[sword-devel] Fwd: GPL and other license related questions

Jonathan Morgan jonmmorgan at gmail.com
Sun Jan 27 05:25:36 MST 2008

This thread has generated a lot of heated debate that I think is
incidental to the real purpose of the licensing and of the existence
of the Sword project and Crosswire in general (though of course I
cannot speak for Crosswire, and probably don't want to).  I think that
the Sword developers really need to decide what their mission is for
Sword.  Is it intended to support programs that are gratis, libre, or
both?  Or is it just intended to make quality Bible software available
to as many users as possible (a thing that I would consider important
for any such aim).  I personally do not think that it is as important
that developers that use Sword do every little thing that Crosswire
would like, so long as they make the word of the Bible available to
more people and observe the license under which they have been given
Sword (GPL v2).

I too wish for there to be Bible software that is freely available for
everyone, and historically the community built around the Sword
project has supported this goal.  I am a BPBible developer attempting
to improve the software that is available to users, and I do think
that it is important that this software remain freely available to all
to assist in the spreading of the gospel.   However, I do not think
that the objection apparent on this mailing list to even discuss
rationally the licensing without essentially saying, "We want it this
way to stop those evil commercial people from making any money from
our hard work" supports this goal at all.

When you release the software under the GPL, you have just as much
responsibility as other users to ensure that this license is kept.
Attempting to persuade people that additional clauses (such as
non-commercial use) should be kept when the GPL does not require them
is not IMHO the best way to go.  Just to summarise some of the things
that you have licensed any user to do:
1. Sell any copy of the code or derivative work, so long as source
code is distributed.
2. Create software that interacts with Sword through pipes, sockets,
or any other thing that does not invoke the GPL on the software that
is created (my personal opinion is that anyone who takes the trouble
to do this and do this well would have to put considerable work into
it, and thus it is not just a matter of taking the existing software
as is.  They might actually be better off to start from scratch,
though that is probably a matter for debate).

If any developer is adding to Sword with the goal of making the Bible
freely available to others, then I think that that is good.  However,
they should not have any illusions that their work is somehow special,
and people should not be able to gain any benefit from it, even if
they are following the license under which it was given.  Any work
which restricts or attempts to restrict commercial usage or selling of
the software is non-free (at least in the Debian sense), and is
probably counter-productive.

I also think that the assumption that having commercial applications
using the software will mean taking all your hard work and not giving
anything back is just that, an assumption.  Many open source projects
have active contributions from commercial organisations, even those
under BSD-style licenses where the company does not need to contribute
back.  I don't think that your choice of the GPL is a bad choice, but
I do think that you are seriously in error in jumping to the
conclusion that if it goes commercial it will be taking all your work
without any attribution or contribution.  I'm not even convinced that
lots of commercial software would want to use Sword.  They would still
need copyright agreements and a host of other things.  Sword as
currently set up is designed for personal usage of modules, and
negotiating module agreements for a break away commercial product
could be difficult in any case.

I think your position is also a bit interesting when you do not wish
to allow developers to make money out of your software, but you permit
module authors to make money out of the software (with a license that
is typically far more stringent than the license you develop software
under, though that opens another can of worms which can be left for a
later email).  I very much object to the amount charged for some
modules, which so far exceeds distribution costs that it is more
worthy of being charged with profiteering from God's word than
hypothetical commercial applications.


PS: Please remember in any contentious threads like these that
sword-devel is archived publicly.  Do not say anything that you would
not wish a non-Christian to read and quote you on.  I don't think that
anything on this thread would cause Rom 2: 24 to be valid, but some of
it comes very close.

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