[jdom-interest] JDOM license evaluation

Jason Hunter jhunter at collab.net
Fri May 18 12:57:24 PDT 2001

"Kenworthy, Edward" wrote:
> The GPL and LGPL are pretty close to being perfect open source licenses.

I'm not a big fan of the GPL family of licenses.  They try to enforce
through legal means what I prefer to enforce through societal means.  

Consider this.  IBM uses Apache in their WebSphere product.  IBM during
their integration fixes bugs in Apache and makes enhancements to
Apache.  They contribute those changes back.  Why?

Is it because a license requires it?  No.  The license doesn't require
it yet still they provide the changes.

Is it because they're nice guys?  No.  There's a good business reason.

IBM contributes back because the Apache project has "momentum".  The
Apache web server code is constantly improving.  Each time IBM builds on
Apache they're doing a mini-fork.  It's better for IBM if the changes
they make in that fork make it back to the trunk because then the next
time they fork for a release they don't have to do the same work again. 
It's in IBM's best interest to contribute back to Apache!

Now, some changes IBM makes probably aren't generally useful and
wouldn't make it back into the trunk.  With the GPL family of licenses
IBM would still have to make those changes available in source form for
3 years.  That would be unnecessary burden on IBM, and it would be
unnecessary burden on Apache people to sift through what's useful in
IBM's changes from what's not.

The social engineering works.  You can see people on this list make
changes to JDOM and strongly argue for their changes to be included in
the core product.  They aren't doing this because of a license or
because they're (necessarily) good people.  They're doing it because if
their changes are put into JDOM beta6 then when JDOM beta7 comes out
they won't have to spend so much time integrating.

I'm not saying the GPL family of licenses is bad.  There's a place for
them, especially if you think someone else benefitting from your code
but not sharing their improvements is something that should be illegal.  

For JDOM though we don't want the GPL because we want proprietary
products to be able to use JDOM.  We don't want the LGPL because its
terminology is very C specific (what's a library in Java? a JAR or a
class?).  Also the LGPL is long and we'd have to explain it, and at the
end of the day we're not going to sue if you don't give back changes so
why say we will.  Plus it makes it easier on our users from having to
think about license rules and just use the cool technology.

It might be nice if the JDOM license would tell Electric XML they
couldn't use our code in their product, as a counter to their license
telling JDOM we can't even use their *binaries* in our product.  But I'd
rather take the high road here.  

Anyway, JDOM uses the Apache license so if you don't want to give back
changes, that's legally OK.  But beta7 is coming out soon (I'm hoping
before JavaOne) and if your changes aren't in it then you have a lot of
integration work to do again!  :-)


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