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In 1969 the US Department of Justice charged IBM with destroying businesses by bundling free software with IBM hardware. As a result of this suit, IBM unbundled its software; that is, software became independent products separate from hardware.
In 1968 Informatics introduced the first commercial killer-app and rapidly established the concept of the software product, the software company, and very high rates of return. Informatics developed the perpetual license which is now standard throughout the computer industry, wherein ownership is never transferred to the customer.
Unix from a BSD Licensing Perspective
AT&T, who owned the original Unix implementation, was a publicly regulated monopoly tied up in anti-trust court; it was legally unable to sell a product into the software market. It was, however, able to provide it to academic institutions for the price of media.
Universities rapidly adopted Unix after an OS conference publicized its availability. It was extremely helpful that Unix ran on the PDP-11, a very affordable 16-bit computer, and was coded in a high-level language that was demonstrably good for systems programming. The DEC PDP-11 had, in effect, an open hardware interface designed to make it easy for customers to write their own OS, which was common. As DEC founder Ken Olsen famously proclaimed, <quote>software comes from heaven when you have good hardware</quote>.
Unix author Ken Thompson returned to his alma mater, University of California Berkeley (UCB), in 1975 and taught the kernel line-by-line. This ultimately resulted in an evolving system known as BSD (Berkeley Standard Distribution). UCB converted Unix to 32-bits, added virtual memory, and implemented the version of the TCP/IP stack upon which the Internet was essentially built. UCB made BSD available for the cost of media, under what became known as <quote>the BSD license</quote>. A customer purchased Unix from AT&amp;T and then ordered a BSD tape from UCB.
In the mid-1980s a government anti-trust case against AT&amp;T ended with the break-up of AT&amp;T. AT&amp;T still owned Unix and was now able to sell it. AT&amp;T embarked on an aggressive licensing effort and most commercial Unixes of the day became AT&amp;T-derived.
In the early 1990's AT&amp;T sued UCB over license violations related to BSD. UCB discovered that AT&amp;T had incorporated, without acknowledgment or payment, many improvements due to BSD into AT&amp;T's products, and a lengthy court case, primarily between AT&amp;T and UCB, ensued. During this period some UCB programmers embarked on a project to rewrite any AT&amp;T code associated with BSD. This project resulted in a system called BSD 4.4-lite (lite because it was not a complete system; it lacked 6 key AT&amp;T files).
A lengthy series of articles published slightly later in Dr. Dobbs magazine described a BSD-derived 386 PC version of Unix, with BSD-licensed replacement files for the 6 missing 4.4 lite files. This system, named 386BSD, was due to ex-UCB programmer William Jolitz. It became the original basis of all the PC BSDs in use today.
In the mid 1990s, Novell purchased AT&amp;T's Unix rights and a (then secret) agreement was reached to terminate the lawsuit. UCB soon terminated its support for BSD.
The Current State of FreeBSD and BSD Licenses
The so-called <link xlink:href="http://www.opensource.org/licenses/bsd-license.php"> new BSD license</link> applied to FreeBSD within the last few years is effectively a statement that you can do anything with the program or its source, but you do not have any warranty and none of the authors has any liability (basically, you cannot sue anybody). This new BSD license is intended to encourage product commercialization. Any BSD code can be sold or included in proprietary products without any restrictions on the availability of your code or your future behavior.
Do not confuse the new BSD license with <quote>public domain</quote>. While an item in the public domain is also free for all to use, it has no owner.
The origins of the GPL
While the future of Unix had been so muddled in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the GPL, another development with important licensing considerations, reached fruition.
Richard Stallman, the developer of Emacs, was a member of the staff at MIT when his lab switched from home-grown to proprietary systems. Stallman became upset when he found that he could not legally add minor improvements to the system. (Many of Stallman's co-workers had left to form two companies based on software developed at MIT and licensed by MIT; there appears to have been disagreement over access to the source code for this software). Stallman devised an alternative to the commercial software license and called it the GPL, or "GNU Public License". He also started a non-profit foundation, the <link xlink:href="http://www.fsf.org">Free Software Foundation</link> (FSF), which intended to develop an entire operating system, including all associated software, that would not be subject to proprietary licensing. This system was called GNU, for "GNU is Not Unix".
The GPL was designed to be the antithesis of the standard proprietary license. To this end, any modifications that were made to a GPL program were required to be given back to the GPL community (by requiring that the source of the program be available to the user) and any program that used or linked to GPL code was required to be under the GPL. The GPL was intended to keep software from becoming proprietary. As the last paragraph of the GPL states:
<quote>This General Public License does not permit incorporating your program into proprietary programs.</quote>[1]
The <link xlink:href="http://www.opensource.org/licenses/gpl-license.php">GPL</link> is a complex license so here are some rules of thumb when using the GPL:
you can charge as much as you want for distributing, supporting, or documenting the software, but you cannot sell the software itself.
the rule-of-thumb states that if GPL source is required for a program to compile, the program must be under the GPL. Linking statically to a GPL library requires a program to be under the GPL.
the GPL requires that any patents associated with GPLed software must be licensed for everyone's free use.
simply aggregating software together, as when multiple programs are put on one disk, does not count as including GPLed programs in non-GPLed programs.
output of a program does not count as a derivative work. This enables the gcc compiler to be used in commercial environments without legal problems.
since the Linux kernel is under the GPL, any code statically linked with the Linux kernel must be GPLed. This requirement can be circumvented by dynamically linking loadable kernel modules. This permits companies to distribute binary drivers, but often has the disadvantage that they will only work for particular versions of the Linux kernel.
Due in part to its complexity, in many parts of the world today the legalities of the GPL are being ignored in regard to Linux and related software. The long-term ramifications of this are unclear.
The origins of Linux and the LGPL
While the commercial Unix wars raged, the Linux kernel was developed as a PC Unix clone. Linus Torvalds credits the existence of the GNU C compiler and the associated GNU tools for the existence of Linux. He put the Linux kernel under the GPL.
Remember that the GPL requires anything that statically links to any code under the GPL also be placed under the GPL. The source for this code must thus be made available to the user of the program. Dynamic linking, however, is not considered a violation of the GPL. Pressure to put proprietary applications on Linux became overwhelming. Such applications often must link with system libraries. This resulted in a modified version of the GPL called the <link xlink:href="http://www.opensource.org/licenses/lgpl-license.php">LGPL</link> ("Library", since renamed to "Lesser", GPL). The LGPL allows proprietary code to be linked to the GNU C library, glibc. You do not have to release the source code which has been dynamically linked to an LGPLed library.
If you statically link an application with glibc, such as is often required in embedded systems, you cannot keep your application proprietary, that is, the source must be released. Both the GPL and LGPL require any modifications to the code directly under the license to be released.
Open Source licenses and the Orphaning Problem

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(itstool) path: sect1/para
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article.translate.xml:160
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a year ago
Source string age
a year ago
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articles/bsdl-gpl.pot, string 29