Software relicensing
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Software relicensing is applied in
open-source Open source is source code that is made freely available for possible modification and redistribution. Products include permission to use the source code, design documents, or content of the product. The open-source model is a decentralized sof ...
software development Software development is the process of conceiving, specifying, designing, Computer programming, programming, software documentation, documenting, software testing, testing, and Software bugs, bug fixing involved in creating and maintaining applic ...
when
software license A software license is a legal instrument (usually by way of contract law, with or without printed material) governing the use or redistribution of software. Under United States copyright law, all software is copyright protected, in both source c ...
s of software modules are incompatible and are required to be compatible for a greater combined work. Licenses applied to software as
copyright A copyright is a type of intellectual property that gives its owner the exclusive right to copy, distribute, adapt, display, and perform a creative work, usually for a limited time. The creative work may be in a literary, artistic, education ...
able works, in source code as binary form, can contain contradictory clauses. These requirements can make it impossible to combine
source code In computing, source code, or simply code, is any collection of code, with or without comment (computer programming), comments, written using a human-readable programming language, usually as plain text. The source code of a Computer program, p ...
or content of several software works to create a new combined one.


Motivation and description

Sometimes open-source software projects get stuck in a license incompatibility situation. Often the only feasible way to resolve this situation is re-licensing of all participating software parts. For successful relicensing the agreement of all involved copyright holders, typically the developers, to a changed license is required. While in the
free and open-source Free and open-source software (FOSS) is a term used to refer to groups of software consisting of both free software and open-source software where anyone is free software license, freely licensed to use, copy, study, and change the software in a ...
domain achieving 100% coverage of all authors is often impossible due to the many contributors involved, often it is assumed that a great majority is sufficient. For instance,
Mozilla Mozilla (stylized as moz://a) is a free software community founded in 1998 by members of Netscape. The Mozilla community uses, develops, spreads and supports Mozilla products, thereby promoting exclusively free software and open standards, wi ...
assumed an author coverage of 95% to be sufficient. Others in the free and open-source software (FOSS) domain, such as Eric S. Raymond, came to different conclusions regarding the requirements for relicensing of a whole code base.


Cases

An early example of an
open-source Open source is source code that is made freely available for possible modification and redistribution. Products include permission to use the source code, design documents, or content of the product. The open-source model is a decentralized sof ...
project that did successfully re-license for license compatibility reasons is the
Mozilla Mozilla (stylized as moz://a) is a free software community founded in 1998 by members of Netscape. The Mozilla community uses, develops, spreads and supports Mozilla products, thereby promoting exclusively free software and open standards, wi ...
project and their
Firefox Mozilla Firefox, or simply Firefox, is a free and open-source Free and open-source software (FOSS) is a term used to refer to groups of software consisting of both free software and open-source software where anyone is free software licen ...
browser. The
source code In computing, source code, or simply code, is any collection of code, with or without comment (computer programming), comments, written using a human-readable programming language, usually as plain text. The source code of a Computer program, p ...
of
Netscape Netscape Communications Corporation (originally Mosaic Communications Corporation) was an American independent computer services company with headquarters in Mountain View, California and then Dulles, Virginia. Its Netscape (web browser), Netsc ...
's Communicator 4.0 browser was originally released in 1998 under the Netscape Public License/
Mozilla Public License The Mozilla Public License (MPL) is a free and open-source software, free and open-source weak copyleft, weak copyleft license for most Mozilla Foundation software such as Mozilla Firefox, Firefox and Mozilla Thunderbird, Thunderbird The MPL l ...
but was criticised by the FSF and OSI for being incompatible. Around 2001
Time Warner Warner Media, LLC (Trade name, traded as WarnerMedia) was an American multinational corporation, multinational mass media and show business, entertainment conglomerate (company), conglomerate. It was headquartered at the 30 Hudson Yards complex i ...
, exercising its rights under the Netscape Public License, and at the request of the Mozilla Foundation, relicensed all code in Mozilla that was under the Netscape Public License (including code by other contributors) to an MPL 1.1/GPL 2.0/
LGPL The GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) is a free-software license A free-software license is a notice that grants the recipient of a piece of software extensive rights to modify and software distribution, redistribute that software. ...
2.1
tri-license Multi-licensing is the practice of distributing software under two or more different sets of terms and conditions. This may mean multiple different software licenses or sets of licenses. Prefixes may be used to indicate the number of licenses ...
, thus achieving GPL-compatibility. The
Vorbis Vorbis is a free and open-source software project headed by the Xiph.Org Foundation. The project produces an audio coding format and software reference encoder/decoder (codec) for lossy compression, lossy audio compression (data), audio compress ...
library was originally licensed as LGPL, but in 2001 the license was changed to the
BSD license BSD licenses are a family of permissive free software licenses, imposing minimal restrictions on the use and distribution of covered software. This is in contrast to copyleft licenses, which have share-alike requirements. The original BSD lice ...
with endorsement of
Richard Stallman Richard Matthew Stallman (; born March 16, 1953), also known by his initials, rms, is an American free software movement activist and programmer. He campaigns for software to be distributed in such a manner that its users have the freedom to u ...
to encourage adoption. The VLC project also has a complicated license history due to license compatibility: in 2007 it decided for license compatibility reasons to not upgrade to the just released
GPLv3 The GNU General Public License (GNU GPL or simply GPL) is a series of widely used free software licenses that guarantee end users the Four Freedoms (Free software), four freedoms to run, study, share, and modify the software. The license was th ...
. After the VLC was removed from Apple App Store at the beginning of 2011, in October 2011 the VLC project re-licensed the VLC library part from the GPLv2 to the LGPLv2 to achieve better compatibility. In July 2013 the VLC application could then be resubmitted to the iOS App Store relicensed under the Mozilla Public License.
7-Zip 7-Zip is a free and open-source Free and open-source software (FOSS) is a term used to refer to groups of software consisting of both free software and open-source software where anyone is free software license, freely licensed to use, copy ...
's LZMA SDK, originally dual-licensed under both the
GNU LGPL The GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) is a free-software license published by the Free Software Foundation (FSF). The license allows developers and companies to use and integrate a software component released under the LGPL into their own ...
and Common Public License, with an additional special exception for linked binaries, was placed by Igor Pavlov in the
public domain The public domain (PD) consists of all the creative work to which no Exclusive exclusive intellectual property rights apply. Those rights may have expired, been forfeited, expressly waived, or may be inapplicable. Because those rights have ...
on December 2, 2008. The GNU TLS project adopted the LGPLv3 license in 2011 but in 2013 relicensed their code back to LGPLv2.1 due to serious license compatibility problems. The
GNU Free Documentation License The GNU Free Documentation License (GNU FDL or simply GFDL) is a copyleft license for free documentation, designed by the Free Software Foundation (FSF) for the GNU Project. It is similar to the GNU General Public License, giving readers the r ...
in version 1.2 is not compatible with the widely used
Creative Commons Creative Commons (CC) is an American non-profit organization and international network devoted to educational access and expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share. The organization has release ...
Attribution-ShareAlike license, which was a problem, for instance, for the
Wikipedia Wikipedia is a multilingual Multilingualism is the use of more than one language, either by an individual speaker or by a group of speakers. It is believed that multilingual speakers outnumber monolingual speakers in the world's ...
. Therefore, at the request of the
Wikimedia Foundation The Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., or Wikimedia for short and abbreviated as WMF, is an American 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization headquartered in San Francisco, California and registered as foundation (United States law), a charitable foundati ...
, the FSF added, with version 1.3 of the GFDL, a time-limited section allowing specific types of websites using the GFDL to additionally offer their work under the CC BY-SA license. Following in June 2009, the Wikimedia Foundation migrated their projects (
Wikipedia Wikipedia is a multilingual Multilingualism is the use of more than one language, either by an individual speaker or by a group of speakers. It is believed that multilingual speakers outnumber monolingual speakers in the world's ...
, etc.) by dual licensing to the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike as main license, additional to the previously used
GFDL The GNU Free Documentation License (GNU FDL or simply GFDL) is a copyleft Copyleft is the legal technique of granting certain freedoms over copies of copyrighted works with the requirement that the same rights be preserved in derivative ...
. An improved license compatibility with the greater free content ecosystem was given as reason for the license change.Wikipedia + CC BY-SA = Free Culture Win!
on creativecommons.org by Mike Linksvayer, June 22nd, 2009
In 2010 the
OGRE An ogre (grammatical gender, feminine: ogress) is a legendary monster depicted as a large, hideous, Mythic humanoids, man-like being that eats ordinary human beings, especially infants and children. Ogres frequently feature in mythology, folkl ...
project changed their license from the LGPL to the
MIT License The MIT License is a permissive free software license originating at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the late 1980s. As a permissive license, it puts only very limited restriction on reuse and has, therefore, high license comp ...
; a simpler license text was given as reason.Licensing FAQ
on ogre3d.org
Another case was the relicensing of GPLv2 licensed
linux kernel The Linux kernel is a Free and open-source software, free and open-source, Monolithic kernel, monolithic, Modular programming, modular, Computer multitasking, multitasking, Unix-like operating system kernel (operating system), kernel. It was ori ...
header file Many programming languages and other computer files have a Directive (programming), directive, often called include (sometimes copy or import), that causes the contents of the specified file to be inserted into the original file. These included fil ...
s to the BSD license by
Google Google LLC () is an American Multinational corporation, multinational technology company focusing on Search Engine, search engine technology, online advertising, cloud computing, software, computer software, quantum computing, e-commerce, ar ...
for their Android library Bionic. To get rid of the GPL, Google claimed that the header files were cleaned from any copyright-able work, reducing them to non-copyrightable "facts". This interpretation was challenged for instance by Raymond Nimmer, a law professor at the University of Houston Law Center. In November 2013 POV-Ray was relicensed under the
Affero General Public License The Affero General Public License (Affero GPL and informally Affero License) is a free software license. The first version of the Affero General Public License (AGPLv1), was published by Affero, Inc. in March 2002, and based on the GNU General ...
version 3 (or later), after being distributed since 1991 under a FOSS-incompatible, non-commercial source available custom ''POV-Ray license''. POV-Ray was developed before FOSS licenses became widely used, therefore the developers wrote their own license which became later a problem due to license incompatibility with the FOSS ecosystem. In 2014 the
FreeCAD FreeCAD is a general-purpose parametric 3D computer-aided design Computer-aided design (CAD) is the use of computers (or ) to aid in the creation, modification, analysis, or optimization of a design. This software is used to increase the ...
project changed their license from GPL to LGPLv2 due to GPLv3/GPLv2 incompatibilities. In 2014 Gang Garrison 2 relicensed from GPLv3 to MPL for improved library compatibility. Also the
Dolphin A dolphin is an aquatic mammal within the infraorder Cetacea. Dolphin species belong to the families Delphinidae (the oceanic dolphins), Platanistidae (the Indian river dolphins), Iniidae (the New World river dolphins), Pontoporiidae (the br ...
project changed its license from "GPLv2 only" to "GPLv2 or any later" for better compatibility in May 2015. In June 2015 mpv started the relicensation process of the project's GPL licensed source code for improved license compatibility under LGPLv2 by getting consent from the majority (95%+) of the contributing developers. In August 2016 approx. 90% of the authors could be reached and consented. In October 2017 the switch was finalized. In July 2015 Seafile switched for improved license compatibility, especially with
Git Git () is a distributed version control system: tracking changes in any set of files, usually used for coordinating work among programmer A computer programmer, sometimes referred to as a software developer, a software engineer, a pr ...
, from the GPLv3 to the GPLv2. In 2015
Natron Natron is a naturally occurring mixture of sodium carbonate decahydrate (sodium carbonate, Na2CO3ยท10H2O, a kind of soda ash) and around 17% sodium bicarbonate (also called baking soda, NaHCO3) along with small quantities of sodium chloride and ...
was relicensed from MPL to the
GPLv2 The GNU General Public License (GNU GPL or simply GPL) is a series of widely used free software licenses that guarantee end users the Four Freedoms (Free software), four freedoms to run, study, share, and modify the software. The license was th ...
to allow better commercialization. In 2016 MAME achieved a relicensing of the code base to BSD/GPL after struggling for years with an own written custom license, with non-commercial license terms. In August 2016 the MariaDB Corporation relicensed the database proxy server MaxScale from GPL to the non-FOSS but source-available and time-limited ''Business source license'' (BSL) which defaults back after three years to GPL. In 2017 followed version 1.1, revised with feedback also from
Bruce Perens Bruce Perens (born around 1958) is an American computer programmer A computer programmer, sometimes referred to as a software developer, a software engineer, a programmer or a coder, is a person who creates computer software, computer pro ...
. For a long time D back-end source code was available but under a non-
open source Open source is source code that is made freely available for possible modification and redistribution. Products include permission to use the source code, design documents, or content of the product. The open-source model is a decentralized sof ...
conform
license A license (or licence) is an official permission or permit to do, use, or own something (as well as the document of that permission or permit). A license is granted by a party (licensor) to another party (licensee) as an element of an agreeme ...
, because it was partially developed at Symantec and couldn't be relicensed as open source. On April 9, 2017, also the back-end part could be relicensed to the open-source
Boost Software License Boost is a set of library (computing), libraries for the C++ programming language that provides support for tasks and structures such as linear algebra, pseudorandom number generator, pseudorandom number generation, multithreading, image processi ...
. On July 27, 2017 Microsoft Research changed the license of space combat simulator
Allegiance An allegiance is a duty of fidelity said to be owed, or freely committed, by the people, subjects or citizens to their state (polity), state or Monarch, sovereign. Etymology From Middle English ''ligeaunce'' (see medieval Latin ''ligeantia'', ...
from the MSR shared source license, under which the game was opened in 2004, to the MIT license.FREEING Allegiance, How it Happened (sort of)
on freeallegiance.org (2017-07-28)


See also

*
License compatibility License compatibility is a legal framework that allows for pieces of software with different software licenses to be distributed together. The need for such a framework arises because the different licenses can contain contradictory requirement ...
*
Backward compatibility Backward compatibility (sometimes known as backwards compatibility) is a property of an operating system, product, or technology that allows for interoperability with an older legacy system, or with Input/output, input designed for such a system, ...
*
Forward compatibility Forward compatibility or upward compatibility is a design characteristic that allows a system A system is a group of interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and in ...
* License proliferation


References

{{Reflist, 30em Copyright licenses