EveryBlock, MSNBC.com and the General Public License

    by Amanda Hickman
    August 18, 2009

    By now everyone has heard the news: EveryBlock is now part of MSNBC.com. And anyone familiar with the Knight News Challenge knows about Knight’s open source requirement: projects developed with Knight funding must be released under an open source license — it is one of the terms of funding. EveryBlock released their source code a few months ago, but Biella Coleman posed an excellent question

    Since the code is under a GPL3, doesn’t MSNBC.com have to also keep it under the same license if modified? Or can they take the code base since Everyblock is a web-based service?

    We at Gotham Gazette had been wondering just about the same thing, albeit for different reasons. We’re working on our final Knight-funded game and the programmer we’re working with thinks the GPL is too restrictive which got us wondering what it would look like to release source code according to the terms of our agreement with Knight but also allow our programmer (who’s hardly getting rich off of this development project) to use the code under a different, less viral license.

    And, James Vasile at Hacker Visions has an answer. It is a complex answer, and worth a read. Loosely? The holder of the copyright is not necessarily bound by the license a project was released under.

    Tagged: adrian holovaty licensing open source opensource

    8 responses to “EveryBlock, MSNBC.com and the General Public License”

    1. Abe says:

      Amanda, no, EveryBlock is not part of MSNBC. It’s going to be part of msnbc.com. MSNBC is a cable TV company, while msnbc.com is a Web company. Separate companies, separate editors, different ownership structure, on separate coasts. (Confusingly similar names.)

    2. amanda says:

      Fair enough Abe. I wouldn’t say I’m wildly wrong, though. These aren’t confusing names for unrelated corporate entities. They’re both owned by GE, they share content and the website (actually msnbc.msn.com) is where you’ll find the online edition of the MSNBC television schedule.

      (And: we’ve updated the post to read msnbc.com)

    3. ceejayoz says:

      Depends how the deal was worded. If Knight required the EveryBlock code to be released under the GPL, that doesn’t necessarily prevent the EveryBlock team from dual licensing it (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dual_licensed). MySQL and Qt do this.

    4. Abe says:

      Amanda, yes, it is confusing. But in this case, even Wikipedia gets it right. See the separate Wikipedia entries for msnbc.com and MSNBC. The Web site msnbc.com is owned by Microsoft and NBC, and the TV channel MSNBC is owned by NBC. And, yes, the Web site does serve as the Web home for its half-sister, MSNBC. But that doesn’t mean they’re the same company. Msnbc.com also serves as the Web home of Newsweek, and has content from The New York Times, but they don’t own each other, either. It is confusing: If tacobell.com is the Web site owned by Taco Bell, then you’d think that msnbc.com is owned by MSNBC, but it turns out not to be true in this case. The cable and TV companies have been separate joint partnerships from the beginning.

    5. Amanda says:

      Another interesting take that I didn’t see earlier:

      The Knight Foundation News Challenge, Open Source, and the Future of Hyperlocal with a lively discussion.

    6. Jason says:

      “the programmer we’re working with thinks the GPL is too restrictive”

      Too restrictive for what?

    7. amanda says:


      Too restrictive for his tastes, me thinks.

      I don’t actually recall the specifics — we’re committed to GPL, not least by our contract with Knight. But you’re right: the right word might not be “restrictive” — I think he meant “demanding.”


    8. Amanda says:

      Meanwhile, if you’re still keeping up with this story, the Nieman Lab says that Knight has been rethinking IPOs:


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