Releasing a work - be it code, words, sounds, or images - under a free
license is not just a matter of tossing in a file called COPYING and
putting up a tarball. It is a legal decision which may have long-term
implications. For an example, consider this discussion
on the warranty provisions of the Creative Commons licenses.
The Creative Commons offers several licenses
to fit different people's
wishes regarding attribution, commercial use, and derived works. They
range from being very GPLish, to something that looks vaguely like the BSD
license (though rather more complicated), to others that would not be
considered "free" by most in the community. One thing they have in common,
however, is a fairly strong warranty provision:
By offering the Work for public release under this License,
Licensor represents and warrants that, to the best of Licensor's
knowledge after reasonable inquiry:
- Licensor has secured all rights in the Work necessary to grant
the license rights hereunder and to permit the lawful exercise
of the rights granted hereunder without You having any
obligation to pay any royalties, compulsory license fees,
residuals or any other payments;
- The Work does not infringe the copyright, trademark, publicity
rights, common law rights or any other right of any third party
or constitute defamation, invasion of privacy or other tortious
injury to any third party.
In other words, when you release a work under a Creative Commons license,
you are making a promise to any potential user that nobody else has any
rights to that work that could require payments from that user. This is a
warranty: should a third party come to one of your users for royalties
or damages, they can come back to you. Releasing a work under one of these
licenses means taking on a legal liability.
This feature of the Creative Commons licenses is deliberate: it is intended
to give users of CC-licensed works confidence that they can truly
use and redistribute those works without getting into trouble. This sort
of language is not uncommon; anybody who has had a book published, for
example, has signed off on a warranty that is at least as strong as the CC
licenses require. But some authors who release under a CC license may not
understand the commitment that they are making. The Creative Commons folks
will apparently be making some changes to make the warranty commitment more
What about other licenses? The GNU General Public License
is clear that the covered works come (in capital letters) "WITHOUT WARRANTY
OF ANY KIND." Other common licenses, including the Apache Public
License, the Artistic
License, the BSD License,
Public License, and others all include warranty disclaimers. The Open Software
License, instead, reads:
Licensor warrants that the copyright in and to the Original Work is
owned by the Licensor or that the Original Work is distributed by
Licensor under a valid current license from the copyright owner.
In other words, authors using the OSL are taking on a warranty obligation.
The GNU Free Documentation
License, interestingly, states only that any warranty disclaimers must
be preserved. Authors releasing under that license should probably add an
explicit statement of their warranty position.
Of course, no warranty disclaimers will keep you out of trouble if a
litigious third party decides that you are distributing their intellectual
property. For example, should SCO manage to prove in court that the famous
"printer on fire" kernel message was stolen by IBM and placed in the Linux
kernel, the fact that the relevant code was released under the GPL (if it
was) will prevent other Linux distributors from suing IBM, but will it not
help against SCO.
Regardless of disclaimers, anybody distributing material under a free
license had better be sure that they have the right to do so. Once that is
done, however, it is worth being aware of just what sort of warranty you
are promising people who are making free use of your work.
Comments (6 posted)
The latest bit of amusement in the SCO suit comes from this talk with SCO CEO
on News.com. Mr. McBride is now making direct claims that
Unix source code has been copied into the Linux kernel. But don't hold
your breath while waiting to see where this copying has happened:
"We feel very good about the evidence that is going to show up in
court. We will be happy to show the evidence we have at the
appropriate time in a court setting," McBride said. "The Linux
community would have me publish it now, (so they can have it)
laundered by the time we can get to a court hearing. That's not the
way we're going to go."
Mr. McBride's contempt for the Linux developer community is, it would seem,
exceeded only by his contempt for the public as a whole. It takes little
thought to realize that his claims makes no sense whatsoever.
The Linux community, of course, would be incapable of "laundering" the
code, since it is, according to SCO, incapable of implementing (or
reimplementing) anything so advanced without stealing it. Of course,
perhaps this band of thieves could rip off replacement code from somewhere
else. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the code in question is
"laundered" with a replacement stolen from, say, CP/M. The resulting kernel would be
bizarre, but it would no longer infringe upon SCO's copyrights.
Such a series of events would not change SCO's case in any way, however.
If IBM truly misappropriated SCO's code, that act remains. And it is an
act that cannot be hidden; the evidence is distributed, beyond recall, all
over the Internet. And all over the physical world as well. So even if
the Kernel Janitors do
an especially effective cleanup job, SCO could certainly manage to send one
of its brand-name lawyers down to a local computer store to pick up a boxed
set of the distribution of their choice. "Exhibit A" should not be
that hard to find.
Indeed, the company could simply submit one of its own products to the
court. SCO is, with full knowledge now, distributing the disputed source
licensed under the GPL. There are two possible conclusions that can be
reached from this action:
- SCO has agreed that the code which - it claims - was taken from Unix
can now be distributed under the GPL. This would not necessarily make
the case moot - SCO might not have agreed to the initial disclosure -
but it certainly removes the need to "launder" anything.
- SCO is knowingly distributing a derived product from a GPL-licensed
program (the kernel) which is not, itself, licensed under the GPL. If
SCO is claiming proprietary rights on the kernel that it is shipping,
then SCO is in violation of the GPL, and loses the right to distribute
the kernel at all.
Either way, the implications are interesting. If it looks like SCO is in
violation of the GPL, the development community is unlikely to adopt a
forgiving attitude. The first big Linux lawsuit could end up giving birth
to the first big GPL case.
[As a postscript: SCO's veiled hints that the free software community is
behind the denial of service attack on its web site border on libel. As
Eric Raymond has pointed out,
Linux hackers have better things to do. Criminal attacks do not help us in
any way, and are not the free software way of doing things.]
Comments (none posted)
[This article was contributed by Joe 'Zonker'
Gaming is still an area where Windows is, so to speak, way ahead of the
Loki Entertainment Software went under, Linux gamers have had little hope
of seeing a wide
selection of popular games for Linux. However, the folks at
TransGaming are trying to bridge the gap with WineX. TransGaming recently released
version 3.0 of WineX, a product that's designed to allow Linux users
to run Windows games on Linux. I took it for a spin recently to see
just how well the product worked, and whether WineX is the answer to
gaming on Linux. The answer, as it turns out, is "maybe."
WineX is not compatible with all Windows games on the market. In
fact, TransGaming supports only a small subset of Widnows games. You
can find a full list of supported games on TransGaming's
site along with ratings for games that have been tested by
TransGaming or submitted by their users.
I tested WineX 3.0 on a machine with an Athlon XP 2000+ CPU, one gigabyte
of RAM and an ATI Radeon 9000 with 64 MB of RAM running Mandrake
Linux 9.1. It's not as brawny as many gaming machines, but it's no
slouch in the speed department either. I've been running native Linux
versions of Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament on it for some
time, and I'm happy with the performance of those games.
Setting up WineX 3.0 is pretty easy, I just grabbed the WineX RPM and
installed it. I also installed their Point2Play GUI, but I didn't
have very good luck with it. At first, it couldn't even find my
CD-ROM or DVD drives -- apparently the format of Mandrake's
/etc/fstab threw it for a loop. Even after I fixed that, the options
for installing a game using Point2Play remained greyed out. That's
not really a big deal, installing a game with WineX is easy enough
from the command line. All you need to do is mount the CD-ROM and run
"winex3 setup.exe" (replacing "setup.exe" with the appropriate name
for the setup program) and run through the normal installation
procedure you'd go through in Windows.
I tested several games, some on TransGaming's list and some not, and
only had real success with two games. To be fair, the games that
didn't function were either not on the list or marked as working
poorly. Half-Life installed, but threw an error after startup and
then hung on a black screen with an hourglass cursor. I suspect that
if I spend some time tweaking config file, I could probably get it to
work. The installation program for Dungeon Master died midway through
the install, as did the installer for MDK 2.
Then I tried installing the Windows version of Return to Castle
Wolfenstein. This installed flawlessly. Then I began the grueling
work of actually testing the game. After several hours of gameplay I
didn't notice any glitches or problems with Wolfenstein. I had
success switching the resolution, tweaking the brightness, saving and
loading games -- in short, it seemed to work perfectly. I then
installed Heretic II. I had to tweak the WineX configuration file so
that Heretic would realize that the CD-ROM was in the drive, but it
also ran perfectly after I made the switch.
WineX 3.0 kind of reminds me of the days when I used to buy a DOS
game and cross my fingers hoping that it would run on my computer.
Some games would install and run easily, others would take a little
wrestling to get them to run, and others never ran due to conflicts
with this or that piece of hardware or for some other almost
unknowable reason. The difference here is that TransGaming is
continuously working on WineX, so it's possible that a game that
doesn't run today will run sometime down the road.
While WineX may not be compatible with a fair number of games, the
performance of the games that are compatible is very satisfying. If
you're thinking that you want to run a Windows game under Linux, my
advice would be to check TransGaming's list of compatible games
first. If your game is on the list with a working rating of 4 or 5,
you can feel pretty confident that you'll be able to play your game
on Linux with WineX and be happy with the performance and stability
of that game. Otherwise, proceed with caution.
Even though WineX doesn't run everything under the sun, I still think
it's worth the price. TransGaming doesn't sell WineX as a boxed
product, you have to subscribe to WineX to get the prepackaged files.
They offer RPMs and Debian packages of current releases only to
subscribers, but you can access their CVS and try to build it
yourself from source. I didn't try this, but would be curious to hear
what kind of success others have had. The pricing for the
subscription is pretty reasonable, just $5 a month with a 3-month
minimum. Even if you cancel the subscription after the initial three
months, you still have the releases that you download during your
subscription. It's not a perfect solution, but WineX does show a lot
Comments (6 posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
Inside this week's LWN.net Weekly Edition
- Security: Hardening the kernel against buffer overflows; new vulnerabilities in eipc, fuzz, mod_auth_any, OpenSSH.
- Kernel: <tt>sched_yield()</tt>; module reference counting; driver porting: the device model
- Distributions: Knoppix - the Great Linux Advocate
- Development: The New Generation of Foomatic, Ardour developments,
new versions of Alsa, JACK, Moodss, Silva, GNOME System Tools,
Sound Juicer, Epiphany, Lynx, PythonCAD, Evolution, LyX, StarDict,
ECL, and Mono.
- Press: Linux compared to Windows Server 2003, SCO in the news, Open Source in
US state governments, dealing with false open source representatives.
- Announcements: OpenOffice celebrates first year, Red Hat elects general to board,
AFFSAC, Birmingham, Netfilter Developer Workshop,
Open Source in Government Conference in Paris, 2003 Perl Conferences.
- Letters: Win2003 v. Linux