Cygwin license

Steve Morris
Tue Mar 16 09:57:00 GMT 1999

Chris Faylor writes:
 > >I agree with this.  If an Open Source tool used as an aid in porting
 > >code from one platform to another doesn't allow me to honor the
 > >license of the code I'm porting; of what use is it to be Open Source? 
 > >Since the first time I saw this discussed I've been uneasy about the
 > >license conflicts.  If you (Cygnus) refuse to change the license to
 > >LGPL (which I and many others think should be done) at least supply
 > >exceptions in such cases as these.
 > I don't know if you've been following RMS's thoughts on the subject but
 > he essentially thinks that the FSF made a mistake with the LGPL.

I have seldom found RMS's thoughts to be compelling. You always have
to take his adgenda into account and his adgenda is quite complex. I
do suspect that without LGPL gcc would be a minor player. Every
deveoper I have ever met that volunteered to work on gcc cut their gcc
teeth using gcc in a place of employment that used gcc to create
licensed binary distributed code. These people wouldn't be part of the
free software movement without LGPL. I think RMS wants to have it both
ways, the broad distribution that comes with people using gcc
commercially plus the forcing of software into the free software
domain. He doesn't like to admit the part that binary distributors
play in supporting free software. 

 > >What this says to me and most likely other Open Source supporters on
 > >this list is that Cygnus wants to _control_ all Open Source.  I know
 > >the intent isn't this but rather a means to try to make all code using
 > >the cygwin tool to be Open Source unless special provision is made
 > >with the purchase of a special license from the owners (Cygnus) of the
 > >code.  But, the end result speaks louder than the intentions.

 > Come on, Earnie.  We're distributing the code under the GPL.  The GPL
 > is very clear on what can and can't be done.  RMS has spoken on the
 > subject of DLLs and the GPL.  He's indicated that the cygwin DLL should
 > be GPLed.

As has been stated earlier on this list it is not clear that Cygnus
can restrict the distribution of code that runs under Cygwin. Courts
have held in other cases that glue software required for
inter-operability can be used regardless of license conflicts. Games
machine manufacturers in particular cannot restrict the sale of
independent cartridges even where there are apparent copyright
violations in the use of glue code provided by the manufacturers.

This is not to say that cygwin is an exactly parallel case but there
is an important issue here. If you consider sourceware cygwin.dll to
be a general platform for running UNIX code then how much right does
Cygnus legally have to control the distribution of third party
software for that general platform. If it is effectively impossible
(i.e. prohibitively expensive) to distribute code without including
Cygnus licensed glue I suspect that the license is unenforcable. In
other words when Cygnus decided to make cygwin.dll freely available
they probably let the cat out of the bag for third party applications.

(NOTE: It would probably depend largely on the license fee
arrangement. The game manufacturers wanted steep per cartridge

However it may not be in Cygnus interest to admit to any of this. In
the first place it might not be true. The cases may not be parallel
and I assume a competent court has not made a decision one way or
another. In the second place even if it were true Cygnus is not
required to make it easy for third parties to profit off of Cygnus'
hard work. There is nothing illegal in distributing software under an
unenforcably broad license. Most of us sign unenforcably broad
non-compete agreements when we take a new job.

The key for Cygnus is that they need to make money or go out of
business. They will not invest in things like cygwin unless there is
an income stream to pay the salaries. It is unfair to beat up on them
for this simple fact of life. They are one of the few (but growing
number of) companies attempting to work free software into their
business plans. They may not have found the right formula with cygwin
but we shouldn't abuse them for trying. That's more than other
companies are doing.

Think about it. If cygwin.dll is free and people can distribute third
party software with out sending money to Cygnus, why the heck did they
waste their stakeholders money investing in it. I personally hope that
my legal arguement is invalid and that Cygnus' two track release
strategy is legally supportable, i.e. you can use the sourceware
version of cygwin to develop sourceware, and the commercial version to
develop commercial software. Commercial vendors end up paying for the
support of sourceware.

In other words my legal hat is having a major arguement with my
sourceware hat. Am I showing signs of split personality? ;-)

Steve Morris

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