Eben Moglen, Lazarus Phenomenon, and The Girl Scouts of America

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Dec. 4th, 2009 | 12:27 pm

I was just reading the Groklaw commentary on Moglen and Florian.

What I find fascinating in this debate is the concept, or fear, that GPL software will somehow disappear.

Let me take an example from history, the MySQL vs Progress case where Moglen wrote the MySQL affidavit. Here is a link to the affidavit reference that Moglen supplied to the court.

A synopsis of this is that, Progress had released at the time a version of the MySQL Database which included their Gemini Storage Engine. They had not though provided the source code to the Gemini engine. This was a violation of the GPL. Progress lost their case and later made their engine available under the GPL. The engine is still available under the GPL. I made a point of putting a copy up on the Internet years ago (and I know that there is a Russian company the uses the code). It is a fairly old version of Progress's current product, though from talking to one of their architects a couple of years ago, the code has not changed considerably.

So here we have a company's database product still being made available under an open source license years later. This is the Lazarus Phenomenon, whereby open source when published, has the potential to exist forever. The open source license allows for anyone to continue to make the Gemini code freely available under the constraints of its open source license.

Having more insight then most into the history of MySQL, I find that there are a number of twist and turns that can be found in all of this.

When MySQL was concerned about the Oracle acquisition of Innodb, it looked into alternative engines. One of the engines we looked at was the Gemini Engine. Why did we look at it? Since Progress had open sourced their engine we had the option to use it. An option that history has shown was never needed, since Oracle has continued to develop Innodb. It was an option though, and we looked at it. We had that right.

As another example, when Galbraith left MySQL, development of the Federated engine collapsed. When it became impossible for him to provide back contributions to the engine because of his lack of employment to MySQL, what happened? He forked Federated to create FederatedX, which is still developed and distributed today. Even though the version of Federated has remained nearly static in the main tree for years, his version continues to be enhanced.

When Monty and David changed the license on the MySQL network drivers from public domain to GPL, the PHP project and Redhat continued to distribute the public domain version for years (I believe Redhat still does).

The entire concept of taking what has been made publicly available, and somehow removing it from the commons is inane. It makes me think about how American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers tried to sue the Girl Scouts for singing songs around the campfire. Once the tune is in your head, it stays in your head.

Once software has been published under an open source license, it continues to be available, whether its current owners wish it to be or not.

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Comments {4}

Can't put the genie back in the bottle

from: sortova
date: Dec. 4th, 2009 09:49 pm (UTC)

The project that I spend most of my time on, OpenNMS, is an example of the power of the GPL. When the originators of the project decided in 2002 not to work on it anymore, they gave me the domain names and basically allowed me to fork the code. Now they are no longer in business and who knows where that code went, but OpenNMS is very much alive.

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open source software license with timer

from: nippondanji.blogspot.com
date: Dec. 4th, 2009 10:45 pm (UTC)

Hi Brian,

Technically it is possible to release software under license which will be expired within certain amount of time period. People simply don't so because such a license is useless, do they? So none of OSS licenses have a timer.

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Brian "Krow" Aker

Re: open source software license with timer

from: krow
date: Dec. 4th, 2009 10:50 pm (UTC)


Open source software relies on copyright though, not license. You are correct that software can be licensed with a timer that can remove rights after a period of time, but you cannot do the same under copyright.

Now you can license a piece of work under a different copyright notice, so that is possible, but that then requires someone to license from you.

I'm not a lawyer though, so I am just hoping I have this right.


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Re: open source software license with timer

from: jobinau
date: Dec. 15th, 2009 09:52 am (UTC)

So none of OSS licenses have a timer?

Good question.
Infact this is the root of opensource licenses. it is an answer to the the world where knowledge of mankind was hijacked for extraction. timer is a method of further extraction.

The very purpose of OpenSource Licenses are to protect you as a human from these kind of extractions.

consider the Albert Einstein's contribution E=mcc
suppose he licenced this info with a timer. this info might have inspired others like Hawkings to think further (derived work). but nobody should claim that "you should not have thought about it further".
OS Lincences are intented to protect you from these kind of situation.

So in Nutshell: Opensource licences are not for extraction. but for protecting you.

Brian is very true in this article.. nobody an kill open source works. just because it is a open knowlege of mankind. and it inspires others and generate thoughts (there is no rollback).
E=MCC is alive even after the death of Einstein. same will true with any open knowlege/software/ideas (no rollback).

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