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On licensing

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A recent conversation with someone about the election of members of the pirate party to the European parliament had them taking the stance that the only reason I thought it was a good thing was that I wanted to download music for free and that I wouldn't like it if people were depriving me of an income by 'pirating' software I had written.

My response to this wasn't as coherent as it should have been but essentially boiled down to the fact that software I write falls into two categories; that which i'm paid to write/customize for a client and that which I give away for free. Making it very hard for someone to pirate my work.

Why this is the case is because I'm of the firm belief that it isn't possible to charge fairly for software as its value is based on how it is used. Take for example, a piece of software I recently downloaded a trial for; priced at well over $100, the purpose of which is for creating/editing music tracks. There is no way I would pay $100 for this software; I was tinkering around for fun with a couple of tracks. On the other hand, someone could create and sell multiple hit records with this software, at which point $100 seems silly as they've probably made millions - to them the software has far more value.

I have recently decided that for some of the mods etc that I release for free, it would be nice to receive more than $0 in donations and that some more formal license structure would be appropriate to leverage some cash from them. The idea behind this license is to embody the fact that software has different value to different people; it also stays away from too much legal speak and relies on common sense to make a judgment as to what is appropriate.

How it works:

I've divided users up into three broad categories; different terms apply to the different categories.
  • Personal use: Any one using the software for their own uses making little or no money because of it.
  • Indirect commercial: Anyone using the software as an aid to making money. The example above of music creation software falls into this.
  • Direct commercial: Anyone selling or distributing the software.

Things I allow anyone to do with my software released with this license:
  • Install and use as many copies as you like on as many machines as you own.
  • Use it in ways not originally intended.
  • Modify and adapt it to better suit your needs
  • Tell anyone who asks what the software is, who wrote it and where they can get a copy.

Things you shouldn't do:
  • Remove any copywrite notices
  • Sell or redistribute without my permission
  • Pass any portion of it off as your own work

Anyone who falls into the personal use category dosen't need to pay me anything but might still like to.

Anyone who falls into the indirect commercial group will in most cases not need to pay anything but you are strongly urged to make a donation.

Anyone who falls into the direct commercial category needs to contact me to discuss a direct commercial license. Generally I fall by the rule of thumb that if my code makes up 10% of your product, I want 10% of the profits.

I will sometimes specify uses that are considered indirect commercial/direct commercial alongside a release, if I don't, common sense should be used; as an aid I provide the below examples.

1: Chess mod
Personal use:
A user has installed the chess mod onto a forum that is free for anyone to use.
Indirect commercial:
A user has installed the chess mod onto a forum, they charge a subscription fee to access this forum and often run paid chess tournaments using the mod.
Direct commercial:
A distributer has packaged the chess mod alongside several other gaming mods for vbulletin, they sell it for a fixed fee.

2: Ad Manager
Personal use:
A user installs it onto a small forum which makes little or no profits from advertising.
Indirect commercial:
A user installs it onto a busier forum despite high hosting costs, the forum makes regular monthly profits of around $100 from adverts.
Direct commercial:
An advertising company is distributing a modified version of the mod to publishers wishing to display ads on their forums, the company takes a cut of all advertising revenue generated by it.

There are of cause many cases not covered by the above; the examples are meant to serve as a guide not a definitive list; this license doesn't take into account other types of use eg charities, schools etc; I also refer to licensing fees as donations - essentially they are. Except in the case of direct commercial stuff, I don't consider licenses to be mandatory, just good manners. Consequently I won't be suing anyone who doesn't pay.

When deciding what license you need, ask yourself what value does this software have to me? and donate accordingly. Common sense comes in very handy; if you don't have any/enough feel free to pm me with your situation and I'll make a recommendation.

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  1. snoop's Avatar
    This isn't a smart licensing scheme. If I were to use windows to produce a hit single, should my windows license cost some fraction of what I made with my record? No. It should be 90$ all the same. Either the software is free or it isn't; offering commercial and non-commercial editions is of course acceptable provided the two pieces of software have independent licenses.

    But if everyone adopted your licensing model every company whose software you have installed on your computer would be entitled to some of the profits if that computer produces something profitable. Microsoft for windows itself, for MS Word that you used to put together your CD jacket, adobe for the picture you photoshopped to make it, the camera company for the firmware on the camera you used to take the picture, and on down the line. Eventually you're paying for the jpeg library, the CD encoding library and everything. This sort of licensing mentality leads to a mafia style licensing nightmare for libraries, and is why the free software movement exists.