Intellectual Property and Dead Souls

Updated 27 December 2006

When I began work on Dead Souls, I hadn't
thought that I'd have much to worry about, in terms
of intellectual property, or IP. Little did I know!

There have been some areas of concern for
folks in this regard, and this article is intended
to clarify my actions and intent when it comes to
Dead Souls and IP.

First, let's establish some basics:

Basic concepts of copyright in the US
as relevant to MUDs

The main DS IP issues break down into
four main categories:

The legal status of Dead Souls

The controversy over Cygwin GPL violation

The controversy over Mudmagic and GPL revocation

The question of MudOS distribution

Basic concepts of copyright in the US as relevant to MUDs

What copyright is.
When copyright obtains.
Some limitations established.
The meaning of consideration.
The meaning of licensing.
The nature of revocation.
Contracts and revocation.
Public domain.

1) Copyright is a feature of US law explicitly outlined in the body
of the US Constitution. It is intended to protect a person's right
to their own creative works in order to provide incentive for
people to enrich society through their creative efforts.

2) The moment you write something original, it obtains copyright. It
is not necessary to "register" it. When you place it into tangible
form, you have copyright. For example, this web page is copyrighted
by me, even if you don't see my name on it, or a date, or that
(c) symbol. If you have a document you didn't write, you must
assume it is copyrighted and treat it as such, until you know
for sure that it is otherwise.

3) When you have copyright on something, it means that nobody can
distribute it, or a work derived from it, without your express permission.
It doesn't matter whether they make money or not. The commercial
use isn't the issue. The copying is the issue. That's why it's
"copyright" not "commerceright".

4) "Consideration" is a legal term which roughly means an exchange
of value. If you give me money (or promise to do so) to use my lawnmower,
that is consideration and really, it isn't "borrowing", because
we've entered into a "contract" involving the use of the lawnmower.

5) "Licensing" is a legal term for allowing people to use your work.
There are many kinds of licensing. If consideration is provided to
secure the licensing, this can constitute a contract. The difference
between "license" and "contract" is important. Note they are
not mutually exclusive.

6) With the exception of something called "estoppel", a copyright
holder can revoke a license at any time, if that license is not
contractual. If you borrow my lawnmower, I can demand to have it
back any time I want.

Yes, this means that GPL can be revoked.

Please re-read that. It is correct.

If you write a program called LeetFooProg, and GPL it, and put it
on SourceForge, you can then go back the next day and tell everyone
who downloaded that program for free that you're revoking GPL and they
can't use it any more.

This is a concept that is very, very upsetting to some people,
because it means that a lot of the software they use (in many
cases, all of the software they use) can go away in a puff of smoke,
if the copyright holder goes crazy and decides to revoke license.

In theory, Linus Torvalds could wake up tomorrow, insist that
the Linux kernel license is now null, and a lot of people would have
to then go use some other operating system.

In the context of a mud, that means that if someone builds some
stuff on your mud for free, then decides to revoke your license to have
it in your mud, you are legally obligated to remove it.

However upsetting this concept is, that's just how it works.

Some people find this 100% intolerable, because it means that they
have to deal with the fact that people over whom they think
they are "boss" actually have authority over features of their mud.
If you are among those people, don't flame me because you wish
things were different. Change your ways or change your mud so that
you are no longer exposed.

For others, it's just unacceptable that the creator of their
codebase could, on a whim, show up and tell them they have to use
some other codebase. If you run Diku, and any one of the Diku
copyright holders showed up and told you to stop using his material,
you need to do so. Period. For some mud owners, that's a pretty
scary thought.

7) If the license is contractual, it may not be possible for the
copyright holder to revoke it. If we enter into a bargain for you to
use my lawnmower for a single week for $10, I cannot then insist on
getting my lawnmower back before the term of the contract expires.
A new contract could be required for that, depending on controlling
legal custom. Similarly, if I pay you to use LeetFooProg, it may
be (depending on the wording of the contract and the applicable
jurisdiction) that you cannot revoke my right to use it.

This is a bit squishier. Your municipality may, for example,
have an overriding Lawnmower Act that supercedes any authority
outlined in a contract within its jurisdiction. Similarly, you
may be a US citizen party to a contract with a foreign national
whose locality invalidates your licensing expectations.

In general, though, the exchange of consideration tends to give
the user somewhat more protection from arbitrary license
revocation (but read that EULA!).

8) A circumstance that obviates the need for license worries
is the use of material which is public domain. Public domain
material does not have a copyright holder, and is therefore
free from copyright-based limitations on its use.

Public domain material is also non-copyrightable. Nobody gets
a second bite at that apple. Once it's free, it's free. If
you add some chapters to the Cratylus, and make some aesthetic
alterations to the original text (redactions perhaps), then
you hold copyright to the additions, but not to the original
text itself. That original still belongs to everyone.

Of course, this assumes you're altering the original ancient
Greek text or using Jowett, since an English-language version
of it could be a copyrighted translation. Never assume your
source material is PD, ph.D.'s.

9) Things are much, much more complex than it might seem
from the above information. Intellectual property law is
a somewhat involved subject. The preceding points are an
introduction to my understanding of how it works relevant to
people interested in running a mud. Before you make decisions
related to copyright, be sure to consult a lawyer with
expertise specific to the legal aspects of the nature of
that decision.

10) You may register disagreement with the preceding points
at the discussion forum for it. Please note that
impoliteness is not appreciated and flames are moved to a
flame section.

The legal status of Dead Souls

The original, not-touched-by-me version is 1.1pre, and it is public domain.

There is a cleaned up version of 1.1pre, which is called 1.1. It is public domain.

There is a modernized, updated version called 2.1.1. It is NOT public domain.

A new public domain version has been released, composed of most of what
is in 2.1.1. It is Dead Souls II.

For complete details on all the versions, see this page.

The controversy over Cygwin GPL violation

In early 2006, I released a version of Dead Souls
packaged with a Windows-compatible executable. This let
people run Dead Souls on their Windows computer.

For this to work, it needed some special files
called "dll's" to enable the executable to run on computers
which did not have Cygwin software. These Cygwin dll's
are provided by Cygwin under GPL. I included these dll's
in the Dead Souls release.

What I did not understand at the time is that
distributing the dll's without access to their source code
was not permitted by GPL.

I provided access to the source code as required,
and the controversy subsided for a while.

Then there was a new ruckus because the Windows
compatible executable had been compiled using non-GPL
source, but linked with GPL libraries, which in the view
of some people is not permitted by GPL.

So then with the great help of a Dead Souls
stalwart named Saquivor, I ditched Cygwin entirely and used
MinGW to create a Win32 native executable that can be
run on windows without the taint of GPL.

That's it. That's the whole story. Some folks have
chosen to inflate this event into allegations of Dead Souls
containing "stolen" code, which is as baffling to me as it
is untrue.

The controversy over Kyndig and GPL revocation

In early 2006 there was a big hullabaloo over the
actions of a person known as Kyndig. He banned some
people from his site, which caused a lot of displeasure.

Much of Kyndig's unsavory behavior and his policies
were discussed. After examining the
available information, I determined that I did not
want to be associated with Kyndig. I decided to pull
Dead Souls from his repository, and I then revoked his privilege
to host it, for good measure.

This evoked a howl of protest from someone named Tyche,
who spent some effort in excoriating my action as unacceptable.

The ensuing flames unfortunately obscured the issue. For
some time I assumed Tyche simply had a problem with me personally,
due to the fact that he had been the one rudely hounding me
about copyright stuff before (he'd been the prime mover of
the Cygwin controversy and went so far as getting DS removed
from MudMagic back then) and due to the rather unhinged
and disproportionate bombast of his assaults.

Turns out the bigmouth had a point, though.

When I revoked Kyndig's right to host Dead Souls, I had
assumed I couldn't really do that. Like many people even today,
I thought that once a set of bits is GPL'ed, it's
beyond the reach of the whims of the author. However,
as my understanding of copyright law gained in sophistication,
I saw that my action wasn't just an empty gesture of
repudiation. It was an act with actual legal ramifications,
potentially invalidating the licensing on all GPL'ed distributions
of Dead Souls.

Upon arriving at this understanding, I reversed my policy
on Kyndig's privilege to host Dead Souls (not that I expect
him to avail himself of it!). It is no longer a question of
my interest in who does or does not host the files, but
rather a question of whoever wants to host them being
subject to the packaged license and applicable laws.

Unfortunately, the preceding flames had already degenerated
into ad hominem stuff, and it provided occasion for people
who disagreed with me on *anything* to then raise the
specter (purely FUD) of me running around revoking licenses.

Entirely unfounded, from my perspective, but how could
a potential Dead Souls adopter know for sure? The harm was
already done.

I think that the FUD is now effectively mitigated by
the release of Dead Souls II, a public domain version
which is entirely immune from my theoretical revocations.
The fact is that it would be entirely against my interests
to go about doing what Tyche and KaVir have implied
or suggested I might, but if you can't stand even the
slightest chance that I might wake up, lose my marbles,
and start a revocation jihad, then you can just use
Dead Souls II and sleep sound as a baby, knowing your
mud is entirely free of my caprice.

The question of MudOS distribution

The question of MudOS distribution hinges partly on
tradition. It's been a generally accepted custom to include
driver source code with lib distributions, and this is
because sometimes getting a vanilla driver to run one's
lib is not easy, and the idea of a distribution is to
help others get going somewhat conveniently. Including
the lib-customized source for the driver is a logical
and widely approved-of policy.

However, it's good to get permission anyway,
when possible.
I emailed Marius, the current maintainer, for
his permission to bundle MudOS with Dead Souls. I got
no reply, but I came upon this: Marius tells someone off

In that document you can see that Marius would
have been happy to let someone not only copy MudOS, but
actually take it over completely and lead it forward...
if only they had emailed him first. The key part of this
document is where he states,

"That's all it would have taken to get my blessing, either
implicitly as a result of my silence (which is most likely
what you would have gotten), or explicitly by my saying so
in response."

This is about as clear a signal as I was likely
to get as to how the copyright holder felt about the
general distribution (indeed, maintainership) of MudOS.

Then, thanks to the sharp looking out of Skout, I
was able to find Marius and we had the following conversation.
The only editing done here was excluding the noisy "Joe enters the room."
type messages, and formatting for clarity:

You tell Verbal: howdy. i'm the maintainer of dead souls, and i'm told you
maintain mudos. i'd like to ask for your explicit blessing in what I'm doing: (this url edited on 27DEC2006 -ed.)

Verbal tells you: Yep, that's me. I am also Marius of
Verbal tells you: I got your email, but unfortunately my response bounced.
Verbal tells you: I'm fine with you distributing the MudOS driver bundled with Dead Souls.
Verbal tells you: I would ask that you contribute any patches you've applied to the mudos-patches mailing list, though.

You tell Verbal: sure thing. sorry i had to idle, visiting a friend in the hospital
You tell Verbal: i'll submit the diffs for sure...i'd just thought the list was dead
You tell Verbal: if you don't mind, i'll use a transcript of our conversation
on my webpage, so anyone in doubt can have their mind set at ease.

Verbal tells you: no problem. all of the lists are still alive, though there's
not much traffic.
Verbal tells you: go ahead and use the transcript. that's cool.

To the best of my ability to tell, it really is the
man himself I was talking to. Anyway, I hope it was, because
if it wasn't and he reads this, he might get awful pissed!

Dead Souls Homepage