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July 25, 2005


Mike Linksvayer

It isn't clear to me that MySQL uses the non-commercial concept and I'd be very surprised to find that they add a NC clause to the GPL (if they did mysql wouldn't be in debian, and it is -- http://packages.debian.org/stable/misc/mysql-server-4.1 ).

MySQL has two license options: GPL and "commercial" -- http://www.mysql.com/company/legal/licensing/commercial-license.html -- but "commercial" really means anything non-GPL. They say that even nonprofit organizations that bundle non-GPL software with MySQL need to get a commercial license, though MySQL AB might give such a license for free.

MySQL has apparently been successful at selling private licenses, but AFAICT an explicit commercial use prohibition has not been part of that. However, in many cases the copyleft/sharealike requirement amounts to the same thing, as using the GPL is not acceptable to many commercial vendors.

That's not to say that explicit commercial use prohibition is not an important part of an open music/film/literature/etc. business model, I just don't see it exisitng in the open source software community.

John Buckman

If " they say that even nonprofit organizations that bundle non-GPL software with MySQL need to get a commercial license" -- does that apply to internal implementations of MySQL, where GPLed MySQL code is used among internally-developed-and-never-open-sourced software? If so, then that's effectively an interpretation of the GPL which prohibits (internal) commercial use. But, you're right, the "legal code" of the GPL doesn't prohibit commercial use, but this interpretation of it effectively would. I always thought of the "share-alike" provision in the GPL as only really applying to *distributed* software (ie, sold, downloadable) and not to internal software. Indeed, many embedded device companies don't disclose their source code, despite being Linux based and using mostly GPLed code.

As far as no existing GPL/non-commercial licenses existing out there, a Google search for "gpl non-commercial" brought up a few.

However, there are some references to non-commercial use in the GPL, and this interesting article has some interpretation of the GPL:

"A licensor under the GPL is expected to distribute or make available the source code for software he or she writes. That is what items a) and b) of GPL section 3 require. But what is the licensor's obligation regarding the source code of GPL-licensed software that he or she merely distributes, perhaps as a component of a GPL-licensed collective or derivative work? Must the licensor undertake to distribute the source code to all the contributions of the entire collective work, including components he or she didn't write? Item c) would appear to solve this problem, but only for noncommercial distribution. I believe that, in practice, most distributors under the GPL provide source code for their entire collective works, not just the portions they themselves write, regardless of this limitation to noncommercial licensors."

Pedro Rosario (prosario_2000)

I disagree with most of the article for philosophical reasons. I'm not of the Open Source Movement but the Free Software Movement, and I do believe that all software should be free (in the sense of freedom, not price). The Open Source Movement is only concentrated in many advantages of free/open-source software.

However, the article is interesting in many aspects. For example, you mention the fact that no fully open-source business model can succeed without using at some point some proprietary licenses that permit non-commercial use in certain cases. I do agree with that up to a point. What concerns me is that in these last few months I have come to realize that you can do profit with free software, but you cannot expect to build a multimillion dollar company just based on free software. Most of the jobs that would be created with free software would have to do with providing services to people who use free software. Of course, it can be possible to build a gigantic company based on this kind of services, but I don't expect anything as gigantic as Microsoft in the end.

Software is a world where ideas and technology can fuse into a single thing. The program you create is not only something you write down, but it is a technology in itself. It is an ethical duty to make this technology available to everyone. And the kind of economy that should be based on it should be one of providing service. In fact, this will not monopolize at all the service (like most gigantic software companies do today), but companies or small or middle enterprises built for this service can have a chance to create jobs and at the same time contribute to free programs to make them better. I do agree that in this sense software should not have owners.

On the other hand, music is not technology, it is art. The copyright laws that rule free software should not be the same ones that rule music. There should be no GPL'd kind of music kind of license for all music. Many people forget that Copyright is a way of strinking a balance between the authors, the publishers and the public. In the case of music it would be strinking a balance between the artists, the labels and the public. The problem today is that copyright is being used by big labels only for the profit of labels, let the remaining cash be for the artist, and restrict all they can to the public. The balance is definitely in favor of big companies.

I think that an appropriate way to strike a balance is to let people distribute songs for non-commercial use, as well as non-commercial derivative works. I think Creative Commons Licenses have been successful in providing those kinds of licenses, and I think Magnatune's policy is a good one in that sense. It is built on a humane way of propagating their music, artists get paid for commercial use, as well as the label. That's a very good deal for everyone in the longrun.

That's why I promote Magnatune as well as other labels who promote this strategy. As far as it goes I wish the best for Magnatune.com.

Mike Linksvayer


No, the GPL does not mandate publishing source code for applications that include GPL'd code but are not distributed. Such applications that use MySQL do not have to buy licenses, regardless of whether the application is commercial or not. If that were not the case at the very least many thousands of websites would need to either GPL and publish their implementation or buy licenses from MySQL AB. This is considered a loophole by some, thus the (largely unused) AfferoGPL and a few other alternatives which consider use in a web app equivalent to distribution.

Embedded devices which are distributed and include GPL source code need to GPL and distribute their code, though many fail to do so, but there have been several successful efforts to get vendors of such devices to GPL and publish their code.

The only mention of non-commercial in the GPL allows non-commercial distributions to pass along someone else's offer to provide the source rather than providing the source themselves. It doesn't change the requirement that the GPL license be maintained at all. I'm guessing that it is a vestige of a time when media and bandwidth were really expensive, so directly distributing source code may have been concievably infeasible for a non-commercial operation.


A "multimillion dollar company" is not very big. It has been done a long time ago only on free software by Cygnus (now a part of Red Hat). It may indeed not be possible to build a company the size of MSFT.

I agree regarding Magnatune. They're great, or at the very least non-evil. :-)

In sum, I don't think it is necessary to make a very iffy claim that there's a history of non-commercial licensing in the FLOSS world to justify the same in the open music world. Music (and other non-software arts) comes with culture, use cases and production modes that differ pretty radically from those of software. If that weren't the case, the range of options offered by CC licenses, including non-commercial, would make a lot less sense.

John Buckman

Mike writes: "In sum, I don't think it is necessary to make a very iffy claim that there's a history of non-commercial licensing in the FLOSS world to justify the same in the open music world."

Ok, you've convinced me.

However, would you agree that companies (such as MySQL) use the GPL as tool to scare off no-cost (free as in beer) use of MySQL by commercial organizations? And thus to generate revenue by stepping in with a commercial use license for the GPL-wary corporate users?

If so, then I might revise my claim to "the open source software movement has proven a business model wereby no-cost, non-commercial use is encouraged, but commercial users, wary of the GPL's impact on their own intellectual property, pay for an alternate commercial use license"


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