Open source leaders query details in Apple licence

Three prominent members of the open source software community have flagged concerns about some details in the public source licence Apple Computer has applied to the portions of MacOS X Server it 'opened' this week. In a joint letter they have asked for a 'few simple changes' to the licence.

Three prominent members of the open source software community have flagged concerns about some details in the public source licence Apple Computer has applied to the portions of MacOS X Server it "opened" this week.

They also note their regret that open source guru Eric Raymond, "with the best of intentions, jumped a little too fast to embrace" Apple's high-profile move this week and invited him to join in requesting a "few simple changes" to the Apple licence.

"We feel that a few problems in the present version of the Apple Public Source licence disqualify it as 'open source' or 'free software'.We hope that Apple can address these issues to everyone's satisfaction," says an open letter from Bruce Perens, the primary author of the open source definition, Debian project leader Wichert Akkerman and the preseident of Software in the Public Interest, Ian Jackson.

The letter, which is conciliatory in tone, notes that "much of the material" - BSD Unix and the Mach kernel- originated at Berkey and Carnegie-Mellon universities

"That work was sponsored by the US government, paid for with our taxes, and was already available as free foftware under the BSD licence and other well-accepted open source licences.

"Many of these files do not significantly differ from the pre-Apple versions except that they bear the addition of a new copyright and licence. Other files are entirely authored by Apple or bear significant modifications that should indeed be considered Apple's property.

"Where Apple has not significantly modified individual files from their pre-Apple versions, their original licences should be preserved without the addition of the APSL."

The authors are concerned about a provision in the APSL that requires that the producer of modifications to APSL-licenced code use a particular URL in the Apple.com domain to notify Apple.

"While the demise of Apple Computer, Inc. is unlikely in the near future, that sad event would leave us unable to comply with this section of the APSL. This would constitute a restriction on all rights granted by the licence, including those rights necessary to qualify under the Open Source Definition."

The authors suggest a modification to the licence requiring simply that modifications to code be published on a publicly accessible Website and pointed out in any binary distributions,.

The other objection is to a section in which Apple reserves the ability to terminate rights to any or all APSL-covered code in the event of a claim of patent infringement, no matter how specious - the kind of thing you'd expect the lawyers at a company whose history has been marked by patent disputes to incliude.

"If termination due to an infringement claim is to be allowed at all, it should be explicitly limited to the particular source-code lines that are considered to infringe upon an existing patent," say the three authors.

"This would make it possible for the free software community to write around the problem' and create a non-infringing version. The authors of the APSL apparently did not consider that patents expire. It should be possible for us to store infringing code for restoral to use upon the expiration of the patent in question.

"Apple might also consider if it's possible to allow third-parties to defend the disputed code from an infringement claim that would cause us all to lose our rights under the APSL."

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