

This discussion started when I said that I wanted to be an honest person and was told I was being paranoid.

As someone who has no intention of making his code GPL, I said I didn't even want to look at GPLed code so that there wouldn't be even a hint of dishonesty in my own product. This was me trying to respect the intentions of the original dev by not using their work in any way in a non-GPL product.

I further stated that it makes me sad when people make code GPL because I feel it restricts the usefulness of their code and therefor if they do have something really wonderful to share, as an honest person I'll never know.

I've added the description of myself as an honest person to tie it into the current discussion. I believe "honest person" is meant in this sense and so adding that description does not change the nature of the argument.


There's plenty more to comment about the last few posts, but I want to get back to the original topic: Is there anything to fear from copyright? And if there is not, then why use it at all?