[oclug] Semi-[OT]: Source code ethical dilemma
The Linux Doctor
linuxdoctor at linux.ca
Sun Sep 18 17:45:57 EDT 2005
On Sun, 18 Sep 2005 16:26:36 -0400
Adrian Irving-Beer <wisq-oclug at wisq.net> wrote:
> Someone released a program as a closed-source executable.
> On a hunch, I poked around to see if I could
> extract a copy for personal use, so I could fix the broken stuff. The
> binary contained an interpreter, and the full source code encrypted
> with a symmetric key. But given the limitations of self-decryption,
> it's really just obfuscation that happens to use a symmetrically-keyed
> algorithm to do it. I was able to crack that file and acquire the
> source code, verbatim, in full.
> To my surprise, I found a custom license notice at the top of the
> source file. Essentially, the notice is as follows:
> * A copyright notice.
> * A "no warranty" notice.
> * Freedom to copy and modify the program, as long as the beginning of
> the source code contains the copyright, credits, and license.
> * Derivative works must contain the original's copyright,
> absence of warranty, and revision history.
> * Executables must show the user the original's copyright and
> absence of warranty.
> * Freedom to copy and distribute the program, but only under the same
> license and with no fees.
> * To use parts of the program in other programs (any license, same
> language or translated to another), contact the original owner.
> [more snippage]
> So now it's time to start considering: Can I release it?
Seems cut and dry to me.
> Seemingly, the technical answer is "yes, so long as I follow the terms
> of the license". And ordinarily, I would do just that and think
> nothing of it. But the original closed-source state has me wondering.
> So, as I see it, I have three choices:
> 1. Contact the author.
There doesn't seem the need, however, you may wish to contact him as a
courtesy and let him know that you have `improved' his code and let him
know what those improvements are.
> 3. Release the source.
> Obviously, this is the most familiar option, and needs little
> explaining. It has the most advantages and only a single
> disadvantage, but that's the biggest one -- opening up what was
> possibly not intended to be open source (yet?).
Absolutely, unless of course you find something in the license that
restricts you from doing so. For instance, what does the phrase "free
to distribute the programme" mean? Source, binary, both?
Perhaps when you make that courtesy contact with the author you might
broach the subject of releasing the code as GPL, especially in light of
the expanded utility of the programme in your community. Point out to
him that the code is already licensed with an Open Source license anyway
and that he no longer wishes to maintain it. Why not give the community
that the programme serves the freedom it needs to allow it to continue
to do so?
Just some thoughts.
The universe exists only because there is mathematics that says it does.
Your very existence depends on these equations. ...
Oh, dear. This equation is wrong. You don't exist after all. (1980)
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