Challenge with ABCL on a commercial project: Licensing

Mark Evenson evenson at
Sat Aug 8 07:13:01 UTC 2020

> On Aug 7, 2020, at 14:27, Steven Nunez <steve_nunez at> wrote:
> Gents,
> I nearly had ABCL into an upcoming project, until I checked the license. I should have looked at this before I embarked down this path, but for some reason assumed that since ABCL is a relatively young implementation it was using Apache/MIT/BSD or something similar.

I don’t think ABCL qualifies as “a relatively young implementation”, as the ABCL sources go back to the releases of the J editor as of 2002.  



> However there's a few problem with this:
> 	• It has the words "GNU General Public License", which rings loud alarm bells with corporate lawyers (and is disqualified by clauses ii/iii anyway)
> 	• Whilst the intention is to allow ABCL to be mixed with proprietary code, the IP equivalent of ambulance chasing lawyers may still see it as an opportunity for profit. It's worth reading the BusyBox saga if you're not familiar with it.
> 	• It's never been tested in court
> The last point is worth elaborating on. I once cornered a friendly corporate lawyer at one of our company drinks functions and showed him the LLGPL and asked what he thought. His response put it all in perspective. He said:
> "It looks fine to me, but it's never been tested in court. Would you take an open source project and deploy it to production and bet the company's livelihood on it, without testing it first?"
> I guess I can't blame them really. Would you want stick your neck out for something with potentially catastrophic consequences, when there's plenty of alternatives? Lisp has enough of an uphill climb just on the technology front, this is the nail in the coffin.


ABCL is [licensed under the GPL v2 with the classpath exception][2], not the


That the GPL has “never been tested in court” is certainly not true:  it has
been successfully defended multiple times, and has proved to be one of the
stronger means of enforcing software freedom.

[3]: [4]:

One is free to provide the resources to overcome the percieved problem of
“[betting] the company’s livelihood on it, without testing it first”.  I fail
to see how changing the license for ABCL will somehow make it more tested,
especially wrt. to the commercial liabilities that are specific to your desired


> Questions:
> 	• Would the current maintainers of ABCL consider relicensing it under a MIT, BSD or Apache license?
> 	• If so, do we have a list of all the contributors?
> 	• If so, how many are there and are they contactable?

When we released ABCL 1.0 way back in 2011, the current maintainers informally
agreed to attempt to preserve the spirit of original copyright holder (Peter
Graves) of having a core implementation which others were able to create
software licensed under terms of their choosing.  The current licensing scheme
for ABCL continues to preserve such freedom.

Nevertheless, if you were willing to provide the necessary financial and legal
resources, I would be ammendable to beginning such an effort that would somehow
preserve the promised freedom that all previous contributors to ABCL have
labored towards.  But from your not checking the ABCL license before you even
entertained the notion of using it under such legal conditions, your having
induced Alessio to provide a substantial contributions towards your desired
usage, and to your new request for further unpaid work to utilize ABCL for your
commercial contract, I fear that you have a fundamental misunderstanding of
what working with “free” software actually entails.


"A screaming comes across the sky.  It has happened before but there is nothing 
to compare to it now."

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