#183 Copyright issue

unexpected behavior
Sean Morrison


I'm packaging brl-cad for Debian, a free operating system.

src/util/pixpaste.c src/util/pixpaste.c src/util/pixcut.c have a non-free license, and they can't be redistribute:

* Copyright Notice -
* This software is Copyright (C) 1992 by Paladin Software
* All rights reserved.

This copyright notice isn't obviously compatible with BSD or LGPL license. Can you fix this please?

I would like to package brl-cad for debian, but with this copyright violation I can't.


  • Sean Morrison
    Sean Morrison

    • labels: --> Documentation
    • milestone: --> unexpected behavior
    • priority: 5 --> 9
    • assigned_to: nobody --> brlcad
    • status: open --> closed-invalid
  • Sean Morrison
    Sean Morrison

    Apologies in advance if I sound harsh -- and I *do* appreciate that you're trying to integrate BRL-CAD into apt -- but I'm actually rather offended by the manner you've brought this to attention. You make several claims that are simply wrong. Technically, those files merely don't specify their license directly in the file. A copyright notice is NOT a license, not even an implicit statement of license, and it certainly isn't a "violation" to have one. By itself, a copyright claim has absolutely nothing to do with license "compatibility".

    If you're going to complain about legal matters and request changes, please at least use the correct terms and statements. Otherwise, you really do the Debian project, open source, and free software a disservice because you come across as pushing a legal agenda while completely lacking a legal background. I'm well aware of open source legality matters, the philosophical and political goals of the Debian project, and requirements for apt integration. What those files *are* missing is an _explicit_ license statement (of any kind), and that is what can be improved.

    Legally speaking, though, that's not strictly required because 1) those files are not distributed in isolation or individually and 2) their license is simply covered in a different file; it's in our COPYING file.

    Those files are old BRL-CAD contributions that merely escaped automatic header updates because of their non-standard format. They are, however, still covered by the LGPL and this is made explicit in our COPYING file where it says anything without a license specified is covered by the LGPL. It could certainly be more obvious, but that shouldn't have anything to do with integration given they are licensed under the LGPL.

    I've added the missing license headers so it's more clear down the road, but you really are already good to go as-is. Thank you again for your efforts.

  • You are right, I'm not expert on legal or license related issue, I'm sorry if I didn't use the correct terms, and I'm very sorry if you are offended.

    Anyway I'm pretty sure that only a simple "This software is Copyright (C) year by XXX, All rights reserved." is not free also if you have a COPYNG file.

    Thanks for your fast response and for adding the missing license headers.


  • Sean Morrison
    Sean Morrison

    Thank you for the apology and response as well but I'm afraid you still really don't understand.

    To clarify, a copyright statement absolutely does not (by itself) mean software is free or not free. You have to know the distribution terms. If there are no evident distribution terms on the work, then there can be a problem (but still not necessarily). There is absolutely nothing that says the terms have to be included in every file.

    It is if (and only if) there is NO usage or distribution *anywhere* in the collective work that it becomes a problem. So long as there is a statement and/or corresponding license information somewhere readily accessible in a package, it's completely legal and sufficient. The intent is expressed and covers the work.

    The GPL, LGPL, and BSD licenses are all based on copyright law and require a copyright claim. We could have just as easily removed our headers from all files leaving only the copyright line or even no copyright line, and only used one distribution/license statement and it would have been perfectly legal, and still 100% free software. There are plenty of packages that do exactly that.

    As a collective work (which is all we're dealing with here), it's perfectly valid to have just one distribution statement. Having the statement placed in every file is a convention often done in software source code only because it's just more explicit, more blatently obvious, easier to defend against in the case of violations, and it allows the files to be distributed outside the collective work. Those are all great features, but they don't mean that it's required in the least.

    Also, the "All rights reserved." statement is superfluous and unnecessary these days as it's implied even if you don't write it (see the wikipedia article on the matter for details).

    Knowledge is powerful. I strongly suggest reading up some on groklaw, wikipedia, and/or consulting some real legal advice before making legal suppositions that you're "pretty sure" about.

  • Bernd Zeimetz
    Bernd Zeimetz

    From the Debian point of view the file was *not* distributable. With its different copyright it is not obvious that the license in COPYING is valid for the file, too, so we'd have to assume it doesn't have a license, so it wouldn't even be allowed to go into the non-free part (for that it would have to be distributable). At least for me it's not obvious if the file is a contribution or a third party component (which keeps it's copyright/license/.... according to COPYING).
    There're a lot of open source projects with really non-free, patented or otherwise bad pieces of source within their source code, so Debian's ftp masters are *really* strict about such issues, and I'm sure the package would have been rejected because of that file.
    I'm neither a lawyer nor do I like to discuss such licensing and copyright questions (I'd be more happy if all the license and copyright stuff wouldn't be needed at all), I just wanted to try to explain Debian's point of view to you.

  • Sean Morrison
    Sean Morrison


    That's certainly a point-of-view I can appreciate and accept. The file was ambiguous given COPYING doesn't say that *all* 3rd party contributions are in our src/other directory (though I believe they now may be, haven't done a full audit in a while). Had the discussion started from that perspective or had he even merely stated the matter as a question instead of boldly making false suppositions, I wouldn't have taken any issue with the matter.

    It's also not just an issue of tact (which was maybe lost in translation), but a matter of incorrectness. Giuseppe's reason, statements, and explanations, however, were simply not right. As I stated in my original reply to him, that really does a disservice to Debian and free software projects alike to approach a project (for the first time, mind you) and to confidently yet incorrectly make claims about legal matters. Not being able to verify something isn't free and being compelled to not include it are rather different from actually *being* non-free.

    I know his intentions are probably genuine (I certainly don't know him well enough to state otherwise), that he encountered a concern, and that he asked us to do something about it. His manner of conveying that concern both in his original message and in his reply, however, was atrociously maligned.

    I'd also be completely happy if I didn't have to deal with licensing, copyrights, and patents. Alas, I have to deal with those matters on a nearly daily basis in my line of work, particularly as they pertain to open source software development. BRL-CAD is a very large package with an extensive history that I've taken great pride and efforts in making open source, preserving the history, and wrangling all of the legal matters successfully after many years of efforts.

    More care really should be taken by the Debian "faithful" else they can very easily come across as arrogant, ignorant, or zealous missionaries that care more about the "cause" than doing right and that does a major disservice to the free software community. I'm not speaking specifically of Giuseppe but I do have to answer to an audience far more impacting on BRL-CAD than Debian will ever be and his careless/misspoken comments have the potential to cause harm as it's a form of FUD. I understand your efforts to explain the situation from your perspective and to quell the waters, per se, so thank you for chiming in. This issue is resolved from my point of view.


  • As I wrote, I apologise for the incorrect terms, but I don't understand why you are continuing to underline this.

    I'm not interested in legal topic/issue, simply I'm packaging brlcad, and asked to relevant people if those files are acceptable for a Debian inclusion. The answer was negative, with that license header they are *NOT* distributable even if you have a COPYNG file, those files haven't a proper license/header/statement or as you want call it, and *those* files can't be consider free.

    What you think about this point of view is important, but it is not relevant for my purpose.

    I don't understand where my manner was "malign", but I apologise again.

    Now you can continue to use terms as "malign", "incorrectness", "arrogant", "ignorant", but I'm not going to go on with this sterile discussion.

    Have a nice day.

  • Sean Morrison
    Sean Morrison

    Not acceptable for inclusion is not at all the same as declaring something not free, plain and simple. It's a subtle difference but a very important one. Especially when the content in question is free is a true FOSS sense, but it's just not suitably marked so that it can be "considered free for Debian integration purposes" (which is a better way to characterize it, btw). I have absolutely no problem whatsoever resolving the clarity, markings, and any other integration issues you run into. I'd love to help and honestly do _appreciate_ what you're doing. It's a feature that has been often requested for several years now and it took a lot of modifications to BRL-CAD over the past couple years to make it even possible.

    It's the act of saying "it's not free" that actually (and unfortunately) becomes a really bad problem for us simply because it is not a true statement and it is one that has potentially very negative consequences in our situation due to our audience and the attention on our project. It's potentially a very big deal to our project (hence the Highest priority ranking) to have someone make a claim regarding a legal matter (especially one that isn't true from our perspective) and to not respond to those statements. I only ask that folks be careful in characterizing something as 'not free' vs 'not suitable for integration'. If it didn't matter, I wouldn't have bothered in the first place.

    This was seriously not intended to be an attack or deride on you personally Guiseppe, and if it came across as such, I do apologize for that. My previous response was more about public statements and actions in general as they affect our project. Thank you (again), really thank you, for the efforts being made. Tis good stuff. I do hope we can move past this on to a better topic ... like how you're going to get system incrTcl integration working.. :-)