The Artistic License is a license for open source software that was originally developed for the Perl programming language. It is now also used for a variety of other open source software as well.
There is no relationship to the much more commonly used term artistic license (i.e., the same spelling but both words begin with lower case letters rather than capital letters), which refers to the distortions of reality that are sometimes incorporated into creative works for aesthetic or other purposes. Examples include paintings in which buildings or other objects are rearranged or otherwise modified in order to improve the composition (i.e., appearance) of the painting or movies in which a true story is modified to add to audience appeal.
The Preamble to the original version of the Artistic License states that its purpose is to
. . . state the conditions under which a Package may be copied, such that the Copyright Holder maintains some semblance of artistic control over the development of the package, while giving the users of the package the right to use and distribute the Package in a more-or-less customary fashion, plus the right to make reasonable modifications.
The license is based on the principles that any modified versions of a program should be prominently labeled as such and that all modifications should be made available for incorporation into the standard version.
The Artistic License has been criticized for being ambiguous and thus difficult to interpret. Its critics contend that it is sloppily worded in that it sets requirements but also provides loopholes that make it easy to bypass those requirements. Thus, they claim, it is not necessarily a free software license.
In particular, Section 5 prohibits the sale of software released under the Artistic License software by itself, yet it permits the sale of a combined package containing such software together with some other program. Thus, for example, if a developer bundles a program released under the Artistic License with even a very small, elementary program, the bundle is permitted to be sold. The text of Section 5 is as follows:
5. You may charge a reasonable copying fee for any distribution of this Package. You may charge any fee you choose for support of this Package. You may not charge a fee for this Package itself. However, you may distribute this Package in aggregate with other (possibly commercial) programs as part of a larger (possibly commercial) software distribution provided that you do not advertise this Package as a product of your own. You may embed this Package's interpreter within an executable of yours (by linking); this shall be construed as a mere form of aggregation, provided that the complete Standard Version of the interpreter is so embedded.
The Artistic License has been declining in popularity, and most software released under it is now dual-licensed with the GNU General Public License (GPL). This situation might be a result of its ambiguity and the resulting difficulty in interpreting it. The GPL is by far the most frequently used license for open source software.
Attempts at Correction
Several attempts have been made to overcome the ambiguities and contradictions in the original Artistic License. They include the Artistic License Version 2.0, the Clarified Artistic License and the Modified Artistic License (MAL).
The Artistic License Version 2.0 is not yet (as of mid-2004) being used for any major software project, but it is under consideration for use with the upcoming Perl 6 as part of a dual licensing scheme. The Free Software Foundation (FSF) recommends that developers use this version because of the vagueness of the original version. (The FSF is the principal organizational sponsor of the GNU Project.)
The Clarified Artistic License is likewise a free software license that is compatible with the GPL. According to the FSF, it has the minimal set of changes needed to correct the vagueness of the Original Artistic License. Examples of software licensed under the Clarified Artistic License are (1) htp, an HTML pre-processor (which processes special HTML files and producing as output regular HTML files) and (2) NcFTP Client, a set of application programs implementing FTP (file transfer protocol) and which is said to provide many ease-of-use and performance enhancements over conventional ftp clients.
The Modified Artistic License (MAL) is based on the original Artistic License. It does not restrict modification or forking (i.e., branching) of development of projects which are licensed under it, but it does encourage persons starting forks to contact the original authors to notify them of such changes. Examples of software licensed under the MAL include (1) Libsql, a SQLite and MySQL wrapper written in Pascal (a programming language) which provides a very easy and fast access to these databases and (2) DynaWorks, a small framework to develop applications running on the PalmOS platform and on the K Virtual Machine (which makes it possible to run Java programs on any 16-bit processor with 128KB of available memory).
The Perl Artistic License
Perl is an extremely popular, open source programming language that incorporates features mainly from the C, sed and awk programming languages and from Unix shell scripting. It was developed by Larry Wall, who continues to remain its guiding force. Version 1.0 was released in 1987, and the current version was 5.8.4 as of June, 2004.
Perl can be redistributed and/or modified under either of two licenses: the Artistic License and the GPL. The text of the Artistic License as it is used with Perl version 5.8.4 and as of April, 2004 can be found here. The criticisms of this license appear to have had little effect on Perl's great popularity and on the continuous improvements in its performance and functions.
The Blender Artistic License
Blender is an example of a project that uses multiple licenses, each for different portions of its works. This includes a customized version of the original Artistic License.
Blender is a highly regarded open source software package for 3D modeling, animation, rendering, post-production, interactive creation and playback. It traces its roots back to 1988 when Ton Roosendaal co-founded the Dutch animation studio NeoGeo, and it was released under the terms of the GPL in 2002.
The GPL applies only to the program itself, and not to the manual or to any works created by people using the program. The Open Content License is used for the Blender Style Guide as well as for the entire Blender Core Documentation. (The FSF does not consider the Open Content License to be a free software license because there are restrictions on charging money for materials released under this license.)
The Blender Artistic License is based on the Perl Artistic License and is used for the tutorials, .blend example files, still images and animations. The full text of this license can be found here.
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Created June 25, 2004. Copyright © 2004. All Rights Reserved.