April 23, 2002

New utility helps prevent software license violations

- by Tina Gasperson -
LIDESC is a new "license awareness" tool created by Forrest J. Cavalier. He says
the command-line utility automates the process of checking license requirements when many files are combined to create new software, whether proprietary or Open Source.
"Checking license requirements on many files by hand is very tedious," says Cavalier. "LIDESC allows you to 'stamp' the file once, and then look up the
license terms in a description file automatically. You can check
a whole tree of files to report what each license requires in
general terms (like if a license requires notices in documentation,
or redistribution of source code.) You can even specify local
rules that will trigger an error report if certain license
terms appear."

The LIDESC tool allows users to attach to the end of a file a
small descriptive summary of the license terms, which is the "stamp." Then, by
running a small process to collect the
stamps from a group of files, the user can create a report showing the terms
of the various licenses, and optionally including the full text of each
license in the output.

Cavalier has created stamps
for most of the Open Source Initiative-approved licenses, and they are available
for download, along with the source code for the LIDESC utility, at www.mibsoftware.com/librock/lidesc/. For other licenses, Cavalier extends an opportunity to third parties
to create
certified stamps
for their product licenses. He's included a complete
description of the process for doing so, along with a Web form that
provides you with LIDESC_TAG strings, which are the standard symbolic terms used
by LIDESC to create stamps and generate reports. All you have to do is check the
appropriate boxes, indicating the important conditions of your software license.
Is redistribution of source allowed? Is the license holder allowed to
discriminate in that redistribution? Select the applicable responses, submit the
form, and you get a report that shows all the LIDESC_TAG strings.

The form also
checks and provides a detailed report on each condition, including a list of
other licenses that include the specific string, for comparison purposes.

LIDESC is important because it "lowers the barriers to companies
considering adopting Free and Open Source software," says Cavalier. "Even though
most of the licensing violations I have read about are inadvertent and resolved
quickly, no publisher wants to risk a legal surprise." He says that LIDESC will
help developers understand all of their obligations, and that in itself will
encourage more businesses to take advantage of Open Source and Free

"More widespread commercial use of Open Source and Free software will
always benefit the community. Something good
always comes back, even if it just bug fixes."

The LIDESC utility is
Free Software and is freely available for download from the Mib Software site -- but it is not only for
use with Free or Open Source software, says Cavalier. "LIDESC is a tool for all
software written or acquired. It comes with descriptions for many Free and Open
Source licenses, because that is what is closest to my heart. But LIDESC can be
used with proprietary licenses just as easily."

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