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SQL-Ledger Relicensed, Community Gagged 194

Ashley Gittins writes "Users of the popular accounting package SQL-Ledger were being kept in the dark about a recent license change. Two weeks ago a new version of the software was released but along with it came the silent change of license from GPLv2 to the 'SQL-Ledger Open Source License' — presumably in an effort to prevent future forks like LedgerSMB. As it turns out, the author was making deliberate attempts to prevent the community from finding out about the license change. No posts to the SQL-Ledger mailing lists asking about the license change were getting past moderation and direct questions to the author were going unanswered. Just recently the license was switched back to GPLv2. This behavior is not a first for this particular project, and is part of the reason for the original LedgerSMB fork. Does a project maintainer have an ethical obligation to notify his or her community of a license change? What about a legal obligation?"
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SQL-Ledger Relicensed, Community Gagged

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2007 @02:40PM (#18743001)
    And if you don't like it, or can't find it to decide if you like it or not, then your choice is still the same... take the last version under the old license and fork it.
  • Relicensing... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mlwmohawk ( 801821 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @02:44PM (#18743041)
    If the author is the sole author and/or owns all the copyrights, then they can do what ever they like. If, however, they have accepted third party submitions then they may have a legal obligation to remain GPLv2
  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @02:46PM (#18743055) Homepage
    Legally you don't have to announce your business decisions in advance, ethically well... I can understand why you wouldn't, the day you came out and said it the GPL version is as good as yours - no reason to switch. You'd want to have some sort of carrot "New version with $foo and $bar" so people would actually change. Everyone producing anything OSS is entitled to stand up at any moment and say "Screw this, I'm going to try making money off it", assuming it's all their code of course. If you want reliability and future commitment, perhaps you should pay for it? As long as you rely on volunteer contributions you haven't really got a leg to stand on, should they disappear in a puff of smoke.
  • by $RANDOMLUSER ( 804576 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @02:57PM (#18743149)
    Forcing people to accept a change in the license without telling them? Definitely unethical - kind of like forcing people to accept Windows Genunie Advantage if you want patches.
  • by no reason to be here ( 218628 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @02:58PM (#18743161) Homepage

    couldn't there be a problem considering the license was GPL not some BSD or apache style license. once the base is GPL, shouldn't that mean the derivatives can't be more closed than the base? (anyway IANAL).

    No. There's only a problem if someone made a fork and tried to change it from GPL to something else. This was a move by the guy who holds the copyrights to the code. the copyright holder can, at anytime, decide he wants to move his code to another license. the catch is that all previously released code is still under the previous license. That is, if i release Foobar v1 under the GPL, then I release Foobar v1.1 under BSD, v1.0 remains licensed under the GPL, and you are free to take that code and start your own version, Forkbar v1.0. However, you must always keep it as GPL, because you don't own the copyright on the code; you only have access to it because of the GPL.
  • by pipatron ( 966506 ) <> on Sunday April 15, 2007 @03:00PM (#18743175) Homepage

    once the base is GPL, shouldn't that mean the derivatives can't be more closed than the base?

    The author of the work can always release his work under any license he sees fit. The problem would be any code contributed by others in this case.

  • Community Gagged? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2007 @03:04PM (#18743193)
    Community Gagged
    Yes the community is Sooooooooo gagged that they get to complain about it on Slashdot.
    Really you are not being silenced if you get to shout your complaints from the rooftop.

    Just because the author of SQL-Ledger essentially told you to "talk to the hand, because I am not listening" doesn't mean you are being censored. It just means you are being ignored. Freedom of speech never meant to the person you are talking to/about had to care.
    Ah, yes we live in the Baby Boomer's Narcissistic Me Generation world where if your infantile desires aren't ment it means Big Brother is oppressing you. You want censorship ask someone who lived in 60s Eastern Euriope or has been dragged in front of a no-attorney/no-recording inquiry panel for a violation fo the University's Speech Codes. There is censorship and the is being ignored.

    The users aren't being gagged, they are screaming like a 2 year old havering a tantrum and they are being ignored.
  • by Hrothgar The Great ( 36761 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @03:26PM (#18743367) Journal
    The community being gagged refers to the fact that their messages were dropped from the associated mailing list. You probably didn't read the article, huh?
  • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @03:32PM (#18743405)
    If you want reliability and future commitment, perhaps you should pay for it?

    That doesn't always work either. Just read the EULA for, well, pretty much any piece of commercial software. If the vendor disappears, decides not to support the product, if it vaporizes your computer and most of the building its in ... tough. Paying for it doesn't mean anything in and of itself. Consequently, you have no assurance of anything in the software world unless you're dealing with a vendor that has a significant track record of playing square with its customers. Still no guarantee, but that's about as good as it gets, and it is true whether it's open source or not, commercial or not.
  • by dinther ( 738910 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @03:47PM (#18743493) Homepage
    So the lesson is:

    Never, ever, ever buy third party libraries without source. Without source you no longer own the solution you create. I have seen it happen many times before and these days I put a lot of pressure of the library vendor with the hard rule, "No source no Sale". Many of these third party library providers have gone out of business or shifted focus to other products. Without source I would be in trouble.

    Never, ever, ever buy any software at all that licenses against a specific set of hardware.

    Lately I more often contemplating switching OS to get away from the worst black box of all... "Windows" With Vista and the brain dead security rules introduced it becomes impossible to write software.
  • Re:Relicensing... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pla ( 258480 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @04:06PM (#18743619) Journal
    If the author is the sole author and/or owns all the copyrights, then they can do what ever they like.

    They can do whatever they like in the future. And anyone can take the entire GPL'd code base from the day before the license change and tell the "owner" to go fork himself.

    That in itself counts as one of the best reasons to use GPL'd software - Eternal compatibility, as long as someone, anyone, continues work on the older codebase (which may mean nothing more than compiling it as-it-stands once every few years for any new OSs that come to popularity).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2007 @04:43PM (#18743903)
    Works pretty well if you're not an asshole. Was doing fine until this license change stuff came up.
  • That only applies if he hasn't accepted any outside submissions and therefore is the copyright holder of the code or has had all copyrights assigned to him.
  • "That doesn't mean I don't feel sorry for the original author, but I think he may need a bit of a spokesperson between him and the rest of the world.."

    ... like Theo de Raadt? ... or maybe Hans Reiser? ... or (to keep it even) Monkeyboy chair(throwing)man "the Balminator" "I'm gonna fucking kill google" Ballmer?

    Deiter may have switched the license back to GPLv2, but at this point, why bother ... he's done more to promote the competing fork as being the "legit, safe" one than anything else.

  • Having actually read TFA, it looks like the author was, in fact, trying to do exactly those two things he does not have the right to do with the existing code base:

    * Retroactively re-license existing versions from the GPL to the new version:

    The version published on the website at [] takes precedence over any other version in circulation.
    * Unlaterally re-license code that includes third part submissions, since most of the translation packages were done by user submission.

    Ignoring those two actions, even if the license change is strictly legal, it's downright underhanded to pull a stunt like he did. He didn't just change the license on his software; he put out a point release on the primary distribution site, after having changed the license terms included with the package, then refused to let anyone bring it up on the official support mailing list. How many of us would notice if we downloaded and installed the lastest apache or postfix or whatever, and the license had silently and magically changed to a closed one?
  • by Alcoholic Synonymous ( 990318 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @05:39PM (#18744303)
    It gets a little more sticky too when you try to relicense code like this. Outside contributors who submitted patches may have objections to the GPL code they donated being changed without their permission.
  • by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Sunday April 15, 2007 @08:50PM (#18745737)
    True, that's why most projects require you to assign copyright for your contributions to them.

    Which could be problematic - since the copyright holder could decide to release the code under a non-GPL license as well; make revisions to that and be under no license obligation to make them available under the GPL. Granted, most projects wouldn't do that but it's still a possibility.

    Also, assigning the copyright limits the creator's ability to resell their code seperately should someone want to use it in a non-GPl'd project.

    In either case, licensing code under the GPL is a better approach than assigning copyright, IMHO.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 15, 2007 @09:58PM (#18746215)
    I don't actually begrudge Mr Simader the right to choose whatever copyright license he wants to have for his work. That is his moral right, and I have no problem with it. However, I was very unhappy with the fact that a lot of contributors' code, including all the translations, were still licensed under the GPL

    Mr Simader cannot change the license on works he is not the sole copyright holder of without the consent of all other contributors. It seems he tried to do this, which is a clear case of GPL violation committed by him. Just like if someone tried to re-license the linux kernel under the BSD license because they felt contributing a bit of code means that they own the whole kernel. Why does complying with the license make Mr Simader so 'unhappy', as you put it? This leads me to suspect he is a McBride-esque fraud and someone utterly ignorant of the software license SQL-Ledger is distributed under. A section from the SQL-Ledger website "Terms and Conditions -> Software Licenses" reinforces my viewpoint of him:

    Licenses are there to protect intellectual property however there will always be people who abuse a license thinking that the license gives them a license to steal. You will find people who distribute forks thinking they do anyone good. In reality they are just stealing someone elses hard work and circulating as theirs. Most of the time you will hear that their's is an improved version of SQL-Ledger and the original is a piece of shit.

    A 'license to steal'? 'stealing someone elses hard work'? The GPL mandates that the source code must be freely available for anyone to distribute and modify provided that derivative works are also licensed under the GPL. How can anyone steal what is freely given? The term 'steal' is utterly meaningless and paradoxical in such a context.
  • by Ginger Unicorn ( 952287 ) on Monday April 16, 2007 @08:40AM (#18749107)
    yeah, i often think, if they ever changed the licence of apache, i'll just fork it, and devote every minute of my spare time learning how to maintain the codebase of a fully featured webserver. That should be really practical.
  • LedgerSMB does not require copyright assignment precisely because we don't want to send the message that we will change the license unilaterally. Copyright ownership is power, and decentralizing power means stability.

    Of course in this case stability means that it would be hard to change the license, which is partially the whole point.

    As a project, though, we are apolitical, and committing to a single license can be a political thing. It is possible down the road that parts of the project could be under LGPL or similar licenses, but we do promise that we will only use OSI-approved licenses.

Nondeterminism means never having to say you are wrong.