Over the years I’ve had to put up with several individuals, and companies, trying to plagiarize Paint.NET by recompiling the program under a different product name and with their own name stamped into the credits. Sometimes they charge money for it. I even came up with my own term for it: “backspaceware.” Additionally, every once in awhile Paint.NET is spotted being sold on eBay.

And, as many of you know, Paint.NET used to be open source. Or rather, it was “released source” – the source code was released, but it was never an open and collaborative project that accepted unsolicited code submissions. I liked releasing the source code this because I felt there was value in allowing others to study it. About a year ago I decided I was tired of seeing plagiarized versions of Paint.NET and I yanked the source code from the website. However, the source code was still out there at various places on the Internet (hardly illegal). Even without the source code, a clever and skilled person could probably still decompile, modify, and recompile the program to say or do whatever they wanted it to.

The biggest problem was that, even though these were clearly unethical and deplorable actions, the MIT License permitted all of it. Or, at least, it was unclear in some corner cases what was disallowed. So, legally speaking, it wasn’t clear what exactly could be done about it anyway. I am not a lawyer and did not want to spend thousands of dollars to get it all figured out. Some people have stated that I chose the wrong license, and in hindsight this is definitely partially true.

Also, this is not just about plagiarism and my own personal blood pressure. Having derivative copies of Paint.NET out there causes confusion and disrupts the mainline user base. I’ve had people e-mail me confused because they thought that Paint.NET had been renamed, but that features were missing in “the new version”. These derivative copies also cause a bit of a mess, because they often 1) uninstall the real Paint.NET (they use the same Windows Installer product GUID), and 2) still have the same updater logic (including the URL for the manifest). Which means you’d install the derivative copy, it would remove Paint.NET, and then once Paint.NET had a new update it would uninstall the derivative version and replace it with Paint.NET, etc. Or, the modified version would crash and the crash log would still instruct people to send it to my e-mail address. There is also a real risk of trojans and viruses.

All that stops now.

For the final release of Paint.NET v3.5, which will be very soon now, I am updating the license. For most users, this will have no impact whatsoever. It’s still freeware. There’s still no claim on any files created, opened, or saved with Paint.NET. You can still mirror the ZIP file on your website (e.g. Betanews, download.com, etc.) without having to ask permission. You can still sell stuff that you make with Paint.NET (assuming you have the legal right to do so in the first place, of course). You can continue using it in a business environment, deployed to as many systems as you like.

However, the license now states that you cannot modify Paint.NET itself, or create derivative works based on the Paint.NET software (that is, derivative software). Nor can you sell it. I don’t believe this will have an impact for anybody but those who wish to plagiarize or rip-off Paint.NET. I’m not putting in any restriction about reverse engineering or decompiling, e.g. with Reflector. I think that would be silly, and I still whole heartedly believe that there’s value in being able to study Paint.NET’s code – even if it’s Reflector’s best-guess disassembly. However, you cannot modify and then recompile a new version of Paint.NET from that disassembly.

There will undoubtedly be some confusion here. For instance, “Are plugins allowed?” Absolutely yes – the program is designed to accept these, and they are not modifications to Paint.NET itself. No doubt I will have to update the FAQ for this, among other things.

I expect there will be a very vocal minority that will condemn this license change. Before you speak out, please ask yourself this question: Does it actually affect you? Were you actually planning to do something that this new license disallows? My guess is that the answer is “no”, but please post a comment if the answer is a legitimate yes. Many people had condemned my decision to remove the source code, but upon further investigation it was purely a matter of principle: they had never downloaded the source code, never knew anyone who had done so, and never planned to do anything that would benefit from or depend on source code access. I’d liken it to being upset that your passport disallowed traveling to Antarctica … were you really planning to do that in the first place?*

The other thing I am planning to do is to release portions of Paint.NET v3.5’s source code, probably under an MIT or BSD-style license. Plugin developers will greatly benefit from having the source code for the effects, and for some WinForms UI controls. The best way to summarize things is that this new license (below) covers “the binaries”, aka “what you just downloaded and installed.” I can still create separate download packages that are covered under different licensing terms. Philosophically it can be confusing, but I’m willing to pay that price.

Here is the new license, for your perusal before the imminent release of version 3.5:

Paint.NET

Copyright (C) dotPDN LLC and Rick Brewster. Portions Copyright (C) Chris Crosetto, Tom Jackson, Michael Kelsey, Brandon Ortiz, Craig Taylor, Chris Trevino, and Luke Walker.

Portions Copyright (C) Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Paint.NET is a registered trademark of dotPDN LLC.

License last updated: November 5, 2009

Paint.NET is free for use in any environment, including but not necessarily limited to: personal, academic, commercial, government, business, non-profit, and for-profit. “Free” in the preceding sentence means that there is no cost or charge associated with the installation and use of Paint.NET. Donations are always appreciated, of course! http://www.getpaint.net/donate.html

Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software (the “Software”), to use the Software without restriction, including the rights to use, copy, publish, and distribute the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so.

You may not modify, adapt, rent, lease, loan, sell, or create derivative works based upon the Software or any part thereof. However, certain icons used in the Paint.NET user interface are from or adapted from those in the “Crystal” icon set, http://www.everaldo.com/crystal/, or the “Oxygen” icon set, http://www.oxygen-icons.org/. These icons are covered by the LGPL license, http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/lesser.html. These icons are stored as “loose” PNG image files in the Resources\en-US\ directory where Paint.NET is installed.

The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies of the Software.

THE SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED “AS IS”, WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO THE WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND NONINFRINGEMENT. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE AUTHORS OR COPYRIGHT HOLDERS BE LIABLE FOR ANY CLAIM, DAMAGES OR OTHER LIABILITY, WHETHER IN AN ACTION OF CONTRACT, TORT OR OTHERWISE, ARISING FROM, OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE SOFTWARE OR THE USE OR OTHER DEALINGS IN THE SOFTWARE.

* Like all metaphors, this one has its limits.

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