License-free software

License-free software

License-free software is computer software that is copyrighted but is not accompanied by a software license. Such software is rare.


The best-known examples of license-free software were various programs written by Daniel J. Bernstein, notably qmail, djbdns, daemontools, and ucspi-tcp. These were previously copyrighted and distributed by Bernstein, but were placed into the public domain by Bernstein on December 28, 2007. [cite web | year = 2007 | url = | title = Frequently asked questions from distributors | accessdate = 2008-01-18 ] [cite web | year = 2007 | url = | title = Information for distributors | accessdate = 2008-01-18 ] ) Another author of license-free software is William Baxter.Fact|date=January 2008

Rights for users

On his [ software users' rights] web page, Bernstein explains his belief that under the terms of copyright law itself software users are always allowed to modify software for their own personal use, regardless of license agreements. He says "As long as you're not distributing the software, you have nothing to worry about.". He adds, "If you think you need a [license] from the copyright holder, you've been bamboozled by Microsoft."

He also says that software users are allowed to back up, to compile, and to run the software that they possess.

He further says that "since it's not copyright infringement for you to apply a patch, it's also not copyright infringement for someone to give you a patch," noting the case of "Galoob v. Nintendo" as precedent. Thus modified versions of license-free software can legally be distributed in source code form in whatever way that the original can, by distributing a patch alongside it.

Although they come without a license document, it can be arguedweasel-inline that such programs are legally bound by a license. For example, on his various web pages giving [ information for distributors] , Bernstein granted permission for users to redistribute the packages, in source code form, verbatim. This permission granted by the copyright holder can be construed as a copyright licenseFact|date=March 2008. However, there is significant and long standing dispute in the community as to its validity and weightFact|date=March 2008, given the transient and wholly electronic nature of the license document.

These concerns have been expressedFact|date=March 2008 for the same reasons about the non-paper licenses of shrink wrapped software. Given Bernstein's own opposition to software licenses, arguments for the validity of Bernstein's web pages as licenses may also strengthen the case for the validity of "click wrap" end-user license agreements, although this seems unlikely because the latter are contracts, whereas pure copyright licenses need never be seen by a user to be in force.Fact|date=July 2008 This contract variance makes sense: a difference remains in that Bernstein's license is purely permissive whereas most "click wrap" licenses forbid certain actions of the user.Fact|date=January 2008


If someone other than the copyright holder modifies a license-free program, common copyright law forbids this new version from being freely distributed in compiled form. (Modified source code may be distributedFact|date=March 2008, as with [ netqmail] , [ dqd] , and Debian's [ qmail-src package] , but its use requires every user's computer to have a compiler.) This disagrees with the free software and open source philosophiesDubious|date=March 2008, and so license-free software does not meet the Open Source Initiative's open source definition or the FSF's free software definition.

Advocates of license-free software, such as Bernstein, argue that copyright licenses are harmful because they restrict the freedom to use software, and copyright law provides enough freedom without the need for licenses. But free and open source licenses do not restrict freedoms that license-free advocates want to protect.Dubious|date=March 2008 They in effect allow, with restrictions, certain actions that are disallowed by copyright laws in some jurisdictions. If a license tries to restrict an action allowed by a copyright system, by Bernstein's argument those restrictions can be ignored. In fact, Bernstein's "non-license" of verbatim retransmission of source code is very similar in nature.

The disagreement hampers the spread of license-free software, largely because the free software and open source philosophies are far stronger influences.Fact|date=March 2008 For example, some Linux distributions classify qmail as "non-free" because when distributors modify it, the modified version cannot be distributed in compiled form.

External links

* [ "License Free Software"]
* [ 17 USC 117]
* [ The U.K. Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988]
* [ The U.K. Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 2003]
* [ ('s snapshotted copy of) The FSF's (erstwhile) categorisation of the qmail licence as "non-free"]
* [ "qmail is not open source"] - an article published by Russell Nelson, OSI board member (Note: now changed to "qmail is now open source" - an important difference!)


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