Problematic licensing provision #12

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fdr opened this Issue Sep 2, 2012 · 26 comments

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@fdr
fdr commented Sep 2, 2012

In particular, this code is pretty much non-open-source because it places unusual restrictions on derivative work:

This permission does not include: (a) any use of the Software other than for its intended purpose; or (b) any use of the Software in any manner that violates applicable law. Any use of the Software other than as specifically authorized herein is strictly prohibited and will terminate the license granted herein.

Please use a standard license like BSD, MIT, Apache, GPL, or just about anything at the OSI unmodified.

@stickwithjosh

+1

@mmilinkov

I am writing in my capacity as a Director of the Open Source Initiative, the organization that created and upholds the Open Source Definition. We have noted that you state that this project is "open source", however, the specified license has not been certified as complying with the Open Source Definition. As fdr points out above, it is unlikely that the license you've chosen does, in fact, comply.

I would therefore like to request that you either remove the claim that this code is open source, or change the license to one which has been previously certified as an open source license. If we can be of any further assistance in this matter, please do not hesitate to contact the OSI at osi@opensource.org.

@paulsmith

Thanks for writing with your concerns. We are reviewing the language of the license, and we will update this thread with more information soon.

@unthinkingly

I just was coming to file the same bug.

@wboykinm
wboykinm commented Sep 5, 2012

+1

@jacobmgreer

+1

@gearmonkey

Yes, please address this. I cannot use this repo until this issue has been fixed. Thanks.

@paulsmith

Thank you for your interest in the voter registration app and for expressing your concerns regarding the license.

We released the voter registration app because we believe we should be taking down obstacles to voting. We hope that it will enable more people to register to vote.

Voter registration is both highly regulated and closely monitored. We make sure to comply with all applicable laws, rules and regulations, and the restrictions added to the license reflect that commitment. Users of the voter registration app should proceed with care and caution when hosting or providing a service based on this code.

That said, in hindsight, we should not have taken the MIT license, added restrictive clauses to it, and called the app "free and open source."

We would like to hear from the community how we can reconcile the concerns we have that the integrity of voter registration be preserved, with the spirit and letter of the definition of open source software, as outlined by the OSI. Our intent with releasing this application is the same as any open source project: to provide something useful to the community, and to improve it with contributions from the same. We think that the restrictions are relatively mild and in keeping with the original purpose of the app and our goal to expand democratic participation consistent with the law. We are committed to a dialogue regarding the license and would like to hear what you think about what we've said here. Thanks again, and please feel free to contact us regarding any concerns with the app or its license.

@kfogel
kfogel commented Sep 16, 2012

Paul, thanks for responsding to the concerns.

I think the best solution might be to use just a standard MIT license as the formal license, but accompany it with a separate advisory document (in its own file, not part of the license) emphasizing the importance of voter registration integrity, that using open source code to violate law would still be violating the law, and especially that none of the original authors or other contributors to the code are responsible if some third party does misuse the code -- just as Google is not responsible if someone uses their search engine in the course of gathering information to do something illegal, for example.

That way the software will really be open source, but you'll still have conveyed the necessary message.

By the way, one reason it's important for code like this to be truly open source: someone -- the good guys -- could use it to simulate various voter registration fraud scenarios in a controlled environment, in order to come up with ways to detect and defeat such fraud. One never knows the unexpected but legitimate uses to which code might be put; therefore one never knows in advance the full effect of seemingly innocuous restrictions.

Best,
-Karl

@paulsmith

Thanks, Karl, that’s very helpful. Off-hand, do you know of an example of a project with this sort of proviso, with the advisory document accompanying the source?

@kfogel
kfogel commented Sep 17, 2012

Paul Smith notifications@github.com writes:

Thanks, Karl, that’s very helpful. Off-hand, do you know of an example
of a project with this sort of proviso, with the advisory document
accompanying the source?

Hi, Paul. I don't have one offhand, but have some ideas about where to
look, and will do so. May take a couple of days. There should be a way to
solve this while still being open source. More soon.

Best,
-K

@hbons
hbons commented Sep 17, 2012

OpenSSH has some accompanying texts from when exporting encryption in the US was still illegal: https://github.com/gittup/openssh/blob/gittup/LICENCE#L49. I'm sure there are others, but it's the only one I can think of right now.

@kfogel
kfogel commented Sep 17, 2012

Hmm. The OpenSSH example is a somewhat unusual license, and includes the warning text in the license itself, and the license is extremely complicated for other reasons as well.

@zakdances

Is this going to get resolved before the election? I hate to be a worry-wart here, but time is a-ticken. I'd like to be able to get a voter registration app out as soon as possible but I can't do it with the current licensing your using. Please switch to an open-source MIT license as soon as you can. Election is in November....

@kfogel
kfogel commented Sep 25, 2012

My apologies -- I wanted to get some examples to Paul and the DNC before this weekend, but didn't have time (and then was offline on a trip until last night).

Paul, I think it's going to take too much time to dig up previous examples. Mind if I just draft it instead?

(While I'm pretty sure examples are out there, I can't remember them offhand, and searching for them will mean a time-consuming process of circulating the request and waiting for responses... it's not a process with a definable termination date, if you know what I mean.)

@paulsmith

Karl, we would welcome your draft of an advisory document.

On Tue, Sep 25, 2012 at 3:40 PM, Karl Fogel notifications@github.comwrote:

My apologies -- I wanted to get some examples to Paul and the DNC before
this weekend, but didn't have time (and then was offline on a trip until
last night).

Paul, I think it's going to take too much time to dig up previous
examples. Mind if I just draft it instead?

(While I'm pretty sure examples are out there, I can't remember them
offhand, and searching for them will mean a time-consuming process of
circulating the request and waiting for responses... it's not a process
with a definable termination date, if you know what I mean.)


Reply to this email directly or view it on GitHubhttps://github.com/democrats/voter-registration/issues/12#issuecomment-8867380.

Paul Smith
@paulsmith
http://www.pauladamsmith.com/

@kfogel
kfogel commented Sep 28, 2012

Paul, here's a draft -- improvement welcome of course!

#25

Best,
-Karl

@kfogel
kfogel commented Nov 7, 2012

Congratulations, Paul & the Democrats!

Now, where were we :-) ? Pull request #25. Open source knows no party: new voter registration for the midterms is only two years away...

@kfogel
kfogel commented Jan 23, 2013

I would not have spent time on the relicensing and advisory document patch in pull request #25 if I didn't think there were any chance of it getting merged in. Paul, I realize that the decision may be out of your hands and that someone may have balked after further consideration, but I hope something can be done about this. Despite the words "In the spirit of free software, everyone is encouraged to help improve this project..." on http://democrats.github.com/voter-registration/ , this code is not free software (== is not open source software), and won't be until the license situation is fixed. At the very least, that page should be updated to be clearer that this isn't free-as-in-freedom, instead of implying the opposite and letting coders be surprised at the bait-and-switch later :-(.

See also this article:

http://www.theverge.com/2013/1/22/3902746/obama-heads-back-office-battle-rages-over-tech-that-got-him-reelected

...in which the non-freeness of this particular code base is referred to.

@fdr
fdr commented Jan 24, 2013

This is regrettable. Its distribution is also incompatible with GPL software, because of section 6, which states:

6. Each time you redistribute the Program (or any work based
on the Program), the recipient automatically receives a license
from the original licensor to copy, distribute or modify the
Program subject to these terms and conditions. You may not impose
any further restrictions on the recipients' exercise of the
rights granted herein. You are not responsible for enforcing
compliance by third parties to this License.

While quite a few people have an antipathy for the GPL's 'copyleft' provisions, the inability to use a derived program without restrictions like "other than its intended purpose" (per the license) is quite hostile and arbitrary: what if I only am interested in some PDF-generating subroutines, and decide to port them to an unrelated application?

The license provisions are not well thought out.

@paulsmith

Thank you for your continued concern and interest in this project and its licensing. We are currently reviewing #26 (largely Karl's PR with some minor formatting and copywriting edits) for merge. I don’t have a estimate time yet but suffice to say this is a high priority.

@kfogel
kfogel commented Jan 24, 2013

That is great news. Thank you for the update, Paul.

@ryanatwork

Closing with #26

@ryanatwork ryanatwork closed this Jan 25, 2013
@ryanatwork ryanatwork reopened this Jan 25, 2013
@paulsmith

With #26, this project is now licensed under a standard MIT license. Accompanying the source code is a text file, ADVISORY, which is a notice regarding the use of the software legally and in the public interest (i.e., with respect to voter registration laws). The advisory document does not constitute part of the license.

Thanks to everyone who weighed in on the license, and especially to @kfogel who proposed and drafted the initial version of the advisory document.

@paulsmith paulsmith closed this Jan 28, 2013
@kfogel
kfogel commented Jan 29, 2013

Kudos for seeing this through, Paul and the Dems!

@fdr
fdr commented Jan 31, 2013

Thank you for seeing that through.

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