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Canola's GPL Trick

The name Canola probably makes you think of vegetable oil, but it's also the name of a newly open sourced media-center application for tablet-style PCs that run Linux. And whenever something is newly open sourced, that almost inevitably means close attention is paid to the terms of the licensing.

The name Canola probably makes you think of vegetable oil, but it's also the name of a newly open sourced media-center application for tablet-style PCs that run Linux. And whenever something is newly open sourced, that almost inevitably means close attention is paid to the terms of the licensing.

The first striking point: the license the Canola developers chose is the GPLv3 -- a derivate of the broadly-used GPLv2. V3 tightens up a number of loopholes (those revolving around what's been labeled the "Tivoization" issues), but the exact implementation of any stock software licensing scheme is of course up to the licensor. I couldn't tell you how many variations I've seen of the BSD three-clause license, some of which were intentionally hilarious (along the lines of "Do not use this software to do bad things or I will come over to your house and shaving-cream your car") -- but that's another story.

Where things get interesting is the exact application of the license. The Canola team went with GPLv3, but added an exemption: the licensee isn't obliged to include installation information and source code along with the program when they redistribute it. In short, it's a fusion of v2 and v3, and the license experts who eyeballed the changes are A-OK with that.

What I'm now bracing for is a backlash from the rest of the community -- from people who have made hard decisions about choosing v2 vs. v3, and are now going to excoriate Canola for "fence-straddling" or something equally imbecilic. If it doesn't happen, I'll be pleasantly surprised -- but changes to licensing and arguments over licensing seem, historically, to go hand-in-hand.


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