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French licence will improve access to open source software

Researchers at three French government funded research organisations have introduced a new licence which is compatible with the Free Software Foundation's GNU General Public License (GPL).

Plenty of free software licences exist already, but they are mostly written in English, from the point of view of the US legal system, which can pose a problem in countries where the legal system is based on different assumptions.

The new licence, known as CeCILL, is intended to make free software more compatible with French law in copyright and product liability, where it differs significantly from US law.

Under French law consumer product manufacturers cannot decline all responsibility for their products - yet the would-be developers of many open-source projects, without corporate backing, cannot afford to expose themselves to unlimited financial risk.

CeCILL offers a way around this. By declaring that software offered under the licence is intended for knowledgeable users, it allows software developers to limit their responsibility, said Gérard Giraudon, head of development and industrial partnerships at INRIA. Nevertheless, they must take some responsibility, which is reassuring for software users, he said.

In France, software copyright is governed by laws relating to artistic and literary creations, not commercial intellectual property. However, unlike most works of art where the copyright belongs to the author, copyright in a piece of software belongs to the company paying for the work.

Like some other open-soucre licences, CeCILL is designed so that protected works "contaminate" other software in which they are incorporated, so that that work too must be released under the CeCILL licence, Giraudon said. In addition, any work released under CeCILL may also be incorporated into works released under the GPL, and subsequently released under the GPL.

CeCILL is the first in a family of licences, according to Giraudon. Other variations planned will have different characteristics, making them more like French versions of the LGPL (Lesser GPL) or BSD open-source licences, which allow the use or inclusion of open-source code with commercial works under certain conditions.

The name CeCILL is derived from the names of the three research institutes that created it -- the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the National Research Institute for Computing and Automation (INRIA) -- and the French words for free software, "logiciel libre".

 An English version of the licence can be found at www.inria.fr/valorisation/logiciels/Licence.CeCILL-V1.US.pdf

Peter Sayer writes for IDG


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