Microsoft Changes Licensing Conditions Following EU Verdict

Oct 29, 2007

In the light of a ruling by the European Commission, Microsoft has now published revised license terms for interoperability.

The EU decision forces Microsoft to give competitors access to program code, besides confirming a million dollar fine. As a reaction to this, the new rules titled "Microsoft Work Group Server Protocol Program License Agreements for Development and Product Distribution" (WSPP Development Agreements) have now been published on the corporate website. What Microsoft means by WSPP is the development of server or desktop software for collaboration with Microsoft products. In the introduction to the lengthy announcement, Microsoft explains which claims contractual partners can make under WSPP licenses. The licenses will include the documentation required to implement the protocols, combined with "intellectual property" agreements. At the same time, contractual partners are entitled to free technical support in case of questions on the documentation, they are permitted to review the Windows Server code, and will receive "protocol syntax analysis software" as a support tool.

Under a heading of "Microsoft's Patent Pledge for Open Source Projects" irrevocably promises to free software developers not to assert any legal claims for the use of the covered implementations. Microsoft then goes on to restrict the scope of this promise, saying that this relates to "source code which is freely distributed, modified or copied pursuant to an open source license, and is not commercially distributed by its participants". Because many Open Source licenses explicity permit commercial exploitation of free software, Microsoft thought a more granular explanation was necessary and refers to income from software licenses, update contracts and other fees that users pay for the source code.

The Samba project could be one of the first customers for the new Microsoft license. Samba as developer Volker Lendecke told Linux Magazine. Samba is a free software that makes the Server Message Block Protocol (SMB) available to Linux and Unix systems, and can thus provide Windows server functionality. Right now, the Samba team is working on software to improve interoperability between Samba Windows servers, and Microsoft's Active Directory.

Based on an appraisal by the legal experts at Groklaw, the document that is relevant for Samba is a paper (PDF) titled "No Patents". This license agreement for the Workgroup Server includes all 44 pages. According to Volker Lendecke a team led by Eben Moglen from the Software Freedom Law Center is currently working on the papers, and seeks to advise the free project on whether acquiring the license makes sense.

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