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[REBOL] Yes, REBOL/Core is still free

From: holger::rebol::com at: 22-May-2001 10:43

I would like to address a few issues that have come up in the recent discussion on REBOL's licensing policy. Hopefully this clarifies some things and better explains our position and motivation. Sorry for the length of this mail. 1. Core licensing status Core 2.5 has been released with a specific license. This license is still in effect, and you can keep using Core 2.5 with that license. The license does not have any expiration. Yes, there is now a DIFFERENT license available for Core, a commercial license for US$ 79.00, but this does not invalidate any existing licenses. As a rule, when there are several licensing options for a product then you can choose which one you want. The commercial license for US$ 79.00 actually not only covers Core but Core/Pro (once it is released), i.e. unlike the free Core license it comes with a commercial license agreement, a personalized key file etc. Until Core/Pro is released we only provide commercial licensees with Core 2.5 which is why Core is listed as the product with the US$ 79.00 price tag, but once Core/Pro is available commercial licensees can switch to Core/Pro, if they want to, free of additional charge. 2. About Core remaining "free" We currently do not have any plans to charge individuals for Core, not now and not in future versions, i.e. if you would like to download Core and write your own scripts, play around with it, give it to your friends etc., then you are free to do so. We still intend Core and View to be the center pieces for building the REBOL community. Commercial licensing is a different story though. Commercial licensing is not about communities, voluntary participation etc., but about profit, e.g. about companies creating derivative products from REBOL and selling them, or about companies using Core as a corner stone of their in-house IT solution in order to cut cost and reduce development time. In situations like that we would like to (and actually need to) be involved and get our share. We believe that if another company profits from our work then it is only fair that we receive a portion of that, considering the amount of time and money that has gone into Core. This is not just about licensing fees but also about public recognition of cases when REBOL has been a useful tool for a company. Knowing those cases and making them public helps us and the REBOL community as a whole, by increasing the public recognition of REBOL through joint press releases, partnership agreements etc. A "completely free" license that does not even encourage such companies to contact us and talk to us about their use of REBOL is harmful not just to us but to the REBOL community. REBOL would remain a "secret", and in the end we would all lose. We do not believe that limiting the term "free" in its usual interpretation of free of charge to non-commercial use in any way diminishes the spirit of the promise of Core remaining free in the future. I guess that depends on what is meant by "free" though. People use that term in different ways. See below. 3. What it means for something to be "free" Free is not the same as "free of charge". For an individual "free" may mean being allowed to use software without paying for it though. We recognize this, and that's why Core IS free (of charge) for individuals. For commercial use very few things in life are truly free of charge, in all situations, so in commercial environments the term "free" is usually more closely related to "freedom" ("liberty") than to "free or charge". A few examples: When you listen to the radio, music is free, right ? (Well, in the US anyway. In Germany there are public radio fees...) Does that mean you can make recordings off the radio for your personal use ? Yes, usually. Does it mean you can make recordings and sell them ? No way. So radio reception is NOT really free then, is it ? Most people would argue that it IS, but that in the context of commercial use the term "free" does not apply in the same way, because things get more complicated, there are different licensing and copyright issues etc. etc. In any way, for you as a consumer none of these rules in any way limit your ability to listen to the radio for FREE, right ? That's why people say radio reception is free. Have you ever seen items in stores (Best Buy etc.) with mail-in rebate stickers on them ? Sometimes those mail-in rebates are equal to the purchase price of the product (e.g. for floppy disks or tapes), so you basically get the product for free, and stores advertise that. Is it free for everyone ? No. Often these offers only apply to individuals, not companies, there are limits on the number of rebates you can claim per household, you have to live in the US, you must have a bank account etc. So they are not free then ? People who "bought" them without really paying would disagree. They ARE free, but there are exceptions. One exception is that companies cannot expect to get a year's worth of disk supplies for backups of their corporate file server without paying a single dime. If such a company told you that those disks cannot be called free because the company cannot use this offer to reduce their backup costs to zero, would you take them seriously ? Probably not. The disks would still be free for you and your friends, and thus "free" for all practical purposes. Many, many more examples are possible, in different markets, different countries etc. Or look at it the other way around: if you claim something is NOT free then the next question is "how much does it cost ?". If your friend asks you that question then the answer is "nothing", so now you have a product that is presumably "not free" but "costs nothing" ? :-) Most people would consider this an unreasonable argument. 4. Free software This is one of my pet peeves, so please be patient... Quoting the key phrase from GNU's so-called "The Free Software Definition" ( "Free software" is a matter of liberty, not price. Fully agreed so far, but then, of course, FSF, the GNU group, goes off and twists that idea around to define those "liberties" in a politically and ideologically biased way, trying to use the term "free" as a weapon in its crusade against traditional (closed-source) commercial software development... Still, the basic idea is correct. Free software IS a matter of liberty, not price, it is just a matter of picking the right liberties. FSF takes it upon themselves to define those liberties for others. Personally I don't agree with those liberties and would rather define my own liberties, thank you very much. In the end what it comes down to is recognizing that different entities (individuals, companies etc.) need DIFFERENT liberties, expressed in different licensing terms, instead of a one-size-fits-all GPL, and that is what the availability of different licensing options (for users, corporations etc.) is all about. It caters to their individual needs, nothing else, and, to me, this is in an ironic way actually in better accordance with the key spirit of GNU's Free Software Definition than even GPL itself is. Companies seem to prefer it, too. For a user the most important liberty may be the liberty to not have to pay for a product before using it, because for individuals money is often the critical resource. Fully accepted, a legitimate position. For a corporation things can be different. Here is an example scenario: A company intends to develop and sell a new software package. As a first step an in-house feasibility study is performed, during which, in a very short period of time, a small subset of the application is developed. That application is never intended to be sold, so redistribution licensing is not an issue, and in order to save time, engineers integrate and customize some "free" source code and perhaps some "free" binaries, libraries, support tools etc. into the application. The study is a success, and development on the full application starts. As much code from the original prototype as possible is supposed to be reused, because the tight time frame for a 1.0 release only allows for "adding new features", not for "reengineering the whole product". This means some of the "free stuff" now requires redistribution licensing. At that time the legal department realizes that, unfortunately, some of the "free stuff" is under GPL (not LGPL), so it cannot be included in a closed-source application. Open-source is not an option, so this means some of the "free stuff" has to be removed, parts of the application have to be rewritten, some of the features in the "free stuff" have to be spec'ed out and then reimplemented under white room conditions, by a separate engineering time, the release date is pushed back, customers switch to a competitor's product. The company loses millions. Sound familar ? Did this happen in your company, too ? :-) These kinds of things have been very common in the last few years. For a company "free software" rarely means "software free of charge". It usually means "software that legally lets us do what we need to do" and "software that provides us with flexibility in the way we can use and redistribute the software in the future". The liberty this company needs is none of the four "GNU liberties", it is flexibility on the part of the licensor to cater to the licensee's needs, and recognition and acceptance of the licensee's business plan, without letting ideology get in the way. Some users have made the mistake in this discussion to project their own definitions of what those liberties implied by the term "free software" should be upon corporations. Usually corporations look at things in a completely different way. Many corporations WANT to use commercial licensing and specifically ask for it, even if there is a price tag attached, just to be on the safe side in the case of audits or law suits. In that case many companies may consider REBOL to be more "free" than a lot of "free stuff" out there. So please don't assume that your definition of "free" is shared by everybody. I can assure you that it is not. I feel very strongly about this and could go on and on forever, having witnessed how, e.g., large portions of the Amiga commercial software market along with many useful applications were literally destroyed by the effects of GPL on the platform, and how many of these companies would have absolutely LOVED to pay license fees in order to at least stay in business, but I will stop now :-). 5. Flexibility I mentioned flexibility as the key for licensing. US$ 79.00 and US$ 99.00 are examples and starting points for simple cases, e.g. a single Core/Pro or View/Pro license on one machine, no other business relations, licenses, no bulk discounts, no redistribution licensing etc. These are NOT the only options. In addition to bulk discounts there is also Runtime licensing (with per-client payments or with a one-time payment for unlimited client licenses). There may be other options as well, such as educational licensing, support agreements and consulting agreements. We are also very interested in knowing what REBOL is used for in companies, and in some cases joint ventures and/or joint press releases may be interesting for everyone involved. If you are interested in licensing REBOL please talk to us and explain what you want to do. We may be able to work out a solution that is even better for everyone's business than just plain free of charge would be :-). -- Holger Kruse [holger--rebol--com]