Science and Fluid Dynamics should have more open sources

Posted 18 Jun 2001 at 00:50 UTC by steph Share This

You might want to check out this article by my former phD supervisor: I think it is a pretty good summary of the somewhat ambiguous position of the scientific world regarding open source.

Confuses some issues, posted 18 Jun 2001 at 15:31 UTC by Radagast » (Journeyer)

While I agree with the general sentiment of the article (scientific software should be more open), it suffers from confusion about IP issues, sadly like so many other articles of the same kind. Specifically, it says that by releasing a piece of software under the GPL, the author loses all options of commercialization, while if the software is released under the LGPL, those options are more open.

In reality, the opposite is true. Releasing under the GPL doesn't allow others to make proprietary versions of the software (or use it in proprietary software), while the author's right to create proprietary versions remains. Under the LGPL, on the other hand, anyone can use the software in proprietary software, so if the author wanted to release a proprietary version, he would be competing with other proprietary versions of the same software.

The concept of releasing software under a strict copyleft and then licensing commercially on the side is fairly common, it's being doen with such packages as GhostScript, QT, and Libart, just to mention a few. It's generally seen as a decent way for small developers of specialized software to live off the development.

Re: Confuses some issues, posted 18 Jun 2001 at 22:43 UTC by Bram » (Master)

If a single company owns the entire code base, and all contributors are happy to sign over their property rights, then a dual license is possible.

But if other companies make major contributions and don't sign over copyright, then a dual license is impossible and GPL most definitely creates an impediment to commercialization.

Re: Confuses some issues, posted 19 Jun 2001 at 06:08 UTC by Radagast » (Journeyer)

If several contributors ownthe IP, then a GPL places no extra burden on commercialization. You will still need to get the agreement of many contributors to be able to license it commercially (and you'll need that agreement to release under the GPL too).

If you mean "I can't commercialize contributions that people made under the GPL after the GPL release", then you are correct, but if you didn't GPL/free the software, you'd most likely not get those contributions, and besides, you decide what goes into the code tree, so you can make a provision that all contributors assign copyright. Again, this is fairly common, for instance with Libart.

Re: Confuses some issues, posted 20 Jun 2001 at 21:49 UTC by steph » (Journeyer)

I am posting this reply on behalf of Stephane Zaleski:

I indeed neglected the fact that the owner of a copyright can always re-license it under other conditions. I acknowledge the error.

I am not sure I want to enter the interesting discussion on whether it is practical, or ethically appropriate, to open code under the GPL and then develop and market a commercial version.

I would rather like to point that I was trying, as the title of the article suggest, to advocate more open science. I was trying to argue that lost revenue is a false fear. If it is still possible to gain revenue even after licensing the code under the GPL, then it only reinforces my point.

I am rephrasing the section in question in version 1.2 of my paper which is now available on my page. I have removed the discussion of what license works best because it is a secondary issue.

However I would like to point out that I have in mind a model of development where many different people contribute a little bit and hold a bit of copyright. In that case you would need agreement from everybody to change the terms of distribution. This is not practical as has been pointed out by Bram and separately by Hughes Talbot in his email to me.

Radagasts's suggestion that the contributors be forced to assign copyright is unrealistic in the academic community. It is an unpleasant imposition on colleagues, it complicates matters and if the colleague is not the copyright holder but his university is it creates the nightmare of legal discussions between universities.

One of the reason scientists do not enter open source project is that they fear precisely this kind of legal complexities. My aim is to simplify, not complexify all this.

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