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Apple modifies open source license

To mollify developers, Apple yanks an export clause that would have bound a person to U.S. law, and alters another provision.

Apple has modified its open source license agreement in response to criticism from the open source community.

Apple has completely yanked an export clause in the license that would have bound a person to U.S. law, even if shipping a product between two other countries.

In addition, the company has softened an "affected code" provision that allowed Apple to terminate the licenses of anyone using the code if somebody sued Apple for infringement of intellectual property rights. The license termination provision has been changed so Apple may suspend the license until the infringement claim is resolved by a court or the government, according to Ken Bereskin, an operating system technology marketing director for the Cupertino, California, company

Last month, Apple ignited debate when it debuted its Apple Public Source License (APSL), a program that opened parts of its Mac OS X source code for adoption and experimentation, along with its new Mac OS X Server product.

Although parts of its code ostensibly became freely available to developers, Apple retained legal control over how parts of the released code could be distributed. Apple now has backed down on two of the points that proved most controversial.

"It was clear there were a couple of things they were right on about," Bereskin said. "We listened to the community, and they did provide us very meaningful feedback."

Under the open source development model, the original software source code is made publicly available for anyone to see, modify, and adopt. The model has had its most striking success in the development of Linux and the Apache Web server.

Apple is among several companies testing the waters to see if open source will help them out, hoping that the exposure will fix bugs or popularize their own technologies. However, propagating source code far and wide can cause problems if the company runs into intellectual property rights issues.

Apple waited to upgrade the license to version 1.1 until Monday, when it released its QuickTime streaming technology to the open source community, Bereskin said.

Some developers are satisfied with the changes, but others are not.

Bruce Perens, an Open Source Initiative founder and one of the original detractors of the Apple license, was mollified. "This version of the APSL looks much better," Perens said at the Slashdot discussion site, a much-frequented haunt of open source advocates.

But not everyone was satisfied with the change of the termination clause to the suspension clause. "Note that it is not necessary that someone actually proves that the code infringes! All Apple needs to take the code away from you is to find someone willing to CLAIM an infringement. Then Apple can suspend your rights until the case is settled, which can take a very long time, as we all know," programmer Mark Probst said at Slashdot.

In the first month since Apple began its open source project, called Darwin, more than 20,000 developers have registered at the site and there have been more than 160,000 downloads of Darwin components, Bereskin said.

In addition, some of Apple's technology has made it outside Apple, he said. Sassafras has built Appletalk networking technology into its Keyserver product, and Apple's NetInfo technology has been made available for Linux, he said. NetInfo is a database technology that stores user, group, and password information for the collective use of several Mac OS X Servers.

Bereskin said Apple is happy with the license as it stands now, but didn't rule out future changes.