PARIS - Researchers at three French government-funded research organizations this week revealed something they hope will increase the spread of free, open source software in the country: a new license they say is compatible with the Free Software Foundation Inc.'s GNU General Public License (GPL).
Plenty of free software licenses exist already, but they are mostly written in English, from the point of view of the U.S. legal system, which can pose a problem in countries where the legal system is based on different assumptions.
The new license, known as CeCILL, is intended to make free software more compatible with French law in two areas where it differs significantly from U.S. law: copyright and product liability.
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 license is intended for knowledgeable users, it allows software developers to limit their responsibility under French law, said Gérard Giraudon, head of development and industrial partnerships at INRIA. Nevertheless, they must take some responsibility, which is reassuring for software's users, he said.
Copyright is another area that differs under French and U.S. law. 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. Some aspects of CeCILL were necessary to take this into account, Giraudon said.
Like some other open-soucre licenses, CeCILL is designed so that CeCILL-protected works "contaminate" other software in which they are incorporated, so that that work too must be released under the CeCILL license, Giraudon said. In that respect, it is much like the GPL, he said. In addition, CeCILL includes a term that explicitly says that any work released under CeCILL may also be incorporated into works released under the GPL, and subsequently released under the GPL, he said.
CeCILL is the first in a family of licenses, he added. Others variations planned will have different characteristics, making them more like French versions of the LGPL (Lesser GPL) or BSD open source licenses, 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.
The authors have also published an English version of the license, which can be found at http://www.inria.fr/valorisation/logiciels/Licence.CeCILL-V1.US.pdf