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No, you can't take open source code back (zdnet.com)
29 points by smush 69 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 39 comments



There is in general two main methods for revoking a license:

1), US copyright law (17 U.S. Code § 203), which allow the author to terminate a granted license after about 35-40 years. not extremely relevant in software and the people on the linux kernel mailing list will need to wait an other 7 or so more years before it can become relevant in the kernel.

2) License and legal interpretation. The author can change their interpretation of the license and how it interacts with copyright law. This is much more relevant within the context of the linux kernel since there are proprietary kernel modules that the Linux Foundation members own. Nothing prevents an author to de-facto revoke a implicit/passive/unwritten permission for such combinations.

Beside those two there really isn't any realistic method of revoking a license once legally released under an open license.


I have seen some of my favorite free software disappeared by its creator when they decide they want to sell it.

Synergy comes to mind, but at least they are making a minimal effort to honor the GPL. Also AxCrypt. I don't think that creators are obligated to continue distribution, but it still bothers me when that happens, especially if they benefited from the fruits of the community.


Some developers seem to engage in very wishful thinking about licensing. I remember seeing, ~15-20 years ago, "licenses" asserting not merely the right to globally revoke the license, but to change the terms retroactively, which is completely absurd.


"Absurdity" is not a legal term, to my knowledge. Don't assume that because a contract is absurd, exploitative or even satirical that it won't hold up in court.


I use the term "absurd" not to make a legal argument, but to suggest that such an agreement is fundamentally devoid of any sensible meaning in the context of forming a contract. I'm no lawyer, but I suspect that the legal argument would boil down to the offer of a license being illusory [1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illusory_promise


there are a variety of reasons a contract can be unenforceable, including notions of being 'unconscionable' or 'unfair'.


Wait, I recognise that name. "MikeeUSA".

> I wholeheartedly /support/ sexism, as-long as it is not against men.

Isn't he a known provocateur? Are we being provoked?


Finishing that quote for you:

> ...Since men are now being assaulted as thanks for their ceaseless decades-long work on opensource by people who did not put in the time, men should /support sexism/ by revoking license to their gratis licensed copyrighted code from any project that adds a "Code of Conduct".

Basically, this guy is spinning the oppression narrative, just from the opposite angle.

We probably shouldn't be focusing so much on who is fighting this matter and for which ideological reasons, because we're talking about a legal framework. Those who challenge that framework may well be trolls, but the fact that they are troll is orthogonal to the legal outcome. That is, you may well consider Oracle to be trolls, but they're still winning (parts of) their case against Google.


If this is a dupe or near-dupe, I'm happy to have a link to the thread where the discussion already happened, I'm just after reading the HN comments.


Please click on the 'past' thingie to find that link


So it looks like this was posted but had no comments at the time, but thank you for introducing me to that feature which I hadn't noticed before.


>No, the real issue is trolls arguing that codes of conduct are wrong [...] Codes of conducts are here to stay.

Calling people who don't want codes of conduct "trolls", i.e. pushing your agenda in the middle of a news article, is the reason journalism is the laughing stock of the world.

(Having said that, I agree that you can't just take back source code, no matter the reason)


The problem with codes of conduct is that many of them contain pro-harassment carve-outs, for vaguely defined groups like "marginalized peoples". They specifically enshrine harassment against by some groups onto other groups. (I will provide citations in the next few hours at lunch if anyone wants)

The Contributor Covenant also encourages and protects policing other contributor's activity outside of the community, not relating to the project or anyone connected with the project. This has the effect of encouraging people to dig through your Twitter history trying to find something "problematic" that you said 10 years ago.

If you can't be part of a project without harassing others because they are white and stalking them outside of the community, maybe you should rethink your involvement. I certainly would not want to work with you.


Citations would be great, yes please.


Many codes of conduct include language like this.

> Our open source community prioritizes marginalized people’s safety over privileged people’s comfort. We will not act on complaints regarding: Our open source community prioritizes marginalized people’s safety over privileged people’s comfort....

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17012304

In other words, you can engage in harassment, and it will specifically be permitted, depending on the perceived identity of the victim or the harasser.


I don't believe that's what it says. They talk about specific things that they don't act on, which are not in and of themselves harassment.

That is to say, if somebody is harassing you, you need to have a better justification that it is indeed harassment than merely that it's "reverse racism". Similarly, they're saying that if somebody refuses to explain "cultural appropriation" again, that isn't in itself harassment.

I'm perplexed as to why they even felt compelled to say that, since these aren't harassment. As far as I can tell, the point is to specifically call out techniques that are frequently used to harass people, badgering them to justify the same arguments repeatedly, or using frequent reports in the hopes of getting them removed. These are things that occur in a lot of online communities, taking advantage of the large numbers of people in the majority to shut down people who aren't.

Moderation is an imperfect process, and they appear to be publicly acknowledging ways in which it fails. And that they will attempt to compensate for it, in ways which are easily misrepresented as "abuse" by people in the best position to benefit from a nominally "fair" process.

It's clear that it's not a declaration that marginalized people can engage in harassment.


See, this is a major flaw, because the definitions of harassment are further obfuscated. By having exceptions for bad behavior based on the self-identified identity of those involved, you are leaving open room for abuse.

This ambiguity and imbalance leads to those situations where someone can justifiably engage in meta-discussion about what these rules even mean, or how they should be applied (since it is based on subjective and improvable concepts, like social perception and ethnicity).

If a clear stand was taken on what was acceptable, it would be very difficult for trolls to stir up trouble by questioning the rules. Also, it is very self serving and convenient to simply say that anyone criticizing the rules must be a troll. Maybe they actually are pointing out legitimate flaws?

You wouldn't HAVE these problems if your rules were more clear and fair.

As for your example of "cultural appropriation", I am baffled how this would even come up in a discussion about software. So yes, if someone does make such a bizarre claim, then the onus is certainly on them to justify such claims.

And accusations of racism absolutely can be harassment. Trolls know this, and they have a good laugh at our expense. Honestly I can't think of any patterns of speech which couldn't, in some context, be harassment. So it makes no sense to write things like that off.

And what do you mean by "calling out?" What one person calls calling out, another person calls disrupting and harassing. I think many people who criticize a CoC are themselves, in their minds, calling something out.

And who decides what is a valid "sense of safety", that so many of these rules are predicated on? Can a "majority oppressor" feel unsafe, or is it only those who have favor with the mods?

One could easily use these rules against social justice goals. The flaws and open-endedness of these rules absolutely lend themselves to consolidation of power, corruption, and community harm.


> The problem with codes of conduct is that many of them contain pro-harassment carve-outs, for vaguely defined groups like "marginalized peoples". They specifically enshrine harassment against by some groups onto other groups. (I will provide citations in the next few hours at lunch if anyone wants)

This is simply not true. Harassment is not the same as calling out harassment. Saying "hey, I have a right to exist and be included, stop your exclusionary actions" is fundamentally different from actions to exclude someone in the first place. It is the difference between "we welcome your contributions if you stop attacking others" and "you're not welcome here, leave."

If you believe that anyone seeks to harass you on the basis of being white, I suggest you might benefit from a deep examination of the experiences of actual marginalized groups. There's a good chance you're just not aware of the reality others have to deal with. And there's no way to know without a lot of self-directed study. No one can do it for you. You have to have an open mind, be willing to explore uncomfortable topics, and be willing to come to the conclusion that you've behaved poorly in the past out of ignorance. You know, take the rational approach to one's own ignorance.


> This is simply not true. Harassment is not the same as calling out harassment. Saying "hey, I have a right to exist and be included, stop your exclusionary actions" is fundamentally different from actions to exclude someone in the first place. It is the difference between "we welcome your contributions if you stop attacking others" and "you're not welcome here, leave."

I'm afraid it is true. "Calling out harassment" as you call it is incredibly vague, and harassment and trolling could easily be framed in those terms. But, even so, they don't even make that distinction. They simply say that you can essentially do no wrong if you make the unverified claim of being a "marginalized person".

Look at these terms:

  * ‘Reverse’ -isms, including ‘reverse racism,’ ‘reverse sexism,’ and ‘cisphobia’
  * Reasonable communication of boundaries, such as “leave me alone,” “go away,” or “I’m not discussing this with you”
  * Refusal to explain or debate social justice concepts
  * Communicating in a ‘tone’ you don’t find congenial
  * Criticizing racist, sexist, cissexist, or otherwise oppressive behavior or assumptions
https://github.com/dear-github/dear-github/issues/107#issuec...

If you are labeled as "oppressive", your trolls get immunity. And who defines what "oppressive" means? Simply expressing gentle disagreement or criticism of a "marginalized persons" pull request can be considered oppressive. Even not sufficiently affirming or validating someone can get you labeled this way.

And trolls DO use this. Trolls absolutely make a game of turning communities against each other. I've seen it happen.

> If you believe that anyone seeks to harass you on the basis of being white.

Gonna have to stop you right there. You don't know anything about my ethnicity, and it does not matter. You need to be able to make a point without falling back on that.

> No one can do it for you. You have to have an open mind, be willing to explore uncomfortable topics, and be willing to come to the conclusion that you've behaved poorly in the past out of ignorance. You know, take the rational approach to one's own ignorance.

These condescending platitudes are not helpful, and say more about you than anyone else.


OK, I read your link. I don't see anything in it matching your claims. What I see is a list of dogwhistles being called out as dogwhistles. If you have a complaint based on actual behaviors, they'll still investigate it. What they won't do is waste time investigating the formulaic nonsense spewed by people seeking to attack those who are calling out bad behavior. But pay close attention. They are talking about the form of a complaint. If you have a complaint that takes the form of "this behavior is abusive," it will still be considered.

For what it's worth, I have no doubt that trolls have tried to hide behind claims of being oppressed before. But I have never seen a systemic case of it creating immunity from criticism. I have seen a couple individuals who think they get away with it, but only on venues that don't make systemic efforts to enforce good behavior, like Twitter.

Do you have a specific example of a troll being shielded by github's policies?

> > If you believe that anyone seeks to harass you on the basis of being white.

> Gonna have to stop you right there. You don't know anything about my ethnicity, and it does not matter. You need to be able to make a point without falling back on that.

Gonna have to ask that you read what I wrote. Like, the very first word. "If". I was adding a special note in case your situation matches the hypothetical. If your situation does not match, you have not caught me. I made no assumptions. I added context for a common case among all likely readers on this site.

For further context, I'm a middle-aged white man. I used to think about these issues in a way that would make me say things very similar to what you have been saying.

In my case, that's because I was sheltered and unaware how many advantages I had. I was only aware of a few glaring disadvantages. As I grew up, I noticed there were some groups of people I offended systematically, even when I didn't mean to. By my early 30s, I had finally seen this enough to acknowledge that the problem was me. I made an effort to learn as much as I could about why people disagree with me.

I kept an open mind, I accepted that my ignorance was damaging to people I didn't understand, and I broadened my understanding in order to stop it. You know, the rational approach to one's own ignorance.

Oh, wait, those are condescending platitudes. Except they're also a non-condescending description of exactly what I did.

Heres the thing - your viewpoint is nothing new to me. I used to agree with it. But then I added more information, and I found I couldn't agree with it anymore. I deeply regret how long it took me to finally notice these blatant things about how the world works.

And I've got a structural postscript - I'm not replying to you to try to change your mind. I'm asking you, and everyone else reading who agrees with you a bit, to be willing to question your assumptions. You don't need to change your mind. But at least be willing to accept that some of those who disagree with you do because they started where you are and then learned more.


You seem sincere, and I didn't mean to be rude. I'm just wrapping up for the day and have to leave soon, so I can't give a very complete reply.

> For what it's worth, I have no doubt that trolls have tried to hide behind claims of being oppressed before. But I have never seen a systemic case of it creating immunity from criticism. I have seen a couple individuals who think they get away with it, but only on venues that don't make systemic efforts to enforce good behavior, like Twitter.

If I linked directly to a lot of this stuff, it's probably blacklisted by HN. But yes, entire social justice oriented communities have been brought to their knees by trolls using social justice rhetoric. Check out Atheism+. Trolls pretending to be offended oppressed minorities have absolutely turned communities against each other.

I still remember this one thread where someone demanded that someone else with a "male-coded" avatar respond to their comments first, because they were a woman and deserved to not be answered last or something. And it was taken seriously. I don't KNOW if that person was a troll, but does it matter? When grievances get sufficiently ludicrous, all trolls have to do is copy non-troll users.

Have a look at some of these Github threads, and you will see unreasonable demands on people's communication. It's especially egregious and unfair to non-native English speakers.

Also, I don't know why you're holding Twitter up as a good example of anything.


You are talking about the definition of harassment so lets explore that with a few examples:

Is it harassment to treat someone badly because they voted for the wrong political party?

Is it harassment to treat someone badly because they voiced a political opinion with someone else?

Is it harassment to treat someone badly because something they did in private with someone else?

Is it harassment to treat someone badly because they have membership in an other group?

Those are some of the issues that people have with code of conducts.


People that have no involvement with a project showing up with meaningless threats to try and force their point of view seem like trolls to me.


You actually see that going both ways - people who have not contributed before to a project suggesting a code of conduct to be added and people who have not contributed before opposing it.

> to try and force their point of view

What if they only wish for a discussion on the issue in order for the right decision to be taken?


Calling people who don't want codes of conduct "trolls"

The article isn't doing this. It's calling trolls "people who try to combat codes of conduct with the threat of removing code as a magic bullet to stop them".


The OP author wrote another piece here https://www.zdnet.com/article/what-happens-if-you-try-to-tak... that I found more compelling and not so clear-cut regarding the legal ability to revoke the license grant but there too, the anonymous protagonist is a "troll." I can't gen up the motivation to see if the word appears in all of the fellow's articles.


The person attempting to revoke their GPL licensed code is known for harassing the Debian Women and LinuxChix groups, as well as generally advocating for violence against women and feminists in particular. I mean the guy has openly advocated for the legalization of rape. He's absolutely a troll.

http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/MikeeUSA

EDIT: lol, the trolls are definitely out in force today.


Sounds like he needs dealing with via law .. codes of conduct won't fix his behaviour.


Which law?

And a code of conduct will absolutely make it clear that he's not welcome in the community and why, allowing the community to extricate themselves from him in a meaningful way.


It's fairly common for the troll to then start a meta-argument about the code of conduct, or, to accuse others of violating the code of conduct. Eventually the notion of "don't be an asshole" tends to win the argument, but it can take a while.


If you need a code of conduct to keep someone like him away, your project was dysfunctional to begin with.


What makes you say that?


Communities have existed since the dawn of man and CoCs weren't necessary to keep idiots away. When someone is an idiot, you don't need a set of rules to identify that he's an idiot, and to have a basis to kick him out. If you 1) can't identify idiots or 2) can't kick out idiots, then you have a dysfunctional community or no teeth. CoCs can't fix a community or make you grow teeth.


Communities have had published standards of conduct since the bronze age.


> you don't need a set of rules to identify that he's an idiot, and to have a basis to kick him out

afaik, a code doesn't exist because of an inability to identify or to (attempt to) exclude a person.


i think "to keep someone like him away" is a bit of a red herring.


http://womanofsteele.blogspot.com/2007/11/hater-mikeeusa.htm...

Wow. Some of the stuff this guy has supposedly written sounds like an Anders Breivik in the making. Certainly pushing free speech to the limits (and beyond).


It also makes the entire article worthless. Somebody who pushes an agenda isn't going to provide an unbiased assessment of the actual legal arguments. I clicked on the article expecting to hear both sides. Instead, I get all the usual pro-FOSS activist sources.

> I agree that you can't just take back source code

But your "agreement" is irrelevant! I "agree" that the GPL shouldn't be revocable, but that's also irrelevant to the question.

There are actually quite a few clauses in the GPL that do revoke the license grant, if they are not followed.

Arguments that the GPL itself is revocable are quite old and far predates the whole CoC kerfuffle:

https://lwn.net/Articles/347236/


To tell you the truth, I have always assumed that publishing code under a licence meant that that particular version of the code was under that licence and that it could never be revoked (unless the user violated it, of course). I didn't know there was a discussion around that fact.




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