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Interview with Allison Randal about Artistic License 2.0

Allison Randal is a past president of The Perl Foundation. During her time as president (2003 to 2005), she worked on a new version of the Artistic License, the terms under which Perl and many CPAN modules are distributed. The new license applies not only to Perl, but also the Parrot project. The Perl Review previously interviewed Allison about her role as a core developer of Parrot.

The Perl Review: The Open Source Initiative recently approved the Artistic License version 2 for their list of licenses meeting the Open Source Definition. Why is their approval important?

Allison Randal: The OSI review process is a chance to confirm with our peers, with the broader open source community, that our license fits with the goals of open source software. The OSI is respected in the community, so their approval stands as a positive recommendation for anyone using the Artistic License for their software, or using software distributed under the Artistic License.

TPR: What does their approval mean for the current version of the Artistic License?

Allison: Version 1 of the Artistic License is still approved by the OSI and is listed as such on their web site.

TPR: How does this affect all of the stuff on CPAN, most of which is licensed simply as "under the same terms as Perl itself"?

Allison: For anything licensed under "the same terms as Perl itself" there's no change at the moment. Perl 5 is still released under a dual Artistic 1.0/GPL license. For the rest of CPAN, it just means that developers have another option. They can look at the Artistic 1.0 and Artistic 2.0 and decide which they'd rather use.

TPR: Do CPAN authors or Perl developers need to do anything different to use the new license?

Allison: If your code says "distributed under the Artistic License", or something like that, change it to say "Artistic License 2.0". In the META.yml file, specify "license: artistic2" or in PAUSE (for registered modules) select the license "2 -- Artistic_2" in the module metadata.

TPR: How is the new version of the Artistic License different? Is this a patch or a rewrite?

Allison: The revision process was a refactor rather than a start from scratch, and the terms are nearly identical. The text is substantially different, though, with changes both for clarity and for legal precision.

Two concepts were added in the Artistic 2.0: relicensing and patent protection. The relicensing section 4(c)(ii) means that projects no longer need to dual-license with the GPL, because the Artistic License itself allows redistribution of the code under the GPL (or any "copyleft" license). The patent protection language was added in response to the increased patent litigation and threats of patent litigation against open source software in the past few years.

TPR: What was the problem with the original Artistic License?

Allison: It was legally imprecise in some places, difficult to understand in others, and outdated in some ways (with specific references to, and 'undump').

TPR: How does Artistic License 2 compare to the Modified Artistic License or the Clarified Artistic License? Why do those versions exist?

Allison: The Clarified Artistic License was an early draft of the Artistic 2.0, before legal review. There are several different licenses that call themselves "Modified Artistic License", mostly taking small steps to modernize Artistic 1.0. Any projects that use the Clarified Artistic License or a Modified Artistic License should seriously consider updating to the Artistic 2.0.

TPR: Did the concern about the original Artistic License come from within the Perl community, or did it come from the recent business interest in clarifying all open source licenses?

Allison: The process for updating the Artistic License was started as part of the Perl 6 RFC process in 2000. Specifically, RFC 211 "The Artistic License Must Be Changed". So, we predate the other license updates, and might even have helped to inspire them.

TPR: Who decided that the Artistic License needed an update?

Allison: Larry, when he gave the thumbs up for working on the RFC.

TPR: Who was involved with the update? How did the final language come about?

Allison: Bradley Kuhn worked on the initial draft, and the perl6-licenses mailing list reviewed it. Then the license sat on the shelf for a few years (which is when it leaked out as the "Clarified Artistic License"). I picked it up in 2004 as part of my role as president of the Perl Foundation; licenses are one of those boring tasks nobody wants to do, but really need to get done. I worked on it together with intellectual property lawyer Roberta Cairney, with patent language review by Charles Gotleib. We took it through several reviews and revisions with Perl development teams, companies who use and distribute Perl, and the general Perl community.

TPR: How does the Artistic License relate to other popular open source licenses? For instance, how does it interact with GPL?

Allison: Artistic 2.0 is compatible with the GPL version 2 and version 3. This is an improvement over Artistic 1.0, which the FSF never considered compatible with the GPL. Artistic 2.0 code may also be redistributed under the LGPL, MPL or any pure "copyleft" license.

TPR: Why does the open source world need so many licenses?

Allison: That's a bit like asking "Why does the world need so many programming languages?" :)

There's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all software license. Different kinds of software, different project goals, and different developer philosophies all influence the choice of license. One example: the Artistic License allows proprietary versions of the code to be distributed under certain circumstances, the BSD license allows proprietary versions with no restrictions, and the GPL doesn't allow any proprietary versions of the code at all. All three positions are reasonable and fit with the goals of software freedom, and a project may pick one or the other depending on how they intend their software to be used.

The important thing is to allow developers room to choose the license that is the best fit for their software.

TPR: How often does the term IANAL ("I am not a lawyer") come up in the discussions for a new license?

Allison: Far too often. :)

TPR: Who wrote the original version of the Artistic License? When was it first used?

Allison: Larry wrote the original Artistic License. No license was specified for Perl version 1. Version 4.0.0 was released under GPL 1 with a few comments by Larry on his interpretation of the GPL. Version 4.0.36 had the Artistic License included, with only minor text differences to the license shipped with Perl 5 today. So, sometime between March 1991 and February 1993, the Artistic License was born. Sam Vilain can probably pin it down quickly with his git repository of Perl historical releases.

TPR: Will the Artistic License 2 last as long as the original?

Allison: I certainly hope so. Future-proofing was one of the major considerations in the revision. I expect this revision will last at least 10 years, if not 15 or 20.

TPR:The band REM recently 11 video cuts for their song, "Supernatural Serious", under the Artistic License 2, so people could construct their own song. Did TPF have any idea that was going to happen? How odd is it that the license leaked out of the software world?

Allison:It was a pleasant surprise. (Although, I still can't confirm that they actually released the files under the Artistic License. All I've seen are blog posts by random people saying that they did, but none of them point to anything but other blog posts. The website for the video files doesn't mention the Artistic License.)

TPR:Why would anyone want to choose the Artistic License over a Creative Commons license for a performing or visual arts project?

Allison:I can't answer for REM. The choice of license is generally a personal thing, with different reasons for every project.

TPR:Curiously, REM doesn't actually say what they are licensing. Their intent is for their fans to make their own videos. They've released the 11 video cuts, each without a license notice other than a hidden link on their website, and with corrupted and phase-shifted audio. Could someone license only part of a package under the Artistic License while maintaining other parts under more restrictive controls?

Allison: The fundamental nature of copyright law is that the copyright holder can release any part of their work any way they want.

TPR:What does "source" mean in this new area? Typically we think of it as typed instructions that we give to a compiler to create a final product. With music, there is data. How would someone distribute the "source" of a modification? Would that be the instructions used in the video editing program?

Allison: What the license covers is defined in the Artistic 2.0 as:

"Package" means the collection of files distributed by the Copyright Holder, and derivatives of that collection and/or of those files.

In this case, they released the video files, so you can remix and mash up the bits of those files in any way you want. Of course, you'll probably want to edit them using some form of video editor, so the result is actually useful. :) Distributing your changes means distributing your modified files.

When you get right down to it, there isn't that much difference between a source code file that an interpreter reads and then executes a series of actions, and a video file that a video player reads and then executes a series of action.

TPR:Have you heard the song? What do you personally think of the first music released under the Artistic License? Do you like REM's other work?

Allison: Musically I liked it. I generally like REM's music and the wider genre (which is clearly identifiable, but not really named). I looked for some open source-relevant message in the song that made them pick it to release. If I really stretch, I might read something into "At the summer camp they volunteered", but that's about it.