January 17, 2006


Yet again, people don't understand open source software licenses. I was reading this Information Week Article: New Open-Source License Draft Less Controversial Than Feared For Business and while it's not terrible, it propagates the erroneous idea that a new rev of the gpl means google and ebay might have to open up code it is not prepared to.

All that a rev of the gpl means is that, if we don't like the provisions of the new one (which is pretty reasonable, then we opt to not upgrade and maintain the gpl v2 code ourselves.

This is not a big deal. Also, the kernel team has said that they likely won't use the upgraded licenses. Again, I don't want to slam the article too much, but a rev of an free software license can not be retroactive otherwise the ability to fork the code would be impossible.

There are some tricky points in the new draft, for sure, but forcing Google or Ebay or whoever runs Linux to upgrade isn't one of them. Forcing upgrades is not free software's way.


Anonymous said...

Personally I find it unforuntate that the GPL does not force users who modify GPLed code to distribute those changes back simply because they are lucky enough to have a business model that exploits the benefits of the GPLed code as a service rather than a software deliverable. Ebay, Google , Amazon et. al. have derived massive benefits from GPLed code and due to the 'we don't actually distribute anything' loophole have not been required to contribute anything back. Even Google, who have made some token gestures in this area are still massively in debt on the benefits dervied versus benefits contributed continuum.

Chris DiBona said...

It is easy to say this, but the fact of the matter is that free software developers understand the licenses they choose and if they wanted to sell the software in the first place, they would have licensed it commercially. You think you are defending the honor of people who are being taken advantage of, but all you are doing is infantilizing them.

That said, between Summer of Code and our code release and really quit vast patching activities, I'm pretty comfortable with our karmic balance.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Chris on this (and probably other things). When a person writes a piece of code and then licenses that code, he should (and probably does) have an idea of the repercussions of that license. Slapping any ole license on a piece of software and not reading and understanding the fine print would be, at the very least, hazardous.

Furthermore, if a person thought that every coder that submits GPLed code is looking for fame and fortune (aka a job at Google), they would be mislead about the intentions of countless programmers. Many people, including me, do not have a problem releasing code under the BSD license or less restrictive licenses. I love to code, I am happy to think that a person received some benefit from my code, and if somebody does something great with my code someday, then I am happy for them.

-- Dennis

Anonymous said...

What you are saying is true for those who choose say a BSD license. However lots of folks choose the GPL because they are happy for it to be used in a commercial setting as long as the user benefiting from it contributes any changes back. This view might be naive but it isn't infantile. Lots of people seem to think the GPL should indeed behave this way in ALL cases. If the service model and its impact on the GPL was such a non-issue why were so many people expecting the new license to address this issue?

Yes, Google does more than others in terms of contributing back, but I believe they are following the letter of the GPL and not its spirit (which is its legal right under the current version of the GPL).