[Haskell-cafe] Re: Problems trying to understand the BSD license

Simon Marlow simonmarhaskell at gmail.com
Mon Sep 4 05:59:37 EDT 2006

Brian Hulley wrote:

>        Copyright (c) 1988 XYZ ...
>        1) Redistributions of source code...
>        2)  Redistributions in binary form must reproduce
>         the above copyright notice, this list of conditions
>         and the following disclaimer in the documentation
>         and/or other materials provided with the distribution.
>         3) Neither the name of XYZ nor the names of its
>         contributors may be used to endorse or promote
>         products derived from this software without
>        specific prior written permission.
> In order to comply with 2), it suggests I'd need to insert something 
> along the lines of:
>       Portions of this software are copyrighted by XYZ, PQR, STU, ...
>       Portions of this software are provided by XYZ, ..., "as is" and
>       any express or implied warranties ...
> but does this infringe on 3), which states that the name of XYZ should 
> not be used to endorse the product? Ie is the mention of XYZ's name in 
> the license considered to *not* be an endorsement?

Giving proper copyright attribution is not considered an endorsement, no.

> And what about "this list of conditions"? Does that also include the 
> first condition ("Redistributions of source code ...") even though only 
> a binary executable is being supplied to the licensee? I also don't want 
> the licensee to get confused and think the whole executable is being 
> distributed under BSD.

Typically in a binary distribution people just add the "Portions (c) The 
University of Glasgow" and the disclaimer.  If your proprietary license does not 
allow redistribution of the binary, then all the conditions in the BSD license 
are irrelevant.  However, if your license *does* allow redistribution, then such 
redistribution must also comply with the license on the BSD parts of the code, 
so you should include something equivalent to those requirements in your license 
(that is, reproduce the copyright notices and disclaimer, and pass on the these 
conditions if further redistribution is allowed).

> Also what about the application's "about" dialog or help pages?

There's no requirement in the BSD license that you have to put the copyright 
notice in the about dialog or the help pages (IIRC this is what the XFree86 
project tried to do, and much uproar resulted).

> Would an 
> acknowledgement of libraries used in the code and their authors be 
> considered to be using them to endorse my product or would it be 
> regarded as a welcome acknowledgement for their hard work in making the 
> libraries available? Is this required or prohibited by the BSD license?

There are no clear cut rules about what constitutes an endorsement, as far as 
I'm aware.  Use your judgement: if you plaster "(c) the University of Glasgow" 
in big letters at the top of the splash screen, that might be considered an 
endorsement, but burying it amongst several such notices in the back page of the 
manual would not be.

> Surprisingly, although I have looked at several websites which discuss 
> the BSD license, none of them actually say what the practical down to 
> earth text of a proprietary license of a binary executable using BSD 
> licensed components is supposed to look like.

Have a look at what Microsoft do, if you have a copy of Windows lying around...


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