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Author Topic: FIFE legal issues - license switch and other possible options  (Read 20824 times)

mvBarracuda

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FIFE legal issues - license switch and other possible options
« on: January 07, 2008, 10:15:55 am »

There were a number of legal issues we worried about recently:
- We were not sure if the number of used 3rd party libraries (and therefore the number of different licenses) caused a license clash (incompatible licenses).
- We were not sure if we could license the engine core (written in C++) under GPL while switching to LGPL for the engine extensions (which are written in Python).

Our motivation behind considering this switch is that the current GPL license for engine extensions would force game developers who use FIFE to put all their python code under GPL as well. As we assume that they'll write the majority of their game mechanics in python, that would surely be a drawback for indie developers who would need to allow others to use their gameplay code even if they created these engine extensions "from scratch".

An example would be an indie developer who writes his own maploader in python for his game. Even if he completely wrote it from scratch without using any of the existing maploader code he would still need put this maploader code under GPL as all Python code that works together with the engine core needs to be published under the same license.

We decided to get in contact with the software freedom law center (called "sflc" in the rest of this thread) to clear up our questions. I had the chance to attend a meeting with one of the sflc employers before christmas and here are the summarized results:
- All currently used licenses are compatible with each other, so there is at least no need to worry concerning this aspect.
- Assets (maps, audio files, video files, graphics) can be licensed differently; we would need to find a way to store dialogue text in separate files (not in the python ones) to ensure that dialogue text falls within the category of separate content. If dialogue text is stored in the Python files, it must be seen as engine extension code and therefore be published under GPL.
- The python extensions are a derivative work of the C++ engine core as SWIG parses the C++ code to create the wrapper files. Therefore engine core AND engine extensions need to get published under the same license at the moment.

So now we got a bunch of different options and I would like to have feedback from all developers what option they prefer:
1. Switch to LGPL for engine and extensions. Issue: some of the contributors prolly won't agree to this change; I remember that at least Chris (who wrote a fair share of the initial engine core code) didn't like the idea of switching to LGPL in the past.

2. Switch to GPL + exception (engine core gets licensed under GPL, introducing exception that the engine extensions get licensed differently). This option was proposed by the sflc employer. We would keep the engine core under GPL but add an exception to the license to ensure that game developers could publish their engine extensions under a different license. The sflc would help us with the wording of this exception to ensure that we don't run into legal issues. We don't know if all contributors would agree to moving to such a modified license though it seems more likely than a complete change to LGPL to me.

3. Last but not least we could simply stick to GPL for engine core and the extensions in case we feel that a switch process is not worth all the hassle. Indie developers could be scared by GPL for the engine core as well and would favour writing their own engine instead so do we really increase the attractiveness of FIFE for indie developers by just changing the license of the engine extension code?

As this is one of the most important decisions (prolly along the lines of switching from Lua to Python scripting) I would appreciate every feedback concerning it. If you need more information to make an informed decision, every developer (not only the currently active ones!) can get access to the whole log of the conversation with the sflc employer. I am not allowed to post it at the forums in public as the sflc asked me to just send it to developers in personal.

Feedback please :-)
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MuteX

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Re: FIFE legal issues - license switch and other possible options
« Reply #1 on: January 07, 2008, 10:48:22 am »

Hey!

Well, in general, I'd always prefer the GPL, especially with Open Source projects. But we really have to take a closer look of WHAT we produce with FIFE. It's a game engine, which is going to be professional and very interesting for indie developers. Furthermore, those developers want to sell their products. Together with a straight GPL license, it'll be hard for them to do so. So my opinion is that using the LGPL won't be that wrong.. People who're interested in the engine can still get its sources, and I'm pretty sure there'll be more than one developer who'll create some Open Source game or related, so that people can learn from that. The big adventage of using a LGPL is just that we extend the amount -- and especially type -- of people reached. Not only FOSS developers, but also indie ones -- or maybe some other companies.

In short terms: Option 1. ;)
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neurogeek

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Re: FIFE legal issues - license switch and other possible options
« Reply #2 on: January 07, 2008, 11:01:26 am »

Hi,

   IMO, I'd stick to #2. GPL + exception for contents and extensions seems reasonably good as GPL gives FIFE a continuity over time plus the fact that it can stay OpenSource in the future and another license for both contents and extensions would allow devs to close their creations (complete games based on FIFE) on closed code. As I see it, game creation is for fun and profit and OpenSource games are not ready to be commercially successful by their own if not joined by a strong market support. This means nobody would use FIFE outside fun/research activities dropping FIFE appeal significantly if it stayed completely GPL.

   Allowing aside GPL licenses on game contents and game extensions is a great way to give FIFE some more popularity.
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anxs

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Re: FIFE legal issues - license switch and other possible options
« Reply #3 on: January 07, 2008, 02:32:42 pm »

Hi,

also in my opinion #2 is the best solution. An exception to allow game devs to publish their content and engine extensions under a different license makes it possible to use FIFE for both free and commercial projects.
I don't see any reason for switching to LGPL. If any commercial project will have to improve the FIFE core they can simply contribute to the original FIFE instead of publishing an own version. (As LGPL will force them to publish the sources for the modificated one)

Greetings,
anxs
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Joshdan

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Re: FIFE legal issues - license switch and other possible options
« Reply #4 on: January 07, 2008, 04:03:21 pm »

What are the practical differences between LGPL and modified GPL?  The only one I can think of is additional difficulty if we want to directly incorporate some LGPL code (or vice-versa).

I imagine anyone philosophically opposed to LGPL would equally opposed to an exception that would allow commercial use of the FIFE library.  Also, both options would prevent us from using stock GPL code.

I think I lean slightly toward GPL.  I'd consider it a small plus to have commercial use of FIFE under near-GPL terms, but the GPL actually gives us more flexibility about what we can include in our own project.  I would be happy to contribute to the project either way.
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mvBarracuda

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Re: FIFE legal issues - license switch and other possible options
« Reply #5 on: January 10, 2008, 08:33:59 am »

I think I lean slightly toward GPL.  I'd consider it a small plus to have commercial use of FIFE under near-GPL terms, but the GPL actually gives us more flexibility about what we can include in our own project.  I would be happy to contribute to the project either way.
The additional advantage of being able to utilize GPLed code in FIFE in case we stick to GPL is a very good point Joshdan! We should consider this point when it comes to deciding about a possible license switch.

I spoke to our first lead programmer Chris yesterday who contributed a fair share of code to FIFE. He said that although he personally strongly prefers the current GPL licensing, we wouldn't block a decision to switch to GPL + exception or even LGPL in case the other programmers agree as well :-)

As we're utilizing quite a number of 3rd party libraries for FIFE, I'll check if switching to option 1 or 2 could bring up any clash license issues. Stay tuned :-)
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November

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Re: FIFE legal issues - license switch and other possible options
« Reply #6 on: January 10, 2008, 03:43:29 pm »

I'm not a member of the project, but still, I wanted to share my two cents : Is it important to take a decision now or soon ?
I suppose switching to LGPL is not a reversible process, and therefore the final decision (but not the discussion) of switching to it should be post poned to as late as possible. But maybe I am missing something :P
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skybound

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Re: FIFE legal issues - license switch and other possible options
« Reply #7 on: January 10, 2008, 05:12:58 pm »

November: Changing a license requires all contributors to agree to the change; the longer you wait the more code gets written under the old license. So doing it as late as possible makes it harder (because there might be more people involved).


I guess I made my position clear before, but to leave no doubt: I am fine with a change to either GPL + exception or LGPL for any of my code that might still be in there; whatever the majority decides.


mvBarracuda: Could you please forward the email from the sflc? I wonder how this GPL + exception stuff can work (the way I read GPL section 2.b I would assume it breaks the license, but obviously the sflc guys know better).
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Sleek

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Re: FIFE legal issues - license switch and other possible options
« Reply #8 on: January 11, 2008, 02:52:54 am »

As long as the license allows me to

1) distribute the code for free & without limitation

2) access to any files I have contributed to

I will accept it.

Also, I would love an optional condition

3) being able to link to fife library with an option for me not to have to reveal the rest of my client's code ( for at least 5 years ). I will still need to publish any modification to the engine. LGPL sounds right.

I love GPL, but when the public manages to get at least one person to compile the open source code for them, almost all of them will go for the free version. I respect people who wants to learn (the code), but not freeloaders. My 2 cents ;)
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phoku

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Re: FIFE legal issues - license switch and other possible options
« Reply #9 on: January 12, 2008, 09:01:45 am »

Hi there =)

I am fine with all the given options and have no problems with relicencing.

Personally I think that going all LGPL would fit best, but well whatever makes
your day *g*

-phoku
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jasoka

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Re: FIFE legal issues - license switch and other possible options
« Reply #10 on: January 12, 2008, 09:28:06 am »

Shortly: All given options are ok for me as well
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Joshdan

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Re: FIFE legal issues - license switch and other possible options
« Reply #11 on: January 12, 2008, 01:51:00 pm »

I suppose switching to LGPL is not a reversible process.

Actually going from GPL to LGPL like we are trying to do now is the hard direction, requiring approval from everyone as skybound noted.  Going from LGPL to GPL can legally be done on a whim (though practically it would involve a discussion like the current thread). 
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November

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Re: FIFE legal issues - license switch and other possible options
« Reply #12 on: January 13, 2008, 09:46:42 am »

Actually going from GPL to LGPL like we are trying to do now is the hard direction, requiring approval from everyone as skybound noted.  Going from LGPL to GPL can legally be done on a whim (though practically it would involve a discussion like the current thread). 

But wouldn't switching from LGPL to GPL involve that all the extensions and clients built on top of the engine couldn't use it anymore, unless by also switching to GPL ? I think this makes this process also very complicated. If third parties develop their own engine extensions and clients (be it under LGPL or anything else) and don't want to license them under GPL, for example.
« Last Edit: January 13, 2008, 09:51:48 am by November »
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mvBarracuda

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Re: FIFE legal issues - license switch and other possible options
« Reply #13 on: January 13, 2008, 02:41:09 pm »

But wouldn't switching from LGPL to GPL involve that all the extensions and clients built on top of the engine couldn't use it anymore, unless by also switching to GPL ? I think this makes this process also very complicated. If third parties develop their own engine extensions and clients (be it under LGPL or anything else) and don't want to license them under GPL, for example.
They would at least need to switch to GPL if they would like to use the newer FIFE versions that would have been released after switching to GPL. But they can of course continue to use the LGPLed FIFE code and fork it.

However a switch from LGPL back to GPL is only a theoretical option and I don't think that any active FIFE developer is an advocate of this proposal.
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mvBarracuda

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Re: FIFE legal issues - license switch and other possible options
« Reply #14 on: January 17, 2008, 07:13:30 pm »

I did send a mail to all developers who contributed code to FIFE (the SVN logs has been analyzed for this purpose) and asked them how they feel about such a possible license change. No reply yet but I'll let you know as soon as somebody replied.

On a related note: would you mind if we fill the AUTHORS file that can be found in trunk/docs with the aliases of the actual developers and add their mail addresses there as well? This would really ease getting in contact with all contributors in the future.
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