Licenses (was Re: Should I add a "Micro" PDP11/73 to the Herd?)

From: Jerome Fine <>
Date: Fri Jun 23 23:23:00 2000

>Eric Smith wrote:

> Bill Yakowenko <> wrote:
> > My point it, software *could* be licensed the way the contents of
> > books are; it need not imply any ill-conceived notions that hinder
> > transferrability, such as binding to a CPU. The holder of the original
> > media could be the legal holder of the license, just as with books.
> > The book analogy could work just fine, and the market has *not*
> > rejected it.
> And in fact Borland used to do exactly that. Their license explicitly
> stated that the software was like a book, and that they were happy as long
> the software was only run on one machine at any given time (just like a
> book generally can only be read by one person at a time). Wish I had a
> copy of the license to type in; as commercial software licenses go it was
> one of the best.

Jerome Fine replies:

Borland's license agreement was VERY simple. I quote it here from
a book on "Turbo C" Copyright 1988. The first paragraph dealt with
archival copies. The second paragraph states:

[By saying "just like a book," Borland means, for example that this
software may be used by any number of people and may be freely moved
from one computer location to another so long as there is NO POSSIBILITY of
its being used at one location while it's being used at another.]

I substituted CAPITALS for bold letters.

In general, I very strongly agree that the essence of this license agreement
was not only one of the best, but it was also one of the most fair and
reasonable. Essentially, I would interpret the [...] to mean that possession
of the original media (whether still readable or not) constituted absolute
proof that the user could legally use the software on their computer so long
as no other copies had been given to anyone else. Not that possession of
the original media was required, only that having the original distribution
was a clear statement that the user had legal possession of the software and
was still allowed to use the software on a computer system so long as no
copies had been given to anyone else AND that possession of the original
distribution could then be transferred to ANYONE else without Borland
being needed to provide permission - and charge a transfer fee.

> They didn't explicitly state it, but I suppose that just as you might
> tear a book in two so that two people can read different parts of it
> simultaneously, perhaps you could simultaneously run two portion of the
> Borland software on two computers.

Not only that, but I wonder if someone ever tried to expand the interpretation.
While I would not be able to do so myself, I have heard of many situations
where a single book was used by MANY students when individual copies
were not available. Some became adept in reading the book from the left,
other from the right and a few could even read the book UPSIDE DOWN.

Would that mean that a "shared" (I realize that back in 1988, shared disk
drives were probably not generally available - and if they were would probably
have cost more than extra distributions of the software) disk drive could have
been used at one location connected by "short" cables to many computers?

OR as an alternative, it would seem to be very possible to use a server
which had the only disk copy and execute the software on each local
computer by the many students reading the book from different positions
at the same table?


I realize that the following is a bit long, but I would appreciate comments.

But aside from such considerations, the general substance of the license
was that Borland, even in 1988, was trusting large companies to have
purchased sufficient copies of the software. PLUS, once purchased, there
was no attempt of any kind to prevent a user from transferring the right to
use the software to a different user on either the same hardware - if the
computer system was sold - OR on even a completely different, but
compatible, computer system so long as the original software was no
longer installed and being used on the first computer system.

The did not mean that Borland surrendered any rights with respect to the
original sale of the original software on the original distribution. The ONLY
difference I can see between the Borland concept and the DEC concept
was that, at the VERY least, once the original hardware and Borland software
possession was transferred, there was no attempt to collect a second fee
for the USE of the same software (just as even DEC allowed the hardware
possession to be transferred). Whereas if DEC software was involved, somehow
it was considered that the same software could be used forever by the same
company on the same hardware, but if possession of the "book" was transferred,
suddenly a second fee for legal USE was required (i.e. could be squeezed from
the second user of the hardware and software) - and especially so if a license
transfer could not be arranged due the to lack of documentation which in many
cases DEC refused to provide with the original sale. And while most companies
did not care when the original software was purchased, problems did occur
when possession of the hardware was transferred.

Of course, it seems now that the goal for large corporations is to force a payment
for every use of the software, i.e. a perpetual rental system. I had thought that this
issue was settled when IBM was forced to allow a computer system to be purchased
rather than requiring permanent rental.

Of course, if the goal associated with charging for each use of some software
was to keep the legal use revenue neutral until all pirated use was eliminated and
then reduce the cost to legal users since the company was receiving far higher
revenue, then I would agree. But I, and probably many others, suspect that the
ultimate goal is to increase the cost even to legal users so that a monopoly situation
will eventually develop which results in very few companies holding all the
control to most of the items which are being distributed and per usage fees being
charged for the use of proprietary software on proprietary hardware. PLUS,
with distribution being so concentrated, there will be a severe reduction in
the ability of some sources to achieve recognition. This already happens
in many cases - I suspect that the film industry is only one example.

For instance, if Microsoft had gained monopoly control of the internet via its
browser and wanted to stop a boycott of its operating systems, all email
urging such a boycott could end up being "lost" for some unexplained "reason".

No wonder I get the impression that so many hobby users are so ....

In most cases, I get the impression that most hobby users follow the Borland
model with respect to the use of software in any case - which just means that
Mentec/DEC/Compaq don't receive any additional revenue in any case. But
the attitude develops (and is possibly encouraged) that it is OK to use software
for hobby use even if it was not originally installed on that piece of DEC hardware.

I for one, hope that the indications that Mentec seems to be addressing this
aspect of hobby use of PDP-11 software will be done soon now, as seems
to be the case and will also be reasonable both from the point of view of
administration (there really does not need to be any) as well as cost. From
my point of view, the hobby use of PDP-11 software under just the Supnik
emulator was a valuable first step. Now we need to wait for a reasonable
second step.

Sincerely yours,

Jerome Fine
Received on Fri Jun 23 2000 - 23:23:00 BST

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