Re: Mind Bombs for Y2K

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From: Kragen Sitaker (
Date: Sun Aug 27 2000 - 02:05:36 PDT

Dave Winer writes:
> PPPPS: More than 80 percent of the 195 people who participated in the
> survey so far said that my base64 code release was open source. Lawyers
> argue that it wasn't. However I specifically asked non-programmers to
> stay on the sidelines and let programmers work on this among ourselves.
> So far, programmers haven't tried to define integrity and ethics in the
> legal profession. So stay out of our profession please. (A hopeless
> plea, I know.)

Here's the relevant part of base64.c:

 If you port this code to another platform please put the result up on
 a website, and send me a pointer. Also send email if you think this
 isn't a compatible implementation of Base 64 encoding.

 BTW, I made it easy to port -- layering out the handle access
 routines. Of course there's a small performance penalty for this, and
 if you don't like it, change it. Thanks!

- people are encouraged to use the code
- people are encouraged to put modified versions of the code up on
  their web sites and send you pointers
- people are encouraged to modify the code, to port it or otherwise
- no other restrictions are implied or explicitly given

This certainly meets the requirements of the OSD; how could anyone
possibly argue that this is not open source? That comment is a fairly
clear license (not a license agreement, a license) to do essentially
all the things the OSD requires users be able to do.

Who are these lawyers that argue otherwise?

The code is not in the public domain (unless you've dedicated it to the
public domain somewhere else I haven't seen). Public domain means it's
not copyrighted. Tim's not a lawyer.

I don't agree with all of Tim's comments, but they're
thought-provoking. I guess I'm an absolutist. There's more to
naturism (aka nudism) than being naked; there's more to the open-source
movement than open source code, too. But whether a piece of software
is open-source or not is strictly a matter of whether it's encumbered
by OSD-violating licenses, just as whether a person is naked or not is
strictly a matter of clothing.

For what it's worth, I write code daily --- Perl and JavaScript, at the
moment. Not ordinances. I'm not a lawyer, either.

I'm also not a naturist, just in case you were wondering.


I don't understand all this talk about "debt". Letting people use,
copy, modify, and redistribute your software freely is just a matter of
common decency. I don't owe you a debt if you decide not to rob my
house. Do I?

Proprietary-software developers and free-software developers are in a
kind of competition; they both want to serve users. Free-software
developers would like to make users free.

But the competition is unfair; proprietary-software developers can take
features from free software and add them to their proprietary software,
but free-software developers must rewrite proprietary features from

This means that users must choose between freedom and features. Some
users will choose the features of proprietary software. Because of
network effects, other users may be pressured to choose that same
software; it's hard to be in business today without Microsoft Word, for

The GPL is a way to right this imbalance. It ensures that proprietary
software must compete with free software on its own terms:
proprietary-software companies can't simply take a free ride on
free-software features.

I share David McCusker's ambivalence about whether this is a good
idea. That's why most of the software I've written is in the public
domain, but some of it is licensed under the GPL.

<>       Kragen Sitaker     <>
Perilous to all of us are the devices of an art deeper than we ourselves
                -- Gandalf the Grey [J.R.R. Tolkien, "Lord of the Rings"]

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