Thursday, April 21, 2011

Planamesa Charges For NeoOffice 3.2:
"Required Donation"
vs Requested Donation


Please Note: I am not a lawyer and an only provide here my personal speculation about this situation. Therefore, nothing I state here is definitive. I have to leave the resolution of this situation to legal experts.

This past week, Planamesa revealed that they are charging $10 or more for a compiled copy of NeoOffice version 3.2. NeoOffice is derived from OpenOffice and therefore must adhere to the licensing required by OpenOffice in its derivative products.

What has created controversy, and what may be a matter of illegal behavior, is that Planamesa call the payment they 'require' a 'donation.' It is not possible to require a donation. A donation can only be freely given and cannot affect your access to anything covered by a donation. In other words, NeoOffice is required to be free to everyone who wishes to NOT provide a 'donation.'

Having reviewed the licensing for OpenOffice, I have found that Planamesa us provide open, or 'free', access to all source code using and derived from OpenOffice source code. They have in fact done that. Instructions for downloading and compiling NeoOffice v3.2 source code on a properly configured Mac is provided HERE.

Is Planamesa able to request donations? Obviously they are. Is Planamesa able to require payment for NeoOffice? Yes they are. This is made clear by reading through both the OpenOffice license, GNU LGPL v3 (Lesser General Public License) required by the Free Software Foundation, as well as their 'Free Software Definition'. As is stated in the Definition:
“Free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer.”
. . .
Thus, you should be free to redistribute copies, either with or without modifications, either gratis or charging a fee for distribution, to anyone anywhere.
. . .
When talking about free software, it is best to avoid using terms like “give away” or “for free,” because those terms imply that the issue is about price, not freedom.
 It is well worth reading through the details of each of these relevant documents in order to understand the intended meaning of 'free' software, as opposed to software for which a fee cannot be charged. The only thing required to be 'free' in both senses is the source code for NeoOffice.

Before reading through these documents, I was as confused as any neophyte as to the specific meaning of 'free' in the context of Open Source software. For most computer users, there is no comprehension of the difference between 'source code' and 'compiled code'. Planamesa continue to adhere to the GNU LGPL v3 license when they charge money for the compiled version of NeoOffice 3.2. It was through their kindness to the computer community that they did not previously charged for compiled versions of NeoOffice and that the compiled version 3.1.2 of NeoOffice through Patch 8 remains free of charge.

What is clearly wrong is their continued use of the word 'donation' when applied to what is undeniably an actual charge for compiled NeoOffice v3.2. There is no such thing a 'required donation'. Let's delve into the obvious. Here is one definition of 'donation' taken from Apple's provided New Oxford American Dictionary:

donation |dōˈnā sh ən|
something that is given to a charity, esp. a sum of money : a tax-deductible donation of $200....
• the action of donating something.
ORIGIN late Middle English : via Old French from Latin donatio(n-), from the verb donare, based on donum ‘gift.’
Compare this definition to that for the word 'charge':
charge | ch ärj|
verb [ trans. ]
1 demand (an amount) as a price from someone for a service rendered or goods supplied : the restaurant charged $15 for dinner | [with two objs. ] he charged me 20,000 lire for the postcard | [ intrans. ] museums should charge for admission.
• ( charge something to) record the cost of something as an amount payable by (someone) or on (an account) : they charge the calls to their credit-card accounts.
 Clearly, Planamesa are asking a CHARGE for their software. The 'required donation' phrase is incoherent as there is no freely given 'gift' involved at all. The CHARGE is MANDITORY. A DONATION is NEVER manditory.

Anecdote Corner:
I recall visiting a church in England where everyone was queued up to pay the 'donation' to get in and look around at the architecture. Being a dirt poor student at the time, I said to the lady at the booth that I was not going to give a donation. She became thoroughly huffy and rude, attempting to shame me into handing over the requested specific donation. I said no. After her mental attack had ended, I was of course allowed through the queue into the church, as is ever the case when one does NOT provide an actual 'donation'.

Is it possible to download the compiled version of NeoOffice v3.2 without gifting Planamesa a donation? No it is not. That is because a charge is required, NOT a 'donation'.

That's extent of the contention over NeoOffice v3.2 at this point. Of course this is complicated by Planamesa's NeoOffice project being nonprofit, essentially a charity, which by definition only accepts payment as donations, not charges. But a 'donation' is NOT what they are 'requiring', obviously. One cannot 'require' a 'donation' at any time unless one is a crook using deceitful verbiage, such as might be the case with the Mafia requiring a 'donation' for their services, meaning that you either pay up or you won't get the services.

The simple solution is for Planamesa to return to the actual way one runs a nonprofit organization and only ASK for a donation.

Meanwhile, I will be downloading and compiling the FREE source code for NeoOffice v3.2 myself. Amusingly, once I have done so, according to the GNU license and definition of 'free software', I too am able to charge money to anyone who may wish to have my compiled copy. Please send me $10 for each copy you would like and I will provide you with a URL from which you can download it as a .DMG file. (This is offer is not intended to be a factual statement ;-).

Does my charging for compiling OpenOffice's and Planamesa's code sound fair to you? What if I instead called it a donation but I wouldn't give it to you until you paid up? According to the applicable GNU licensing, I can charge you money for my compiled code. It's legal. But is it legal if I change the name of that charge to a 'donation'? Or is it merely a question of mangled and destroyed semantics?

It's going to be interesting to see what happens in this case. I'm wondering if the EFF (Electronic Freedom Foundation) will speak up on the matter. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, if you'd like to entirely steer clear of this strangeness, I highly recommend using LibreOffice, another OpenOffice branch project, which is entirely free of charge, donations  requested.

[Clearly, I have over-explained my point of view regarding this matter. But I consistently find that in this sort of situation it is extremely useful to be more than clear. Thank you for your patience.]