Friday, December 1, 2023

The FSF Condemns Unauthorized Derivatives of GNU Licenses – Slashdot

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The Free Sofware Foundation issued a clarifying blog post this week, saying the organization is “pleased when people use GNU licenses to distribute and license software.”

But “we condemn the use of unauthorized, confusing derivatives of the licenses.”
Unfortunately, some authors engage in confusing practices by drafting licenses using existing terms and conditions of GNU free software licenses, without the intention of granting all four freedoms to users. For example, we have long seen attempts to add restrictions to the license text itself, placed in the LICENSE file, or included elsewhere in the program’s release. An example is the so-called “Commons Clause,” which, when applied to a free software license, affirms that the program is covered by the license. But, at the same time, is contradicting in its meaning by asserting that selling copies of the program or implementing a commercial service with the program is prohibited.

The immediate consequence of the practice of inserting a restriction into a GNU license in this way is the confusion it causes for the community. Users still see the name of the original license, with its preamble and terms and conditions intact, transmitting a strong message that the purpose of the license is to enable users — grant users — their essential software freedoms. This message is clear from the license’s text, and is bolstered from the renown accrued by the FSF and GNU trademarks, and their decades of free software advocacy. At the same time, these same users see a contradictory statement of the “Commons Clause,” which is clearly contrary to the sprit of the free software movement and the Free Software Definition…

[T]o make it even clearer that added restrictions are incompatible with our license, we gave users the right to delete such added restrictions [in 2007] and preserve the program’s freedom. But we at the FSF have another legal tool against attempts to release programs under GNU General Public Licenses that have been wrongly altered to become nonfree licenses. The FSF holds copyrights and common law trademarks to the GNU family of General Public Licenses. Moreover, the FSF holds registered trademarks for “FSF,” “Free Software Foundation,” and “GNU.” […] We can’t control the drafting by others of proprietary software licenses, but we can and do forbid doing this in a way that misleadingly associates those licenses with GNU or GNU licenses… [W]e are entitled to legally enforce our copyright and trademark for FSF licenses that have been altered by added restrictions to a verbatim GNU license…

Licenses that confuse users about the freedoms they grant are damaging to the free software movement because they threaten to dilute the value and power of these licenses. When GNU licenses are misused through such confusing practices, it harms the renown accrued by the GNU project and the FSF over decades of free software advocacy. It is our duty to all computer users to stop these practices, and, if necessary, we will use our legal rights to this end.

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