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Python News

08/14/2000

The biggest Python news of late is the release of Python 1.6b1 under a new license. Here is the story behind the license change:

While Guido van Rossum is Python's Benevolent Dictator For Life (BDFL), he doesn't actually own the Python code. That belongs to the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI). The initial copyright was owned by Stichting Mathematisch Centrum, in Amsterdam, and its previous license was a product of CWI, the National Research Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science in the Netherlands. CNRI gained ownership of Python when Guido went to work for them. It was part of the package he brought to CNRI. When they released their version of Python, they altered the license slightly, but it was still the CWI license.

Guido, after leaving CNRI, wanted to release Python 1.6 with a modified BSD license. CNRI didn't like that plan and shut down administrative access to the Python home pages to prevent its release under that license. They wanted to put a new CNRI license on it to replace the CWI license, which they said was not a proper license in any case. Actually, it is hard to say what a proper open source license is, since none have ever been challenged in court. Still, CNRI liked their proposed license better. Guido didn't. From this standoff began the negotiations for a new license.

It was in the interest of both sides to keep the other side happy. It was unclear who might win in a legal battle, and besides, CNRI still owned the python.org domain name and hosted the Python Software Activity and the Python Consortium. So negotiations began with Eric S. Raymond, Bruce Perens, and Richard Stallman in attendance. The negotiations were successful, and Python 1.6b1 was released with the new and improved CNRI license on August 4th. The only outstanding disagreement was between Stallman and CNRI over whether the "Virginia Clause," a clause that says the license will be governed by the Law of the State of Virgina, was GPL compatible. They are reportedly still discussing this and hope to have the issue resolved before the full release of Python 1.6 a week or so from now.

Python Lab's own release of 2.0 may still be covered by a new BSD-like license on top of the CNRI license, but until such a time as Python is completely rewritten from scratch (Python 3000?), it will be bound by the CNRI license as well.

My thanks to Tim Peters for keeping everyone informed on this in the comp.lang.python newsgroup. And my thanks to everyone involved in the negotiations for making sure we have a license we can all live with. We will have to live with it a long time.

Stephen Figgins administrates Linux servers for Sunflower Broadband, a cable company.


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