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Alan Kay on the original intent of the Squeak License
Last updated at 3:31 pm UTC on 14 January 2006
Licensing Discussion in 2004
From: squeak-dev-bounces@lists.squeakfoundation.org [mailto:squeak-dev-bounces@lists.squeakfoundation.org] On Behalf Of Alan Kay
Sent: Tuesday, January 13, 2004 3:05 AM
To: The general-purpose Squeak developerslist
Subject: Intent of the Squeak License

Hi Folks –

The intent of the original Squeak group was to make Squeak available in a manner that was as analogous to scientific knowledge as possible. That is, to make it a moral obligation to share basic advances in software engineering, while allowing ownership of specific content, including the right to sell one's own content. This means that a difficult line has to be drawn between "fundamental" knowledge, which is best shared, and "organized forms" that could be ownable products.

It is possible for humans to mess up any set of good intentions (and quite a bit of this has happened to intellectual property in the sciences over the last 50 years). But, as has so often been pointed out over the years, that simply trying to write down any kind of principles is not enough. One of the most often used examples is the American Constitution. It's important that it is written down, but the citizenry has to both understand the intent and what "good faith" means in order for the system to work. Both the intent and the good faith have been under attack many times, including now.

I think the most important part of our intent that didn't get handled legally (I'm not sure what we should have done) is the distinction between citation and copyright of code. We did have every intention that contributors to the Squeak code have attribution and citation (because that is the nature of reward in science beyond the basic pleasure of finding things out). We had no intention that organizations such as Apple or Disney or HP etc., or individuals, should wind up with copyrights or any other form of ownership of any of the shared code. (Ted Nelson wrote quite a bit about these distinctions, and especially why it is important to preserve the provenance of contribution while allowing sharing and use.)

The nature of programming (especially with late-bound systems like Squeak) makes it difficult to draw the distinctions that I think are important here. But we did so at Disney. We told Disney to pretend that Squeak came from a vendor (like Director coming from Macromedia). Here it is quite clear what is "basic" and what is "content". We left quite a bit of this Squeak content behind when we left Disney, because we believed that it was the kind of stuff that was reasonably ownable. The tricky part (but not to us) was to decide what new things done to Squeak counted as fundamental and sharable and what counts as ownable content. For example, a video game using B2D or B3D was ownable content, while B2D and B3D counted as fundamental and sharable.

So our intent was that, once we had decided that code was fundamental and to be shared, it would cease to be owned or copyrighted by Apple or Disney and would instead belong to the world. To me that is what the spirit of Squeak is about, and should be the spirit of free and open source software.

Now for the complicated opinion. Regardless of the current practice which to me is all over the map) and current "laws" (which to me are poorly drawn and dubious at best), I consider that the fundamental parts of Squeak "belong" only to the world and to no smaller entity,just as do Maxwell's Equations. The finest thing we can do is to come up with new principles that add new powers in this high range and give them away to the world. I think that guidelines for "reasonable ownable content" can help make the distinctions needed here, but only with enough "good faith" to avoid the kinds of legal arguments that can confound any attempts at good faith and progress.

Finally, I understand a little bit the concerns about meshing with other open source movements (like Debian). But, it seems to me that just as "science means you don't have to trust the experts", "open source means that you don't have to put other software people in your critical path". That is, in the end, it is about controlling one's own SW destiny. Since Smalltalk predates all of this stuff, and most of the important fundamental principles in Squeak were funded by ARPA and PARC, I just can't get too worked up about having Apple and Disney in the chain of funders. To us a really important part of the Squeak implementation process was to start with a Smalltalk in which the IP connection and relationship to Xerox PARC was completely clear – and this was possible because Apple actually was granted real ownership of its Smalltalk as a first round outside implementer in the early 80s.

The bottom line for me is as I've stated it before: the relevant law is yet to be written and the current laws are yet to be tested. This means that a litigous society such as the US can cause incredible pernicious difficulties and delays over almost any issue, including those that are legally well posed. I have seen this many times in IP lawsuits over the years in which I was an expert witness. It's a mess. So I like the "let sleeping dogs lie" principle for most things. As far as change, I think it would be useful to try to make the above principles into a new kind of characterization of ideas and their usage. This could lead to laws and licenses that might actually be of some use.



Debian Debate

On Mar 24, 2004 , Alan Kay wrote:
I'm curious about "the problem of the indemnification clause". All it says it that Apple can't be held responsible for whatever happens. What is the problem there?



And Ross Boylan wrote: "It says a lot more than that Apple isn't responsible. The synonym for indemnify is "pay" in one dictionary I checked. Thus the clause,
Which elicited the following
From: squeak-dev-bounces@lists.squeakfoundation.org [mailto:squeak-dev-bounces@lists.squeakfoundation.org] On Behalf Of Alan Kay
Sent: Wednesday, March 24, 2004 1:29 PM
To: The general-purpose Squeak developerslist
Cc: Ross Boylan; The general-purpose Squeak developers list
Subject: Re: Squeak Licence and Debian and Apple and Skolelinux

Hi Ross –

The OSI likes the current Apple Open Source License: http://www.opensource.org/licenses/apsl.php . This happened quite a few years after Squeak left Apple and Steve went back to Apple.

Do you?



Responding to a 3/24/04 message from Ross Boylan, who wrote:
.. I originally thought the indemnification clause only put you on the hook for your modifications; the email cited above sort of reads that way. However, read literally, the clause makes anyone accepting it liable for any modification. Hence my musings in
my previous message about how much of squeak is considered "modified."

It might also be worth stating explicitly that the indemnification clause involves more than money; I spoke in terms of money since it was the most salient issue and the most convenient short-hand. For example, cooperating in defense could involve spending time, making records available, etc.
...I can't resist sharing another outlandish lawsuit scenario: The WestWorld scenario. Disney opens an animatronic theme park powered by squeak and the robots go crazy and kill all the guests. Disney sues everyone ever involved in squeak."

From: squeak-dev-bounces@lists.squeakfoundation.org [mailto:squeak-dev-bounces@lists.squeakfoundation.org] On Behalf Of Alan Kay
Sent: Wednesday, March 24, 2004 2:36 PM
To: Ross Boylan; The general-purpose Squeak developers list
Subject: Re: Squeak Licence and Debian and Apple and Skolelinux

Ross –

The problem is that all of this is essentially ridiculous, because there is no way to prevent anyone from suing anyone, regardless of the disclaimers. So coming up with doomsday scenarios is not at all helpful, and simply puts more of a scare into people who are easily scared.

None of the licenses that are accepted by the OSI give anyone protection from any suit.

In any case, it would be nicer if the BS was BS that scared people less regardless of the actual facts and actual legalities.

I hereby (legally) resign from this thread.