- First, the old code is often very old. The people who wrote it may no longer be with the company, it is no longer part of a current product, and people sometimes can't even be sure where it originally came from before Sun put it on Usenet. You have to find the original code if you're to make any progress at all. Doing so might mean retrieving crates of paper from long-term storage and crawling through them.
- Second, once the code is located, a legal expert has to look at the origins of the code and maybe once again crawl through retrieved paperwork to find the contracts behind the code. Their job would be to determine if Sun actually has the right to change the license at all.
- Third, someone had to believe it is their job with respect to the code in question to act on Sun's behalf to evaluate the change, authorize it, and bind the company officially.
All this is time-consuming and expensive, and without a current code owner inside Sun it was touch-and-go whether anyone could find either the staff time or the budget to run a license change through to completion.
With help from friends both at Debian and at Red Hat, we managed to identify some modern OpenSolaris code that matched the code in Linux. This was a key step. It meant we could trace ownership through the comprehensive records for OpenSolaris and start the process moving. By early 2009, we finally reached the point where we felt comfortable to relicense the Sun code involved. I got permission from both the legal team and the management at Sun and announced (and blogged) at Fosdem in Brussels that it would be okay to relicense the old code.
But then there was some sort of foul-up after it was all agreed, and Red Hat (which was making the change) never received documentation of the decision that was sufficient to give it confidence it was all over. Red Hat tried contacting people at Sun, but by then acquisition of Sun by Oracle was in full swing and no one was allowed to make any changes affecting copyrights any more. Even though it had all been decided, no one in the legal department was comfortable giving Red Hat the documentation it felt was essential to confirm the decision. So the changes were rolled back, much to everyone's disappointment (not least mine).
But Spot persisted and finally got confirmation in an acceptable form from an Oracle VP, Wim Coekaerts, that permission to make the change had indeed been granted. So, at long last, the license is changed, glibc is free software, and we can all breathe easy that this can't cause copyright infringement suits against Linux. Congratulations to Spot for his tenacity! Spot has more information and his view of what happened over at LiveJournal.