January 30, 2004

New XFree86.org license cause for concern?

Author: Joe Barr

XFree86.org president David Dawes announced a draft of a new version of the XFree86 license on the XFree86.org mailing list yesterday. The new license is scheduled to become effective with the 4.4.0 release. According to Dawes, the change is being made in order to "ensure that XFree86 and
its contributors are receiving due credit for their work." A draft of the new license along with the original can be found here.

The only condition placed on the reuse in the original XFree86 license was that "The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software." The new license itemizes several conditions. They are:

1. Redistributions of source code must retain the above copyright notice, this list of conditions, and the following disclaimer.
2. Redistributions in binary form must reproduce the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer in the documentation and/or other materials provided with the distribution, and in the same place and form as other copyright, license and disclaimer information.
3. The end-user documentation included with the redistribution, if any, must include the following acknowledgment: "This product includes software developed by The XFree86 Project, Inc (http://www.xfree86.org/) and its contributors", in the same place and form as other third-party acknowledgments. Alternately, this acknowledgment may appear in the software itself, in the same form and location as other such third-party acknowledgments.
4. Except as contained in this notice, the name of The XFree86 Project, Inc shall not be used in advertising or otherwise to promote the sale, use or other dealings in this Software without prior written authorization from The XFree86 Project, Inc.

The new license also beefs up the section on disclaimers of liability. This may be a reaction to the predatory legal tactics being employed by firms like the SCO Group against other free software. For example, the new license includes the phrase "EVEN IF ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGE" to its recitation of disclaimers of liability.

The original XFree86 license is not mentioned on the Free Software Foundation's list of free software licenses, but the X11 license is. Except for minor differences in formatting, the X11 and the original XFree86 licenses are identical.

Concerns about whether or not the new XFree86 license remains compatible with the GPL are already being voiced and debates on the subject are being waged on mailing lists across the Internet.


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