MovableBlog: MT License Debate

Nuance 2.0

June 24, 2003

There is a long (and sometimes heated) discussion about using MT as a hosted service at On The Third Hand. Some of it is misinformed, and as is their wont, Mena and Anil have stepped in to try to clarify some of the issues. This quote from Mena in the above discussion is relevant to my experience (and is also a reiteration and elaboration of what she said in the message boards):

It is *not* true that you can not offer for pay Movable Type support services. The payment of the $150 commercial license (by either the client or the contractor) entitles you to charge for support (installation, customization, design work). When we came up with that number, we figured that most contracts would far exceed the $150 amount and for most contractors, the fee would be nominal. We *never* imagined that a market of providing services for personal users would have flourished. We assumed that businesses (that could easily pay the $150 fee) would be contracting support services. We underestimated the personal user as client demand.

In a later comment she admits that the license needs clarification to include paid installations and other specific services with the payment of a commercial license. Update 11:46 PM: see Mena's comment to this post.

Other reactions here (not in chronological order):

Update June 26, 11:00 AM: Tweezer's edge points out that there is a thread about this that pre-dates the current debate by two months. Anil has a lengthy reply.

Posted by Richard at 11:06


Um, hello? Amisdt all of this mild, MT-is-god-fearing pseudo-discussion, barely anbody has dared offer up the fact that the verbage of the licensing agreement is badly, disasterously illegal, and quite often plain old unreadable.

Care to elaborate on the illegal part? Unreadable, that I can handle, but illegal? Citing some case law would help your case.

From the homepage:

"Based on the comments and questions raised about offering support services, we'll be revising our licenses and working on creating a Movable Type Developer/Service Provider Network that will rely more on a software/service-provider relationship rather than that of licensor/licensee. We'd love to hear what you think about this sort of a program and if you have any ideas or suggestions of how it would work best for you as a service-provider or developer."

We're working on revising the licenses and creating a support network. This has been a good reaffirmation that it's time for us to address the needs of developers and service providers.

Strange, "attorney." In four years of dealing with software licensing issues, I have never heard a license referred to as "illegal." The term "illegal" generally applies to criminal law, and not civil matters. There is no statute I'm aware of that is criminally violated by having certain license clauses drafted that could be judged unenforceable in a civil action. Your statement that the license is "badly, disasterously illegal, and quite often plain old unreadable" can't help but make me wonder how many software license agreements you've read. Which specific clauses are you referring to? Can you cite any precedent holding that any particular clause is "illegal?" Do you realise that a court will hold a license in full force and effect even if a certain clause if help invalid? (And the licenses, quite correctly, include a clause explicitly stating this.)
As someone who has a bit of experience in both the drafting and litigating of software license agreements under California jurisdiction, I am puzzled by this controversy. Laypeople could complain that any license is "confusing." The fact is, licenses are written in very specific legal language that is designed to spell things out very clearly for lawyers and courts. As a corporation, Six Apart would be in violation of its duty were they to try and draft a license easily understood by non-lawyers. I don't mean to sound like I'm on a high horse, but that is the way the system works.
I've read the licenses, and they are essentially boilerplate. I'm not saying they are models of the best software license agreements ever drafted - but I fail to see which sections are causing the confusion.
My friend Ed states that they are "hopelessly overbroad. " Personally, I don't see where he is reading that. All software license agreements contain very similar restrictions on how the licensor's software may be used, distributed, and modified. The reserved rights are very broad, but that is an industry standard, not something unique to the MT licenses.
Just my .02 from looking at it from a legal perspective.