Open Telecom Public License FAQ

This document attempts to answer some frequently asked questions about the Open Telecom Public License (OTPL). These answers are for informative purposes only, and do not in any way constitute a legally binding portion of the License. For more information, including the license itself, see the documents at http://www.opentelecom.org/otpl/otlicense.html.

1. Where do I find the Open Telecom Public License_

2. If the source is free, why do you have a license_

3. How was the license created_

4. What is the BSD license_

5. What is the GPL_

6. What is the LGPL_

7. What is the Artistic License_

8. How does the OTPL compare_

9. Why didn't you just use the GPL or a slightly amended version of it_

10. Why didn't you just use the LGPL or a slightly amended version of it_

11. Why didn't you just use the BSD license or a slightly amended version of it_

12. Why should I choose the OTPL for my new code_

13. Does a developer have to sign something or become a member of OpenTelecom.org to get the code_

14. How can GPL code be incorporated into the OpenTelecom code base_

15. Will the OTPL apply to Natural MicroSystems as well_

16. Why are you talking about making changes to the license in section 6_

17. How does Natural MicroSystems benefit from giving away its source code under such a free license_


1. Where do I find the Open Telecom Public License_

http://www.opentelecom.org/otpl/otlicense.html

2. If the source is free, why do you have a license_

First, the source Natural MicroSystems is releasing may be freely available, but it is still copyright by Natural MicroSystems Corporation. You may only alter copyrighted works with the permission of the copyright holder, and the OTPL spells out the conditions under which you may use the source code owned by Natural MicroSystems.

Second, the idea of the OTPL is to set the ground rules for the use of both Natural Microsystems's code and the code of other developers who may contribute modifications or new code to the OpenTelecom.org web site. These rules are designed to maximize the amount of open development that can happen on this code base, striking a balance between the interests of the various parties involved (not limited to developers, but including users as well). From one point of view, the code base can be thought of as a resource such as a lake or the air that we breathe, and we need basic rules to ensure that this resource is preserved and enhanced, for example, by encouraging and even to a certain extent requiring that developers "give back" to the common code base. From another point of view, developers of the code (including Natural MicroSystems as the original developer of the initial code) have interests in specifying how their work may be used by others, and we need basic rules to ensure that those various interests are accounted for in some way.

3. How was the license created_

We looked at many of the existing "open source" licenses, including BSD, GNU's GPL and LGPL, Artistic, and Netscape's NPL and MozPL. A major goal of OpenTelecom.org is to promote the use of open computing platforms for telecommunications in general, and to promote the use of CompactPCI in the telecommunications industry. This means we had to have a license that worked for individual developers, but also encouraged the use and development of our Open Telecom source code by other commercial developers - including direct competitors.

After extensive review, we determined that the Mozilla Public License (MozPL), created by Netscape in early 1998, best met the needs of the Open Telecom industry. In creating MozPL, Netscape performed a careful analysis of all of the other free software licenses to determine what problems they solved and created. Then they spent a good deal of time listening to experts and advocates in the free software community as well as to the public conversations about the freeing of the source code to their browser. All of this input went into a draft license that Netscape posted for review in January 1998. Netscape considered the comments and criticisms it received (there were nearly a thousand posts to a newsgroup dedicated to discussions of the license), created a second draft and eventually the MozPL (http://www.mozilla.org/NPL/). Their agreement has been generally accepted within the open source community.

The MozPL specifically allows others to copy its text as long as the names are changed as described in paragraph 6. This is what we have done to make the OTPL.

4. What is the BSD license_

The BSD license is another free software license that was developed by the University of California at Berkeley. It is very non-restrictive in its terms, basically allowing anyone to do anything with code covered by the license, but requiring a reference to the copyright holder in accompanying documentation -- essentially requiring only credit where credit is due. This makes the license acceptable to commercial developers, but opens others to the possibility that their work may be extended or modified and then incorporated into other's proprietary products without any of the modifications being shared with the community.

5. What is the GPL_

The GNU General Public License (or GPL) was developed by the Free Software Foundation. Unlike the BSD License, it maintains free source code by a fairly complex set of rules. It requires that any ``derivative works'' based on software covered by the GPL also be covered by the GPL, and that source code to these works be made publicly available. This means than any development that anyone does that is derived from GPLed code must also be made free. This ensures that the resource of free source code will not be diminished by someone taking the code, modifying it slightly, and keeping it to themselves, but it also tends to discourage the use of GPLed code in commercial development by traditional software companies and other for-profit organizations.

6. What is the LGPL_

The GNU Library General Public License was also developed by the Free Software Foundation. It is similar to the GPL, but it introduces the idea that a library of functions covered by the LGPL may be used by a program without the program being a derivative work of the library. This allows the program to be issued under different terms than the LGPL. This makes the LGPL less restrictive (the developer is compelled to release the source code to less of his work) than the GPL. (Only changes to the library itself would have to be made public.)

7. What is the Artistic License_

The Artistic License is similar to, but in some ways simpler than, the GPL. It requires that if a developer modifies source code covered by the Artistic License, the developer must make those modifications available in source code form, or use those modifications only within the developer's own organization without redistributing them.

8. How does the OTPL compare_

The OTPL attempts to strike a middle ground between promoting free source development by commercial enterprises and protecting free source developers. Like the GPL, it requires that any and all changes to code covered by the license must be made publicly available. However, it also allows you to combine covered code with other code to create a larger work without requiring that other code to be covered by the license. This is similar to, but even less restrictive, than the LGPL.

9. Why didn't you just use the GPL or a slightly amended version of it_

Natural MicroSystems uses portions of the code released to OpenTelecom.org in other products for which we are not releasing the source code. Using the GPL would require that the code to these products be released as well. In addition, we are interested in encouraging the use and development of the Open Telecom source code by other commercial developers. Other companies would hesitate to engage in development with this code, if the code were regulated by a license as strict as the GPL, requiring that all related software also be released as free source. Our goal is to enable everyone in the CompactPCI industry, so we decided to use a less restrictive license.

10. Why didn't you just use the LGPL or a slightly amended version of it_

Although the LGPL offers some of the advantages of being more flexible than the GPL for commercial development, it has many of the same pitfalls of the GPL. The OTPL follows the MozPL and adopts some of the basic LGPL concepts, though we think that the altered mechanisms of the MozPL, and thus the OTPL, are more appropriate for our industry.

11. Why didn't you just use the BSD license or a slightly amended version of it_

The BSD license does not go far enough to ensure that developers will return their modifications to the Open Telecom source code to the community. We feel this is important to ensure long term viability of the source development effort.

12. Why should I choose the OTPL for my new code_

It's your decision, but as we said above, we believe that the OTPL (or Netscape's Mozilla Public License on which the OTPL is based) is a good choice because it strikes a balance between allowing a broad range of freedom in source code creation and requiring re-disclosure of source.

13. Does a developer have to sign something or become a member of OpenTelecom.org to get the code_

No. The code is governed by the OTPL. You don't have to actually sign either license, but you are legally bound by them if you make use of the source code in any way.

14. How can GPL code be incorporated into the Open Telecom code base_

Under our reading of the GPL, it is not possible to incorporate code covered by the GPL into our source code base. It is also not possible to use GPLed code and OTPLed code together in a Larger Work. This is different for LGPL code. It is possible to create a larger work using LGPLed code that can then be used in conjunction with OTPLed code through an API.

15. Will the OTPL apply to Natural MicroSystems as well_

Yes. When Natural MicroSystems uses code created by others, or code modified by others, under the OTPL, it must comply with the OTPL. On the other hand, an original source code module, whether created by Natural MicroSystems, or by another, is still copyrighted by the Initial Developer. The OTPL is merely a license. In that sense, Natural MicroSystems, and any other Initial Developer, retains the rights to license their original source code to others under other terms and conditions.

16. Why are you talking about making changes to the license in section 6_

We think that situations may arise in the future that require the OTPL be altered. Again, this is exactly what Netscape did with the MozPL. So Natural MicroSystems has retained the right to release new versions of the license. For example, laws change and court decisions set new precedents. And, although we have tried to keep descriptions of technology broad and open in the licenses, technology may change in the future in a way that necessitates a change to the license. However, we are sensitive to others' concern that the license governing code that they are using or that they have contributed to might change after they have released their code. Under the OTPL, anyone has the right to re-release code covered by a version of either license, under a later version of that license, although a version of that code may remain covered by the previous version of the license (in this case there would be two versions of the code, each under a different version of the license).

As an example, take the situation where a developer releases code in May under the OTPL version 1.0. In August, Natural MicroSystems releases version 2.0 of the OTPL. That developer's code remains covered by OTPL 1.0. In September, another developer decides to make the first developer's code available under OTPL 2.0 (perhaps because the second developer believes that OTPL 2.0 solved an important problem from version 1.0). The original developer may decide to continue to make the code released under OTPL 1.0 available (perhaps because that developer found OTPL 1.0 better suited to his or her needs than version 2.0). Subsequent developers will now be able to choose whether to make modifications to the code in question under OTPL 1.0 or 2.0.

17. How does Natural MicroSystems benefit from giving away its source code under such a free license_

Natural MicroSystems benefits from giving away its source code in a number of different ways. Our business benefits from a healthy and growing market for PC-based telecommunications equipment and especially from a growing CompactPCI telecommunications industry. We have worked with others in the PCI Industrial Manufacturer's Group on establishing hardware standards for CompactPCI hot swap and for telecom circuit switching in CompactPCI systems. We have been the first to market with software for hot swap and circuit switching in a CompactPCI chassis. But until other companies are able to ship CompactPCI boards with hot swap and switching software, our customers and prospects are limited in the range of systems they can build. We think we all benefit from rapid growth of the CompactPCI industry.

Second, we have limited resources available to help prospective partners leverage this software. If we proceeded on a case by case basis, we could not achieve the critical mass that our industry needs. Finally, by using an open source model, we think we will unleash the creative energies of many individuals and companies throughout the telecommunications industry. This should allow our original open telecom software to be extended and to get incorporated into applications that we could never conceive of.


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