Chad Perrin: SOB

17 January 2007

Maybe we should fork Perl for legal purposes.

Filed under: Geek,Humor,Liberty — apotheon @ 05:27

In the article BSD – The Dark Horse of Open Source at Groklaw a strong case is made that the BSD license provides far greater protection of licensed source code from theft by proprietary interests than is commonly believed. In fact, the end result of the arguments presented in the article (also available as a PDF download from the same page) is essentially that the BSD license’s legal protections are roughly identical to those of the GPLv2, except for the problematic forced distribution of source code.

This leaves the BSD license as one of the closest brushes to the perfect open source software license of anything certified by the OSI. All it lacks is patent protection alongside its copyright protection and applicability to more than software. It’s my thought that to be really “perfect”, the license would have to also apply to all other forms of copyrightable works, including plain ol’ text, music, et cetera. Of course, lacks such as this are the reason I deemed the CCD CopyWrite license to be a necessary creation, and (of course) went on to create it. Still, it’s heartening to see this strong argument in favor of some of the often unrealized strengths of the BSD license, which is far preferable to the GPL for purposes of actual freedom, rather than some socialistic idea of freedom where to be truly free we have to be able to force other people to act in a manner not in accordance with their own wills (I speak again, of course, of forced distribution of source code).

It occurred to me that the BSD license’s shortcoming in terms of applicability across various media and content types can be greatly mitigated by simply altering a text document form of the material to be thus licensed:

#!/usr/bin/perl -l print ' [insert your document text here] ';

This turns your document into source code.

But wait, there’s more! This can be made even easier, in general. All that’s needed is to modify the Perl interpreter (distributed under the Artistic License, of course, to avoid the problems of the GPL) such that it treats any source file that fails to compile and run properly as being surrounded by the above-indicated code. In other words, the perl executable would assume one additional function: duplicating the simplest case functionality of the cat command. I propose we call this fork of Perl “Perint”. Thus, any text you write henceforth can be distributed relatively indisputably under the terms of the BSD license.

BONUS: I wonder if this means that all versions of Microsoft Windows from NT 3.5 through XP are in fact legally subject to the terms of the BSD license. Wouldn’t that be a hoot? Hopefully Microsoft doesn’t get wind of this and use its considerable financial and legal clout to magic up a way to convince a court to obviate the strong protections of the BSD license. Then again, I wonder if the fact that MS Windows Vista’s network stack was rewritten from scratch is somehow related to the terms of the BSD license, since the “original” TCP/IP networking code was actually cribbed from BSD Unix back in the day.

All original content Copyright Chad Perrin: Distributed under the terms of the Open Works License