Re: licence issues

From: Pierre Weis (
Date: Mon Apr 19 1999 - 19:53:18 MET DST

From: Pierre Weis <>
Message-Id: <>
Subject: Re: licence issues
To: (Brian Rogoff)
Date: Mon, 19 Apr 1999 19:53:18 +0200 (MET DST)
In-Reply-To: <> from "Brian Rogoff" at Apr 16, 99 09:41:41 am

> On Fri, 16 Apr 1999, Markus Mottl wrote:
> > Hello,
> >
> > at the moment there is a thread on "comp.lang.functional" discussing
> > legal aspects of the OCAML-distribution policy.
> >
> > Some people believe it is too restrictive and they thus rule it out for
> > their purposes. But I think this is mainly due to misunderstandings of
> > the licence and/or that the licence is not always explicit enough.
> I've heard this question asked too by other "open source" advocates, and
> I'd also be interested in the answer. As Markus notes, it would be a
> real pity if confusion over the licensing issue precludes greater use of
> this outstanding tool.

You are right, but you know, nowadays, it's a kind of a religious war:
you must have been baptized under the GPL to be declared a ``free''
man (sorry, I meant software). This is not so simple, since the GPL is
not a silver bullet, it is not that clear and not that handy,
particularly if you want to distribute your software in a large
circle, even away from the academic areas. It's so clear that the
Gnu team has been obliged to design a new licence devoted to
libraries. But people that have not spent several hours to carefully
study the GPL and try to find out its meaning, are absolutely sure
that it is very simple and clear: in short, the GPL is ``the definition''
of free software. With this axiom in mind, everything is simple to
explain and state:
           GPL = free software (good), and conversely
       non GPL = non free software (bad).

So, if your licence is the GPL you belong to the free software (upper)
class, otherwise you're not free and thus you are suspected of something
(may be you plan to try to exploit somebody somewhere ?), at least it
is true that you can be suspected to suspect the GPL as not being
``the licence''!

Let me state a few points about the ``freeness'' and ``openness'' of
Objective Caml, without the above axioms in mind.

First, our software is completely free in the sense ``free of
charges'': so free of charges that you can freely get its CD-ROM, just
writing a letter to INRIA with your name and adress (see for details). This
way, anybody can easily get the compiler even though he or she is
living in a country that is not well connected to the internet, or
just possesses a slow modem to browse the WEB. This free distribution
of the compiler is kindly offered by INRIA and the french government.

Second, Objective Caml's licence is a free licence in the common
sense: you can use the compiler as you like, you can redistribute it
as you like, you can read and modify the sources of the compiler as
you like. You can redistribute your modified sources of our compiler,
provided you let us easily prove that your modified software is based
on Objective Caml (and the simplest way for you and for us is that you
distribute patches that clearly identify what is your work and what is
our work). To consider this licence as being restrictive, compared to
any commercial licence (including comparison with Microsoft's ``free
software'' notion) is just a joke or a useless flame.

If this licence is not suitable to somebody, I suppose that the
following clause is the problem: you cannot redistribute binaries
built from modified sources of the compiler. In fact, except the one
discussed below, I don't see any strong reason to bypass the
application of this clause, except if ``somebody'' wants to distribute
our compiler or part of our compiler, without clearly mentioning that
``somebody'''s software is based on Objective Caml. This would be a
problem if these modified sources are redistributed as if they were
those of the original compiler (for bug reports for instance), or
evidently if no mention of the original sources are made. That's
exactly to avoid these kind of unfair behaviours that this clause has
been added to the copyright.

Otherwise, this clause just prevents you from distributing binaries
containing the compiler. If you want to do so, you must ask INRIA,
just to make it clear that we know what you've done and you know that
we know and that your job doesn't hurt ours. It has to be mentioned
that there is no known example of somebody asking a dispensation for a
fair reason and getting a refusal from INRIA.

> On a related note, the article discusses
> the creation of a "Caml Consortium". Is this still happening?

Yes, this is work in progress, and this licensing matter clearly has
to be re-examined at this occasion.

Best regards,

Pierre Weis

INRIA, Projet Cristal,,

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