Persistent Misconception About the GPL

David Maguire writes:

There are two primary reasons why ESRI joined the group: the opportunity to work at a peer to peer level with smart developers so that we can build useful GIS code that will advance the GIS field; and to explore the community software development and open source licensing model.

Here's a couple tips -- as if this will be read ;) -- to get started: Buy and read Producing Open Source Software. Yes, buy it. Next, disabuse yourself of the misconception that the GPL is non-commercial (from Maguire's entry):

Products will be available using two licensing models: GNU General Public License (GPL); and a commercial use license.

Commercial use is not prohibited by the GPL. From the terms, 1:

You may charge a fee for the physical act of transferring a copy, and you may at your option offer warranty protection in exchange for a fee.

This means that anyone can take GPL software from the 52N initiative, make a sexy box, nicely-bound manuals, and sell these physical copies for any price so long as they meet all terms of the license. If 52N seeks to own all commercial rights to the software, it will have to find a different license.

ER Mapper is another company that can't seem to get its head around around the GPL yet. They consistently refer to their non-commercial license as "GPL-like".

Thanks to James Fee for clueing me in.


Re: Persistent Misconception About the GPL

Author: Joel

Sean (and James?), I can see two reasons for the 52d North dual license with a "commercial-use" version. Please correct me if I am wrong. 1) Many companies are reluctant to use GPL'd software because of item 2-b, a.k.a. the "viral" part of the GPL. Nobody wants to stack their profit-making IP on top of a library which would automatically GPL their work. Using software as a development platform is different of course from simply using the software as is. The commercial license would allow a commercial GIS company to develop a product based on 52d North-release software. 2) Some large organizations, including many federal agencies, require a license with a purchase receipt for accounting purposes. Even if you charge $1 for the license the bean counters are happy. This is not a 100% fool-proof way of avoiding licensing issues of course but it's the way it is done. I've worked with and for these types of organizations. The U.S. Navy always buys a license whenever possible and if they can't they get a letter from the software creators giving them specific permission to use the software for documented purposes. They do this for Tomcat and Apache and probably Plone. Many large companies do this in an attempt to avoid license infringement lawsuits. This fact is one of the reasons ESRI started endorsing and even including "ServletExec" engine with ArcIMS as an alternative to Tomcat.

Re: Persistent Misconception About the GPL

Author: Sean

Joel, I don't disagree with you at all. I was just pointing out that the GPL may not be the non-commercial license they are looking for.

Re: Persistent Misconception About the GPL

Author: Joel

You are right. This is a huge leap for ESRI and they will probably stumble into the open source world like a bull in a China shop. But this initiative and their adoption of gdal in ArcGIS 9.2 is amazing to me. They and every other GIS company has always at least verbally supported OGC's open standards but open source software is a differnt story. ESRI definitely seems to be taking open source software seriously. I am certain this is in no small part to the community and variety of projects which radiate out from Mapserver. The steady improvements in open source GIS software and the coverage on blogs and the few books which have appeared are having an effect. Things are getting very interesting.