Challenge with ABCL on a commercial project: Licensing

Steven Nunez steve_nunez at
Sat Aug 8 08:21:51 UTC 2020


    On Saturday, August 8, 2020, 3:13:06 PM GMT+8, Mark Evenson <evenson at> wrote:  

> On Aug 7, 2020, at 14:27, Steven Nunez <steve_nunez at> wrote:

> 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
I'm aware of that, however it wasn't the license I thought of when I had the opportunity to ask the question. I believe his concerns of risk are still valid in this situation.


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]:
What has never been tested in court is the protection of the classpath exception. If the class path exception has been successfully defended and the customer has not had to release their code, I'd be very keen to read and pursue it as an option here.

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

Changing ABCL to one of the commonly allowed licenses for commercial settings will make it possible to use it in projects that have contract clauses similar to the one I provided. BTW: it's not a matter of what I perceive, it's what the lawyers on both sides of the contract perceive. I don't make the rules; I just obey them.

> 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.

That's OK, I think I have my answer. I'm well aware of what it means to work with 'free' software, in all forms of 'free'. This wasn't intended to debate the philosophy or moral rights of software freedoms; it was intended to see if there was a practical solution to the use of ABCL in a commercial environment, given the contractual constraints. Providing 'financial and legal resources' isn't an option, so we'll end up following the path of least resistance. I just thought I'd put this out to the ABCL community to test the waters, and it's clear the waters are decidedly cold.
Personally, I think non-GNU licenses are great for software communities, precisely because they do allow commercial entities to use the code and, today, most companies are happy to outsource their development costs to upstream maintainers; look at the commercial contributions to FreeBSD for example. It's a win-win that was unimaginable in Stallman's time. 

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