Some words on HebMorph's licensing

English posts, HebMorph, Open source No comments

Without being a lawyer, and trying real hard not to become one, it is not easy to be an author of an open-source project. Apparently it takes quite a lot of thought, and definitely a lot of reading, to make sure the code you release has an appropriate license that specifies your intent correctly. If you don't pay enough attention, you probably are going to end up with a license that is not at all enforcing what you intended it to.

This is what happened to me with HebMorph, and this post is here to clarify everything that needs clarifying, and to explain the reasoning behind the recent license change to HebMorph.

Like I said in an e-mail conversation we recently held in HebMorph's mailing list, this project is all about research and sharing of information.  We WILL reach our goals, some sooner than other, and when we do, the knowledge we gathered will be free for all to learn from and use. However, since we have a very long road ahead of us, I needed to make sure this project can support itself. I spent a lot of time researching options, charting a path, writing code, testing approaches and a lot more, and to be able to continue doing that in large bulks of time (and not occasionally) we needed income.

This is when I decided to charge for any commercial use made with code released under by the HebMorph project. It is actually pretty simple and very fair: I release my work for all to see and use without any charge. If, however, you make profit from my work, I'd like you to support the project. Aiming for quite a small market, relying on donations won't cut it, so I decided to use a license which will allow me to enforce that.

I explicitly stated more than once, and in more than one place, that I'm not after anyone's money. This project grew out of sheer interest, and it will definitely continue to evolve. This is why HebMorph doesn't have a price tag; if you want to use it in a commercial product, contact me and we'll figure something out. An arrangement that is fair for both parties.

Unaware of many legal details, I chose GPLv2 to be HebMorph's license. It seemed promising: any derivative work would require the consuming application to be released under GPLv2 as well, and since most companies would like to avoid that - they would pay for a commercial license. It also was the same license hspell is using, and since some parts of HebMorph are definitely a derivative work of hspell, it required HebMorph to be released under a compatible license, or GPLv2 itself. Problem solved - or at least so I thought.

Following a recent user inquiry, I found out my license of choice was in fact not suitable at all. First, it has many flaws and loopholes making it quite ineffective in enforcing what I wanted it to. It is practically the last license I would choose for any modern software; here's a good read on why.

Secondly, and not less important, any GPLv2 software is incompatible with Lucene/Solr, a software that is released under the Apache software license. Since our main platform is Lucene, we can't afford that.

Now that I realized all this, I've changed HebMorph's license to be AGPLv3. This license is based on GPLv3 (an improvement over GPLv2 on itself), but adds a paragraph that defines "use" in a way that covers also websites and webservices, and by that seals off the infamous GPLv2 loophole. Since AGPLv3 isn't compatible with GPLv2, I had to get an explicit permission from hspell's authors to still be able to use it, and such they did - with the exception of being able to use the hspell files distributed with HebMorph only for search purposes.

Now, you may notice how I frequently used the word "fair" when describing the license selection process. This is because I'm not here to run and seal loopholes, or make sure anyone that is making profit from my work is paying back. I enjoy doing other things, not that. I expect users to be fair; if they make profit from a product that uses HebMorph in one way or another, I expect them to be fair and give back. There probably could be thousands of ways to bypass any license, AGPL included, so I'm making it clear that I release HebMorph under the AGPL and also under the expectation of fairness.  At some point I was actually considering using RPL, but then I decided it is too restrictive and will probably make more problems than it will solve. So I selected AGPLv3, and let me say this again: please act in good faith.

And just to make sure: as far as I'm concerned, using any HebMorph code through Solr is just the same as using it through Lucene. Solr is dynamically linking the jars in what falls under the very definition of "derivative work", and in case that was in doubt, it isn't now. I'm explicitly specifying this, so even if there is a loophole here (which I'm quite certain there is not), it is now under the license definition of "use": if your application uses Solr, and Solr uses HebMorph, your application is effectively using AGPLv3 software and need to be AGPLv3 as well.

Hopefully this clarifies some things about HebMorph, and as always I'd love to hear any thoughts on this.

Due to the unintended conflict of licenses, any previous versions of HebMorph being used with Lucene/Solr has to move to the new license.

As before, OSS projects and non-profit closed source projects are welcome to use HebMorph with no charge, but the latter should contact me in advance to discuss some terms.

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