Thursday, February 19, 2009

Funniest copyright license?

From a Debian bug report comes the copyright license for a file from a LaTeX package:

% This should appear in a file named diagram.tex
% Copyright 1988,1989 Michael Barr
% All commercial rights reserved. May be freely distributed
% and used with the following exceptions:
% 1. No commercial use without explicit permission.
% 2. It may not be used by any employee of a telephone
% company.
% 3. It may not be distributed without this notice.

You have to wonder what the author had against telephone companies.

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Telephone companies certainly loomed far larger in 1988-9 than they do now -- both in terms of actual economic influence and the kind of public perception that creates grist for conspiracy theorists.

"Ma Bell" was a truly vast legal monopoly until broken up by the federal government. The mandated breakup into regional phone companies was effective January 1, 1984. It appears that this notice was written only 4-5 years later -- well before cell phones and VOIP became ubiquitous and anyone could ask seriously whether AT&T would survive at all.

Also, Bell Labs funded all kinds of R & D for decades and took aggressive positions about what IP it owned, so maybe the guy's tongue-in-cheek paranoia (I'll give him the benefit of the doubt) wasn't entirely unfounded.
Perhaps it's a reference to Spider and Jeanne Robinson's Stardance, where the protagonist has a long-standing grudge against the telephone company, due to events that end up shaping certain aspects of the plot? I wouldn't put it beyond someone (even if it's a more than rather tenuous theory).
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