Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
Classic Games (Games)

Submission + - Ethics of selling GPLed software for the iPhone 11

SeanCier writes: "We're a small (two-person) iPhone app developer whose first game has recently been released in the app store. In the process, we've inadvertently stepped in it, bringing up a question of the GPL and free software ethics that I'm hoping the Slashdot community can help us clear up, one way or the other.

XPilot, a unique and groundbreaking UNIX-based game from the early/mid nineties, was a classic in its day but was forgotten and has been dead for years, both in terms of use and development. My college roommate and I were addicted to it at the time, even running game servers and publishing custom maps. As it's fully open source (GPLv2), and the iPhone has well over twice the graphics power of the SGI workstations we'd used in college, we decided it was a moral imperative to port it to our cellphones. In the process, we hoped, we could breathe life back into this forgotten classic (not to mention turning a years-old joke into reality). So we did so, and the result was more playable than we'd hoped, despite the physical limitations of the phone. We priced it at $2.99 on the app store (we don't expect it to become the Next Big Thing, but hoped to recoup our costs — such as server charges and Apple's annual $99 developer fee), released the source on our web page, then enthusiastically tracked down every member of the original community we could find to let them know of the hoped-for renaissance.

Which is where things got muddy. After it hit the app store, one of the original developers of XPilot told us he feels adamantly that we're betraying the spirit of the GPL by charging for the app (hopefully he'll chime in with a comment below; I'll leave him anonymous for now to avoid further stepping on toes).

That left us in a terrible spot. We'd thought we were contributing to the community and legacy of this game by reviving it, not stealing from them by charging for it — and didn't think $2.99 was unreasonable (and, again, the source is available for free from our page). It never occurred to us that one of the original creators would feel that we were betraying their contribution. We've discussed the philosophical fine points of free-as-in-speech vs. free-as-in-freedom with him, and have suggested a number of remedies — such as reducing the price (it's now $1.99), profit-sharing with previous contributors, making the game free at some point in the future (once we'd at least recouped our costs), or going "freemium" (offering a fully-functional free version plus a paid version with enhancements we added ourselves, with both GPLed of course). But in each case, the bottom line is that this developer feels the app should be free-as-in-beer period, and anything less is a sleazy betrayal of anybody that made contributions under that license. Which is a shame, because we deeply respect his work on this game and would love for him to be on board with the port — but at the same time this was months' worth of work and we honestly believe we're going about this in a reasonable way.

Obviously one of us has a non-mainstream understanding of open source ethos, but it's become clear we can't come to a consensus on which of us it is, and whether the "spirit of the GPL" allows selling GPLed software (especially when one wasn't the original creator of the software but a more recent contributor). The only way to determine that, it seems, is to poll the open source community itself.

We're determined to do the right thing by the GPL and the community. So here's our plan: we'd like anybody with an opinion on this to vote, and if the community feels that ethically this should be free-as-in-beer, we'll fix it by making it free, end of story. In order to make the vote clear and transparent to all participants, we'll use twitter. Remember, we're not talking about whether it's practical to base a business on GPLed software, nor the best business model for doing so, and certainly not whether the source must be distributed for free (obviously it must be), but just whether charging the binary version of an enhanced/ported version of a GPLed app (while releasing the corresponding source for free) is an ethically defensible thing to do.

If you feel that, ethically, any GPLed app must be given away for $0, include "#xpilot #freeasinbeer" in a tweet.

If you believe a binary version of a GPLed app may be sold with a clear conscience (as long as the source is distributed free of charge), include "#xpilot #freeasinspeech" in a tweet.

We'll count the tweets from unique accounts in one week and behave accordingly."

Comment Re:Perhaps I'm Naive, but (Score 2, Interesting) 392

Because that leads to exactly what we have now...using Flash for video. And a private company isn't going to cater to every niche platform/architecture.

Also, it's still left to the browser to implement. What specifying a format in the HTML5 standard does is allow the browsers to actually implement the feature since it gives them something concrete to reliably settle on. With HTML5 in all the major browsers, webmasters will then know they have another option that is widely available. This allows them to switch their video over to Theora|H264 and using the VIDEO tag, without worrying about isolating any users and knowing a wider array of devices will be supported.

As it stands now, for most web video you have to hope Adobe cares about your particular OS/Platform enough to cater to it (or that your platform will even let you use it, a la iPhone) . With an alternative standard implemented then all you have to worry about is if your browser, of which there are many to choose from, supports HTML5. There is no worrying about a private third party plugin that also comes with a fair amount of security holes.

Comment Re:Additional recommended reading (Score 1) 81

For those interested: http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~rja14/book.html
And a link straight to the book: http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~rja14/musicfiles/manuscripts/SEv1.pdf

Quote from the author:

My goal in making the first edition freely available five years after publication was twofold. First, I wanted to reach the widest possible audience, especially among poor students. Second, I am a pragmatic libertarian on free culture and free software issues; I think that many publishers (especially of music and software) are too defensive of copyright. (My colleague David MacKay found that putting his book on coding theory online actually helped its sales. Book publishers are getting the message faster than the music or software folks.) I expect to put the whole second edition online too in a few years.

I have a hard copy of this, and while I've only read a select few chapters I have to say I enjoy the book. Definitely recommended to anyone who has a interest in any kind of security, be it information security or anything all the way upto securing a nuclear missile.

Comment Re:um...grats? (Score 2, Insightful) 111

...people can be logged into iGoogle, and still block adsense and all the other crap they disapprove of.

You are logged into their servers. They don't need all that fancy javascript and other voodoo to track you. They know exactly who you are because you're sitting there screaming it at them. All they need to do is log it straight to your account.

Sure, AdSense on other sites might be blocked but anything you do on their servers while logged in is easily logged on their end.

Comment Re:Unpopular but interesting. (Score 2, Informative) 473

The source is cited but apparently you couldn't be bothered so here you go:


And here's an article that talks about it: http://www.historynet.com/men-against-fire-how-many-soldiers-actually-fired-their-weapons-at-the-enemy-during-the-vietnam-war.htm/print/

In a squad of 10 men, on average fewer than three ever fired their weapons in combat. Day in, day out - it did not matter how long they had been soldiers, how many months of combat they had seen, or even that the enemy was about to overrun their position. This was what the highly regarded Brigadier General Samuel Lyman Atwood Marshall, better known as S.L.A. Marshall, or 'Slam,' concluded in a series of military journal articles and in his book, Men Against Fire, about Americaâ(TM)s World War II soldiers. Marshall had been assigned as a military analyst for the U.S. Army in both the Pacific and Europe. The American, he concluded, comes 'from a civilization in which aggression, connected with the taking of life, is prohibited and unacceptable... The fear of aggression has been expressed to him so strongly and absorbed by him so deeply and pervadingly - practically with his mother's milk - that it is part of the normal man's emotional make-up. This is his great handicap when he enters combat. It stays his trigger finger even though he is hardly conscious that it is a restraint upon him.'

Comment Re:In New York, No Expectation Of Privacy In Your (Score 1) 206

For things in plain view. As in things they can see through your windows. For instance, if they see a pound of weed on your passenger seat then it's fair game.

They can't search the inside of your car or make you open the trunk. That is, unless they suspect you of a crime and are going to arrest you or if you let them (which you don't have to). But in that case they won't ask and they'll just search the car while you're handcuffed in the back of the cruiser.

I realize that means nothing when you're dealing with a cop on a power trip that's willing to lie on a final report. It is good to know though when dealing with most cops, especially the one's who can get very demanding and try to intimidate you.

Comment Re:Didn't notice... (Score 1) 176

I think my post may make it look like I'm running a *nix variant, but I'm running Windows. My firewall is set to allow any local network connections out of convenience. I hadn't even thought about blocking port 80 before and if I were just starting to use the hosts file to block ad servers that would be the best way. As of now though, I've come to like the logging part (and my firewall wouldn't make as detailed logs) and will be keeping this setup until I grow bored of the logs.

Comment Re:Format Suggestion (Score 1) 148

obviously, bittorrent to distribute the resulting set far and wide.

Well they're off to a good start as they're already running a torrent tracker for their Blue Marble image collections...

Off topic, but this quote from their FAQ is refreshing. They should share it with media companies and ISPs

I thought P2P and Filesharing were illegal!
This is a common misconception. BitTorrent, and peer-to-peer (P2P) are protocols, like HTTP and EMail. It is true that they can be used to share files illegally, but the same is true of HTTP. Our use here is legitimate, however, so you should have no need to be concerned.

Comment Re:Didn't notice... (Score 5, Interesting) 176

Indeed. I have a lighttpd instance running on my computer just for this reason. It serves up a single page containing only the following text:

404 - ad fail

And if anyone is wondering why I'm running an HTTP server just for this it's because serving the 404 kills the request much quicker than letting the browser timeout the connection. Lighttpd is very light on resources but also allows me to have access logs, which allows me to get some interesting data. For instance, I split the logs up by month and here are some of the sizes:

  • June (to date): 2.95 MB with 13,550 lines
  • May: 2.87 MB with 11,354 entries
  • April: 2.69 MB with 14,931 entries

I've also written a perl script to import the logs into an SQLite database. Which allows things like:

All hosts blocked with over 1,000 hits (from the aforementioned April to June logs)

req_subd req_domain Total hits

ad doubleclick 14556
www google-analytics 3927
media fastclick 3339
ads adbrite 1920
content pulse360 1692
ad yieldmanager 1158

Comment Re:What other papers? (Score 2, Insightful) 339

...people need to shun this circulation for its lack of journalistic integrity.

Considering the response the girl and her family received from the town after the rant was posted, I don't think the people in Coalinga care. If anything, the paper was only reinforced in its decision since it caused such reactions.

The response of the residents reminds of the response in the myspace suicide fiasco and yet no one was even hurt in this instance. All she did was rant about how she hates the town.

It seems to me she was right to despise Coalinga.

Comment Re:BAD summary (Score 1) 199

Second, there are multiple ways of encrypting the value 1. This is randomized encryption.

Wouldn't he still be able to value of that specific instance of that number? Given enough queries (or if they're able to figure out the data structure) couldn't this expose a lot of data, even if time consuming?

I'm not stating any of this is true, I'm just geniunely curious if it would work like that.

Comment Re:It's not google, it's the web developers (Score 1) 288

You are aware that both the examples you give (google front page and slashdot) both render with javascript off, right? They function as well. The javascript just adds more, it's not spitting out the main content.

Javascript should not be creating the main content on your site unless it's a "web application", and even then a lot of applications should still be able to produce something usable.

Slashdot Top Deals

Wherever you go...There you are. - Buckaroo Banzai