“Future version” clause in most licenses.

I was just reading the OpenSolaris thread over in GrokLaw, and came across a comment about the “and all future versions” clause in the GPL and the fact that the CDDL specifically allows the licensor to limit the version that applies.

The “future versions” clause allows the GNU Foundation to refine the license and clarify issues. Most users of the GPL trust the GNU Foundation to continue along the same philosophical line it currently does and don’t have a problem with that. On the otherhand, Sun Microsystems has responsibilities and agendas outside the world of open source. It’s a business like any other, and that is not a bad thing. However, the CDDL allows a licensor to protect themselves from future changes to the terms if they so choose.

However, that isn’t the “future versions” clause I wanted to talk about. During the OpenSolaris work I did, I had to look at the license term for wu-ftpd. If you look at the COPYRIGHT.c file in OpenSolaris for the ftp server, you’ll see that the file gives a URL of the license and says to go read it there. That strikes me as really scary, how about you? Here is a license that can have future versions that you are bound by, but it can change incompatibly without notice. Let’s see, is that a “first born mail child” clause I see?

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One response to this post.

  1. I can see the merit in placing a signed {URL+hash} in the COPYRIGHT.c file. It would allow anyone to verify that neither party (the publisher of the derived work nor the publisher of the license) had changed anything. As things stand today, how do I reliably (let alone automatically) determine that the license in the source is the same as the original? I can’t.Of course I agree with you that such a scheme should never be used to inflict retroactive license changes. You need a symmetrical contract.<small>[And what’s going on with the funky wrapping of this comment? What have you done to the template?]</small>

    Reply

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