Author Topic: FreeSpace Open Licensing  (Read 736 times)

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FreeSpace Open Licensing
OK, I've been talking a lot about this on Discord but I want to write it down here in a more persistent form. I think that FSO's licensing situation is widely misunderstood and could use a few easy changes. DISCLAIMER: I am not an IP lawyer.. But then again, neither are you, the reader. If you need reliable legal advice then hire one.

0. Hollywood Upstairs IP Law College

The first thing to know is that software copyright law is that all software is copyrighted by its owner by default and that means the rest of the world can't do anything with it. No copying, no modification, nothing whatsoever. A software licence is an explicit list of permissions of things you can do with the software, something that should be clear from the text and nature of actual free/open-source licences. The copyright notices you see saying "© Hoover Heavy Industries 2020, all rights reserved" are assertions of existing rights — the restrictions of copyright law are automatic and apply whether they're there or not until explicitly relaxed by licence.

Modifications of copyrighted software are copyrighted works in themselves, and the modifications belong to whoever made them. The resulting modified work can only be used in ways that are permitted by the licences of both the original work and the modifications, and any subsequent modifications just add on to this situation. The vast majority of the complexities surrounding open software licences are down to how they handle modified works.

1. The (Absolute) State of FreeSpace 2 and SCP Licensing

FSO's licensing situation is, frankly, a goddamn mess. The cornerstone of this mess is the "licence" Volition originally released the code under:

Quote
Copyright (C) Volition, Inc. 1999.  All rights reserved.

All source code herein is the property of Volition, Inc. You may not
sell or otherwise commercially exploit the source or things you
created based on the source.

If you were paying attention in the previous section you should notice something. This statement gives no permission to do anything at all. It tells you not to commercially exploit modifications but that was already forbidden, by default. It even explicitly says "all rights reserved" — including the right to redistribute and modify the code. It's obvious from historical context that this wasn't Volition's intent, but I doubt that has legal weight, and if you disagree I suggest you get an actual legal opinion.

I don't think that's a serious cause for concern, because nobody has cared for 18 years now, it's clear that the SCP is in the spirit of what Volition wanted to allow, and there's no commercial incentive to press the rights for that code. But I think we should all be on the same page here: reliance on the original licence should be limited as much as possible to the original Volition code that explicitly used it.

That brings me around to the topic of SCP licensing, which is even messier. Over the nearly 2 decades of open modification of the engine, few coders have bothered to explicitly licence their changes, and as far as I can tell the general idea has been that it's all under the Volition licence. Even if that was true it'd be a problem, given what I've just said, but in point of fact the SCP has, since 2003, explicitly left it to authors to set their own licence terms. Arguably this means that the vast majority of the SCP is also unlicensed. This does have one major, obvious practical concern: if a contributor, for whatever reason, wants to rescind permission to use their work, there's no clear licensing to point to to resolve this potentially very costly problem. It is reasonable to expect that when you contribute code to the SCP you do so without strings attached, but there is currently no real agreement to this.

2. What To Do About It

I propose the following measure to clean this situation up to the best extent practical this late in the game.

1. The SCP should pick a suitable permissive open source licence.

2. Going forward, the SCP should require that all contributions to the project use this licence.

3. Existing contributors should be encouraged to licence their historical contributions under these terms.

This will put as much of the project as is feasible under clear licensing terms that allow the SCP's operations to proceed. It won't fix the Volition licence or historical contributions by people who don't opt in but it reduces the size of the problem.

The major question is, of course, "which licence?" My current feeling is that some form of the Unlicence would be best, allowing essentially unrestricted usage of your code. My main reason for doing this is that even the most permissive conventional licences like the MIT one have explicit stipulations about where to put a licence statement, and I don't know how that would work when you're dealing with random historical changes in git.

There seemed to be general support for these measures when I discussed them on Discord, so I hope this is something that can be widely agreed on and put into action soon.
The good Christian should beware of mathematicians, and all those who make empty prophecies. The danger already exists that the mathematicians have made a covenant with the devil to darken the spirit and to confine man in the bonds of Hell.

  
Re: FreeSpace Open Licensing
Haven't there been some pushes for this in the past? I vaguely recall Karajorma trying an effort.

 
Re: FreeSpace Open Licensing
Quote
My main reason for doing this is that even the most permissive conventional licences like the MIT one have explicit stipulations about where to put a licence statement, and I don't know how that would work when you're dealing with random historical changes in git.

It seems to me like even with something like Unlicense you'll need to add some language to clarify the situation with the volition code and the old code whose contributors haven't signed on to the new license yet.

But, that might be me being too much of a worrier. In any case, I'm a pretty minor contributor but for what it's worth I'll happily agree to a highly permissive license statement for what I've done.

 
Re: FreeSpace Open Licensing
Unlicense sounds good. And the Volition/historical contributions seem pretty clear to me. All of volition's stuff is still under their license, and stuff from old contributors is still going to be in hot water if something bad happens, nothing we can really do about that.

 
Re: FreeSpace Open Licensing
That's pretty much my assessment too.
The good Christian should beware of mathematicians, and all those who make empty prophecies. The danger already exists that the mathematicians have made a covenant with the devil to darken the spirit and to confine man in the bonds of Hell.

 

Offline karajorma

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Re: FreeSpace Open Licensing
Haven't there been some pushes for this in the past? I vaguely recall Karajorma trying an effort.

Mine wasn't much for the source code so much as for everything else. After the break up of the BTRL team I was absolutely certain I didn't want to ever go through that nonsense ever again with Diaspora. I STILL strongly recommend that any team on HLP decide what should happen to their assets should they decide to go inactive or break up.
Karajorma's Freespace FAQ. It's almost like asking me yourself.

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Re: FreeSpace Open Licensing
Yeah I think it's well past time we had something similar in place for code, even if it can only apply going forward.
The good Christian should beware of mathematicians, and all those who make empty prophecies. The danger already exists that the mathematicians have made a covenant with the devil to darken the spirit and to confine man in the bonds of Hell.

 

Offline DahBlount

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Re: FreeSpace Open Licensing
Alright. I think it's about time.

After some deliberation, I believe we will go with a modification of Unlicense. We will add a file denoting the terms of our Unlicense which will include a reference to Copying.md, which will be modified to note that all contributions after a certain date are licensed under the terms previously mentioned. The file "Licensing" will be modified to include a list of contributors who have retroactively licensed their contributions before said "certain date" to fall under the new license terms.

Nobody will be required to retroactively re-license their contributions, but it will be highly encouraged. If a person makes any new contributions then it will be assumed that they consent to those contributions being licensed under the new terms.

I will be working with the other SCP developers on the exact terms.
<Axem> yet still more insightful than #hard-light

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Offline z64555

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Re: FreeSpace Open Licensing
The opt-in list of authors who wish their contributions be licensed under the terms of the Unlicense has instead been placed in the Licensing Page of the github wiki.

The effects of the new licensing officially goes into effect November 1st, 2020.
Secure the Source, Contain the Code, Protect the Project
chief1983

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Offline karajorma

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Re: FreeSpace Open Licensing
Finally got a chance to read things, you can add me to the list of people allowing their contributions to be licensed.
Karajorma's Freespace FAQ. It's almost like asking me yourself.

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Offline The E

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Re: FreeSpace Open Licensing
you can edit the licensing page yourself, kara
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Let us begin to feel again
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