Licensing, source ownership, binary ownership

Hi,

I was going to post this question under the “Cloud software” category, but considering that my questions extend to libraries and other things, “General” seems more appropriate.

I wonder when using a cloud-based IDE to develop for the Particle, who owns what? Here are 4 questions to start the discussion:

  1. Who owns the source code? Whose copyright is it?
  2. Are there any GPL, LGPL, or similarly licensed libraries that can compromise the ownership of one’s code? (if you like GPL, this isn’t the place to argue for or against it. I’m just asking about what’s in the Particle platform – whether there is any code with a license that impacts the license of your work).
  3. How about compiled binaries? Who owns the copyright to them?
  4. What can you say about the privacy and security of our source code?

Thanks much for addressing these questions. I numbered them so that none of them go overlooked in the discussion. If someone has additional questions to add to the discussion, I can add more to this topic.

Sauce

Hi @Sauce

If you earnestly have these questions and they are not just an academic curiosity, I would urge you to contact a lawyer knowledgable in copyright law. Any answer you get here will not really be worth anything. If this is for a product you are designing Particle devices into, you should also contact the business folks at Particle–they’re nice and can help point you in the right direction.

There is a vast amount of open-source code a Particle devices under a variety of licenses. I believe the intent is have your work not be infected by a license model you don’t want, but there are certainly some thorny questions possible here and legal advice on the Internet is worth what you paid for it.

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Hi @bko

Thanks for the response. You know, it’s really a question of prototyping before running out and talking to the lawyers. If it turns out any prototyping you, I, or anyone else does here turns into public domain or spark.io property, then this is not the platform for experimentation at all.

I’d like to start with an “academic” pursuit of my questions. If anything sounds iffy or questionable, I can decide what to do next from there.

Sauce

OK, I will play along, but I am not a lawyer and this does not constitute legal advice.

  1. You own the copyright in your source code assuming it is a new work and not just a copy of an example. The copyright model is the same as Microsoft Office 365 and a variety of other web-based editors.

  2. There are lots different licenses in the code base, including code from ST Micro, TI for the CC3000, Broadcom for WICED, the crypto library, Arduino and Particle themselves. Particle tries to make this hodgepodge of licenses work so that you are free and clear to use the software. Are there any hidden problems there? I dunno for sure but I believe Particle has checked.

  3. I would have said the binaries are “derived works” and not copyrightable, but courts have ruled otherwise for a variety of reasons. I don’t know who owns the copyright of the binary file since they are derived from your work and others works. Normally in this case they would be copyright jointly to you and your licensors.

  4. I believe that Particle egineers in the normal course of their work could access your programs stored in the web IDE but I think they only do so to help fix problems. This is not really any different from Dropbox or OneDrive or Office 365 or other online filestores.

@bko

Thanks. These questions are a little important so I want to make sure you can speak authoritatively on behalf of Particle?

Regarding #2 and #4 specifically? I’d like to make sure those are authoritative answers (that they looked at the licenses when building stuff for #2, and that they do not and will not use or distribute code of ours for #4).

As for #3, if binaries aren’t copyrightable, I can just go and use as many copies of Windows and Office for free by your argument of derived works. I just can’t copy their source code.

Coming back to your comment about being a lawyer. When I’ve discussed these things in the past, the lawyers have asked me “What license(s) do they use?” I don’t typically just dump them a tonne of money and they go and hunt for these things. Usually I’ve done the legwork, then they review it to make sure it makes sense. So lawyering up or not, this is a worthwhile conversation. Besides, if it turns out that the code was all GPL (for example), then the answer would be straight forward: anything you build that uses / links against it will also be GPL, and you have to be ok with that. No lawyer would be necessary in that case.

Sauce

I speak for no one but myself! If you want an answer from Particle, I suggest again that you contact their business development people and talk to them. I make no authoritative answers here (or anywhere else it turns out). If I did work for Particle (I don’t) I would advise them not to answer here lest it be construed as giving you legal advice.

To clear up one point: Binaries are 100% copyrightable but the legal basis for that decision makes no sense based on the law, that was my point.

I am just going to say it one more time–what ever answers you get here are not enough if you are serious about your questions.

<I_am_not_a_lawyer> As I’ve understood it, you only have to release the GPL code. Your source code that you write is yours to do whatever with. If you modify the GPL’ed code, you are obligated to release it. So, if you build a cool thing that uses all your own code except for the NeoPixel library, all you have to do is point to the NeoPixel library somewhere, but not the other code that you wrote. </I_am_not_a_lawyer>

A site that I use to reference this stuff quite often is https://tldrlegal.com/.

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@wgbartley

Are you sure you’re not mixing up GPL and LGPL?