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A shadow lies upon all BSD distributions

Or so it seems. I’ve written yesterday about the troubles that forced me to get the Gentoo/FreeBSD stages out of the mirrors, to feel safer and to avoid issues to the Gentoo Foundation that would get bit if there was a problem; today I was invited to join #gnu by mattl on Freenode (who was in turn invited to join #gentoo-dev by christel), and there I talked with ams (Alfred M. Szmidt), who agreed with me that the clause is way too vague (what would be considered “advertising material”? a poster? a booth at an expo? a website? a document explaining the installation procedure? an article on a magazine?), and to be safe we’d have either to get the permission from all the entities involved there, or list all the acknowledgements for all the entities (at least 110 if I have to depend on the quick’n’dirty grep I posted yesterday, but probably a lot more after seeing the files directly, see later on in this post). Both strategies are difficult to apply on both short and long terms.

But this is not just a problem for us, as the title of this post already made you suspect. All of the *BSD-derived projects took some way or another code licensed 4-BSD that is not under copyright of UCB, that would then require them to provide the acknowledgements on all the “advertising material”, whatever that is. And I’m pretty sure most of the *BSD projects have something that can be considered advertisement even to the stricter of the meaning.

So even if the situation is nasty, and not easy to cope with, and not even quick to deal with, we have one advantage: the same situation is true for other projects, and thus it’s well possible that we’ll be able to find all the 4-BSD licensers and get them to change to 3-BSD, or replace the code with cleanroom implementations that would be licensed under a saner license.

Javier is taking care to contacting FreeBSD Foundation, while Timothy took care of NetBSD, I’ll probably try to find a way to contact at least some of the copyright holders, but to do that I have to be able to reduce the copyright headers into a human readable form without all the boilerplate noise around it. To do that, I’ve written a short stateful parser in Ruby that produced me already an interesting log: a lot of files that resulted from the grep assigned to NetBSD project, are actually assigned to various companies or developers that then assigned it to NetBSD project, which makes the situation even more troublesome.

I suppose now people can actually say that my work destroyed the very foundation FreeBSD is based off :/

Edit: It seems like *BSD projects are not the only ones that are involved in this debacle, as also Open Darwin includes at least some header files that are licensed under 4-BSD, see for instance libc_private.h; I’ll have to check if the include directory of Mac OS X also contains 4-BSD licensed code, because I don’t remember seeing the acknowledgements on any Apple advertisement.

Why did I have to discover this hornets’ nest myself? :§

Comments 6
  1. I’m glad you found this.Would you rather have had some corporation figure this out first and start sending the lawyers after everyone?Things should hopefully be defused without extreme measures. Although it’s unfortunate that so many “free” projects are now legally broken for lack of better words.

  2. Let’s not go overboard and claim that this is something that has been “discovered.” There’s nothing new here, nothing that hasn’t been discussed and scrutinized time and time again for the last decade. Let’s take a look at the clause again:”All advertising materials mentioning features or use of this software must display the following acknowledgement”The key is “mentioning features or use of this software.” If Apple creates an advertisement for MacOS X Leopard, and they don’t mention the “features or use” of specific software packages that use this license, the clause does not come into effect.The biggest component of BSD-licensed software in MacOS X is the BSD operating system, which is not covered by the advertising clause due to the 1999 declaration. Apple advertistments tend to focus on Apple created technologies, with no mention of specific components that would invoke this clause.

  3. Chris, the problem is that Apple took a specific implementation of that operating system, which is FreeBSD; parts of that are present in the sources taken by Apple are covered by the advertisement clause.And “mention features or use of this software”, means that the time Apple mentions that they are a UNIX-based operating system (as they do on their site) they are bound by the clause toward all the people contributing the code, which is the problem.

  4. Hi Flameeyes,You’re making a legal interpretation that I am skeptical about. Just because specific parts of FreeBSD are covered by the advertising clause doesn’t necessarily suggest that that an advertisement that says that MacOS X is “UNIX-based” would require invoking the clause.Now, I’m not a lawyer so really I don’t know exactly how Apple or any other company would interpret the clause or how they would choose to comply. But I can assure you that companies like Apple do have a clear internal understanding of how to interpret the clause, exactly which software components included with MacOS X require the clause, and how those should be handled in advertisements. I’m purely speculating, but I doubt Apple considers the content on their website “advertising.”BTW, a complete list of copyrights for software included in MacOS X can be found here:/Library/Documentation/Acknowledgements.rtfIt’s actually an interesting read just to gain a perspective of what is under the hood.

  5. We should start a pub fund for the devs and lawyers working on this one. Sounds like they’re all going to need a good drink before this is over.

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