7

I went to check the election results after the Ask Ubuntu and noticed that there were download links to the GPL-licensed OpenSTV without a link to or an offer to provide the source code, as required by the GPL:

  1. You may copy and distribute the Program (or a work based on it, under Section 2) in object code or executable form under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above provided that you also do one of the following:

    a) Accompany it with the complete corresponding machine-readable source code, which must be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

    b) Accompany it with a written offer, valid for at least three years, to give any third party, for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code, to be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

    c) Accompany it with the information you received as to the offer to distribute corresponding source code. (This alternative is allowed only for noncommercial distribution and only if you received the program in object code or executable form with such an offer, in accord with Subsection b above.) – GNU General Public License version 2, section 3

However, on sites where I don't have enough rights to vote, such as Gaming.SE, the page does link to the source code, although it's still not GPL compliant because it's hosted by a third party.

Now, as far as I can tell from reviewing the source code linked to when not logged in / not having enough reputation to vote, the program was written by a single author, so you may have gotten permission from the author to distribute it under a proprietary license; I can't tell if this is what Jeff means in his answer on a related question.

(The linked source code repository also had some problems with files that likely didn't belong in it being present; it would be nice to be able to compare it original, unmodified source code if StackExchange still has it.)

Anyway, I feel it would be a good thing to provide the source code regardless if you've got permission to do so without, if only to be consistent.

Also, it's a bit ironical to only offer Mac & Windows versions of the program at the Ask Ubuntu election results page. It worked fine with Wine, though.

TL;DR: please link to the OpenSTV source even for people who have enough reputation to vote.

  • 2
    Hm, I'm not sure why we even have different messages for users who can(not) vote in an election. There's nothing different to display there in either case. – animuson Jul 4 '16 at 15:43
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    @animuson IIRC our agreement with OpenSTV folks allows us to distribute the (old version of the) software only to people eligible to vote (hence the different message and also, presumably, the lack of source link). I don't know the exact details of the agreement, though. – Adam Lear Jul 4 '16 at 19:20
  • @Adam isn't OpenSTV GPL? – cat Jul 5 '16 at 0:29
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    @cat Off the top of my head... I think the new/current version is. The version we distribute isn't/wasn't at the time the agreement was penned. I'll have to double check. – Adam Lear Jul 5 '16 at 0:29
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It's not quite a violation beyond the definition of the word, because the copyright holder isn't enforcing the GPL. Let me give you some background.

When we first put a system in place to hold democratic moderator elections, OpenSTV was actively distributed under the terms of the GPL (v2 or later). Anyone could use it, provided that they complied with the terms of the GPL should they distribute it.

OpenSTV also had a standing request that if institutional use was the intended use case that the agency conducting the election consider a donation to its development. We did that, because it was the right thing to do, which got us their permission (even though we didn't technically need it, because of the GPL) to distribute the software to our users.

None of that changed, but they've subsequently taken down the source code, which leaves us in this rather awkward place. The simplest solution at this point is taking the GPL out of the mix altogether, or possibly just relying on the web service that they provide. We'll get in touch with them. Even though no one is going to get mad and sue anyone, I don't like that we're not able to technically comply with the terms of the GPL, I'd rather just see if they can provide us with a simpler free-to-use-for-your-users kinda thing, or help us just automate everything over to their web service.

Edit (for clarity)

We were given the ability to distribute the 'compiled' version of OpenSTV by the authors, specifically for the manner that we intended to distribute it. What we didn't get at the time was any other license, and the only license that existed out in the public for the project was the GPL.

We had their direct permission to distribute the software in the manner that we were, in the manner that they wanted us to do it. The fact that they later stopped making the source code available is another matter, but one that is easily transposed on our situation. What we should have asked for was a much more deliberate dual license for our use, but no one thought that the project would be anything but GPL.

I think what we're going to end up doing is simply finding a way to push the results directly to their web service, as that's the simplest way.

  • Yes but... the GPL is intended to require that every intermediate step that's doing any real distributing also have the source code on hand to pass out directly — for, among other things, exactly this kind of scenario. So if this is the way you had it, where users needed to go to the OpenSTV site separately somehow on their own if they wanted the source, I'm not sure you were ever technically in compliance at all. – Nathan Tuggy Jul 9 '16 at 8:52
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    @NathanO'TᴇstingTuggy In hindsight, we should have just asked for a more deliberate dual license from them, but no one thought that the code wouldn't be available in the future. I made an edit to that effect, as it's kind of complicated and difficult to explain. – Tim Post Jul 9 '16 at 12:18

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