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Are Microsoft's licences unfair to open-sourcerers?

Free software advocates think so

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Lawyers acting for the Free Software Foundation have accused the software giant of making it impossible for open source software developers to take part in its protocol licencing scheme. Microsoft was ordered to begin licencing its protocols by the European Union in its anti-trust ruling. This requires the company to make the code available under "reasonable and non-discriminatory" terms.

Carlo Piana, a partner at Milan law firm Tamos Piana & Partners, which represents FSF Europe, told eWeek:"Microsoft has proposed a licencing agreement blatantly tailored to exclude free software from accessing it."

The terms of the Microsoft licence require that the holder does not distribute the source code of their implementation of the protocol, except to other licence holders. Developers are allowed to show the source code to non-licence holders, but only in their offices, and only if the other party is willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

The licence overview says:

In addition to not disclosing your source code directly, you also need to make sure not to subject your implementation to any other licenses that would require such source code disclosure. For example, under certain circumstances, other licenses may require your implementation to be disclosed in source code form when you distribute your implementation with other technology that is already subject to that other license. In short, you can't subject your authorized implementations to any license that requires you do things that are contrary to the scope of your licence and your obligations under the license agreement.

Basically, the FSFE says, this boils down to: if you sign this licence, you can't make your work available under GNU GPL.

Dirk Delmartino, Microsoft's anti-trust spokesman in Brussels, said: "We offer the same terms to everyone, including developers of free software, or what ever you would prefer to call it. We don't prevent anyone from taking a licence. It would be discriminatory if we offered different licence terms to different groups."

We asked if Microsoft could see the inherent conflict between the terms of the GNU GPL and its own licence. Delmartino said: "I am not an expert in GPL licences. What we can do is make licences available to all. Our terms are as they are." ®

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