October 30, 2001

Lutris asks critic to pull Open Source project

Author: JT Smith

- By Grant Gross -

An exchange of emails that started with a developer criticizing Lutris Technologies for backing away from its support of the Open Source Enhydra.org project has lead to Lutris' CEO asking the developer to close down a Web site that provides the code to another Lutris product. So far, George C. Hawkins is refusing to pull the site.

At issue now is Hawkins' SimpleDB.org, an Open Source project based on the code from Lutris' InstantDB 3.26, which Hawkins contends was released under the Mozilla-like Enhydra Public License. Lutris CEO Yancy Lind says InstantDB was always a closed-source product. (More on this story Wednesday as Lind reponds to Hawkins' changes to Simple.DB.org.)

Earlier this month, after Lutris announced it would no longer support Enhydra.org because of a licensing conflict with Sun Microsystems, Hawkins took the company to task, saying it wasn't the first time Lutris had backed off Open Source commitments. Hawkins cited the case of InstantDB, which he says Lutris promised to Open Source, then reneged.

Lind tells a different story, of course. He says InstantDB has never been an Open Source project, and although his company anticipated Open-Sourcing the program at one point, it decided InstantDB made better business sense as a closed-source product, Lind says. "This was not a 'taking' or a 'close sourcing' of a previously open source project," he told NewsForge earlier this month. "InstantDB was never an open source product. We understand that some are disappointed in our decision, but disagreeing with a decision does not make it wrong, it merely means we have different points of view."

Since that blow-up between Hawkins and Lind in mid-October, Hawkins has sent out several observations to a couple of dozen interested observers, including Lind. On Oct. 21, he announced SimpleDB, an Open Source project based on code from InstantDB 3.26.

In that email, Hawkins thanked people, including Lutris employees, for responding to his original Lutris critique. He wrote:

"The nearest most people came to criticism was to suggest that I'd been
naive. I accept that. In future I'll be following these rules:

"1. if you don't have the source it's not open source no matter what
apparent commitments you seem to have from well intentioned people
(and I won't be taking any more sweets from any strange men either).

"2. stick clear of own-brand open source licenses -- if it's not one of
the opensource.org approved licenses then caveat emptor (of course when
it comes to commercial s/w I'll continue to accept anything under the
sun as far as licenses go :-)

"I would like to point out (and I haven't been made say this by a lawyer)
that I don't believe Lutris has done anything illegal. That said the
fact that the law won't prosecute you for it doesn't make it right -- if
not in law at least in the sense your Mom would mean it I think what
Lutris has done was dishonest. [A former Lutris employee's] attitude on this point
seemed to be 'boo hoo' but in the open source community (and others I
hope) trust and such ... are important.

"I do NOT believe Lutris is in league with the devil or anything
ridiculous like that. They may do many good things but my site doesn't
cover these -- that's not its purpose. I created it with the sole purpose
of pointing out what I felt were bad things Lutris had done in respect
to InstantDB and to a lesser extent the Enhydra application server and
from the feedback I've received most people accepted it as such and
welcomed the contribution it made."

Lind wrote back, suggesting SimpleDB violates Lutris' trademark. He responded to Hawkins: "While I admire your desire to continue to push the envelope, this site does infringe on the trademark and intellectual property rights of Lutris Technologies. We are a small company and don't have the legal resources to do a whole lot about it,
but I would appreciate it if you would pull this site. InstantDB versions 3.25 and 3.26 were made available under a license that allowed for the distribution and use of those binaries free of charge. They were 'freeware', we only asked that you use the name InstantDB and credit it to Lutris in your documentation. Only versions 3.25 and 3.26 were made available under this license."

Lind added: "That being said, no version of InstantDB was made available under a license that granted intellectual property rights nor the rights to reverse engineer
the InstantDB source code. InstantDB remains the property of Lutris Technologies. You may not reverse-engineer or re-name InstantDB."

Lind asked Hawkins to "respect our rights and cease all activities that infringe on
those rights," but said Hawkins retains the rights to personally use InstantDB 3.25 and 3.26 binaries.

Hawkins responded: "Yancy tries to engender sympathy in the reader, conjuring up the image of a couple of starving programmers working out of somebody's back
bedroom just looking for their first big break. And am I Mega-Corp
International bullying you out of existence? While you may not be IBM
you do have a CEO, CFO, CTO, 6 VPs, a sizable marketing department etc.
and have consumed sizeable chunks of VC money. While things maybe
different in California that seems like a reasonably big company to me
and it shouldn't matter anyway what size you are - if you do something
wrong or dishonest you should expect people to stand up and tell you so. I didn't ask you to force me to pull the site through legal action. I just asked you to state clearly why I have no right to create SimpleDB."

Hawkins responded to NewsForge saying he has made a few changes to the site. He says he's made the distribution of InstantDB 3.26 a more prominent element, and he says he's produced a SimpleDB distribution that doesn't include either the source for InstantDB or SimpleDB, instead an application that will produce the source for SimpleDB given the InstantDB 3.26 binary distro as input.

"Presumably if people are free to use and distribute InstantDB 3.26
then they're also free to render it into a form fit for maintenance and
fixes without the need to go back to Lutris for one of the newer payware
releases," he says.

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