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GNU is Not Unix

How Many Open Source Licenses Do You Need? 276

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the he-should-start-an-organization-or-six dept.
jammag writes "Bruce Perens, who wrote the original licensing rules for Open Source software in 1997, notes that there are a sprawling 73 open source licenses currently in existence. But he identifies an essential four — well, actually just two — that developers, companies, and individuals need. In essence, he cuts through the morass and shows developers, in particular, how to protect their work. (And yes, he favors GPL3 over GPL2.) For his own coding work, he's fond of the 'sharing with rules' license, which stays true to the Open Source ethos of shared code yet also enables him to get paid by companies who use it in their commercial products."
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How Many Open Source Licenses Do You Need?

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  • Maybe more.

    • IANAL but shouldn't it be fairly easy to construct a matrix of the various licenses and what rights/responsibilities are characteristic of each and how they compare to the other licenses?

      At least that way any new licenses could be compared to the existing licenses to see if they were really needed or if they simply duplicated an existing one. Such as requiring that text block X be included in all copies ... but text block X differs from licenses A and B and C.

  • Hi again (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday February 16, 2009 @01:24PM (#26874159) Homepage Journal

    Hi Folks,

    I happen to be at my desk again today, and can discuss this article, if any of you have questions or, more likely, comments :-)

    If I write 30 responses, there will be a break. Slashdot locks me out for four hours after 30 postings from one IP.

    Bruce

    • Surely the answer in most cases, and for most people, is 1. However that may not be the same 1 license that anyone else needs.
    • Re:Hi again (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gclef (96311) on Monday February 16, 2009 @01:50PM (#26874507)

      Hi, Bruce,

      While I agree in general that there are too many licenses, one of the problems I ran into (which you mention in passing) was that I'm not necessarily the one who gets to decide what license I'm using. When I talked with my organization's lawyers, they didn't care about license proliferation...they cared only about what they thought was important. So, we ended up with a modified BSD license: the standard 3-clause plus one more to address the lawyer's concerns...personally I think the fourth clause is redundant, but I'm not a lawyer, so they weren't listening to me.

      In short, while I think it's good to get this group (ie, the coders) to start agreeing on licenses, the lawyers that we talk to need a bunch of education also. They all seem to want to customize licenses.

      • by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday February 16, 2009 @02:12PM (#26874783) Homepage Journal

        So, we ended up with a modified BSD license: the standard 3-clause plus one more to address the lawyer's concerns

        This is a problem. It seems that every attorney has their own fear, which they insist on writing into their own license that you must use.

        But IMO the largest part of the problem is that few companies are effective at managing their own attorneys. Many technical managers feel that law is a black art and that they can only manage what they understand. Top managers with this problem tend to structure the company so that middle managers can't push back on Legal, and must do whatever Legal says. And thus, company attorneys generally get their way even on small points. A general counsel who sits on the board is even able to do this to the CEO, if the other board members aren't good at managing attorneys.

        If it is imposed on the attorney that using an OSI-accepted license is important, the attorney can probably do a reality-check on their own fear. The fact that this doesn't happen is more an issue of management effectiveness than anything else.

        Thanks

        Bruce

    • Hmmm. I think that what you really want to say is that 2 (or 4) are fine with you. The simple fact is, that many companies do not agree with these 4 BECAUSE they do not handle every situation. Saying that a very limited number should work for everybody would be like saying that 1 OS or even 640K will work for everyone.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by thermian (1267986)

      There is, is there not, a difference between 'need' and want. After all we probably only 'need' a small number of programming languages, but we have, and want, many.

      It would, I beleive, be a mistake to cut down the number of licences. Evolutionary theory makes it quite clear that lack of diversity leads to a much higher liklihood of extinction in the event of a crisis, and Open Source is no exception.

      Personally I'm very boring in my licensing. I use the GPL, or I just public domain my code without any if it

      • Re:Hi again (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday February 16, 2009 @03:36PM (#26875915) Homepage Journal

        Evolutionary theory makes it quite clear that lack of diversity leads to a much higher liklihood of extinction in the event of a crisis, and Open Source is no exception.

        If you want your software to survive a Darwinian catastrophe, which in this case means a successful challenge in court, the most important thing is having the possibility to relicense it. FSF would have you use their "and any later version" text so that this is possible.

        Other than that, the main difference between licenses is popularity. GPL currently wins the popularity contest. But it seems to me that incompatibility is too big a cost if the benefit is just the popularity contest.

    • Any pointers to a fairly concise guide to what issues need to be considered when dual licensing software or pursuing the option you describe as "sharing with rules"? I'm working on code that I would like to offer under GPL3, but I would also like to retain the option to offer it to commercial companies as well. Maintaining copyright ownership of the entire codebase seems obvious first step, but it seems the devil is in the details of how one might go about this if other developers become interested in con

      • Re:Hi again (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday February 16, 2009 @02:27PM (#26874983) Homepage Journal

        The hard part is giving contributors an incentive to sign over their copyright (or at least a right to relicense). It worked for MySQL because people wanted their contributions to be in the supported version of the server, which everybody else was hacking upon. It did not work for Sun, but then again Sun handles Open Source horribly. Marten Mikos just left there, following Monty out the door.

        Maybe I'll write an article about dual-licensing in the future.

        Thanks

        Bruce

    • GNU/Linux Distros (Score:3, Interesting)

      by chill (34294)

      I once too the time to put the core programs that make up a basic Linux distro into a spreadsheet, making notes on the programming language they used, file size and license. I used Linux From Scratch, so I could get an idea of a "core" working system, as opposed to thousands of packages. I think I narrowed it down to just over 60 packages to provide the basics. It taught me a couple of things.

      1. Richard Stallman is right, the correct term is GNU/Linux. I was amazed at the percentage of packages in the c

    • Bruce,

      I would just like to thank you for including a non-GPL based license in the recommended list - I fully expected your list to be completely dominated by forced-sharing licenses, and its a breath of fresh air to have a popular public figure acknowledge that there is certainly a place for gift licenses in the software community.
    • by gbjbaanb (229885)

      I liked the article, but the ending could be a little clearer - like most web review sites, put big bold letters for the 'winners' in each of your 3 categories. The Bruce Perens Recommended, Seal of Approval, Best Buy licences.

      And I'd drop GPL3 in favour of Affero regardless, if GPL3 is a 'share me' licence and you want sharing to take place; then Afferro should simply supercede it to give all that lovely share-and-share-alike protection with extra sharing on top.

      Next: get sourceforge and others to hide the

  • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Monday February 16, 2009 @01:26PM (#26874175) Homepage
    Obviously you need a license that matches your values. If you think the same way as Stallman, who has communicated his principles in such places as the biography Free as in Freedom [amazon.com] and the Free Software Song [gnu.org], you'll chose his license. If, on the other hand, matters of "hoarding" don't worry you at all, you'll chose another license. The quest for the one true open source license is an unreasonable expectation that human beings all think the same.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by jellomizer (103300)

      I think I agree with your point. That the developer should choose a license that they agree with for their product. However you wording is kinda off. RMS has a unique view of Software, Business and the world, and really isn't open to opposing ideas, and likes to place people in Good and Evil Categories, with a thin gray area.
      While others don't see the world like that there is much more of a gray area and different ideas of fair use.

      Such as Free for Personal and Education however if you are going to make mon

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I think the problem is that RMS has encoded his values into his license, and one of those values is, "Proprietary software is evil."

        My main problem with the proliferation of licenses is, even if using 100% open source, you're not necessarily in the clear -- BSD and GPL don't fix, for example. But, less than that, like the LGPL, is problematic because it could be linked into a proprietary program, not just free ones.

        Lately, I have been leaning towards MIT-licensed stuff, mainly because the license is short,

        • by sumdumass (711423)

          I was with you all the way up to the Steam boat Willie comment. It just turned you into a raving lunatic who has succumbed to conspiracy theories and such.

          All Changes in US copyright law have resulted from participation in treaties with Europe, most of which, even the copyright extension act that only extended copyright by 20 years, were after the fact changes that Europe has already implemented before we made the change. You can't look at the time line and the rest of the world while still making the conne

    • by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday February 16, 2009 @01:49PM (#26874485) Homepage Journal

      Obviously you need a license that matches your values.

      The purpose of my article is to get you to explore those values and select a set of licenses that really match them. Some of the people who select GPL do so not for Richard's given reasons but for business purposes. I would not want to mislead them that their values demand a "gift" style license which is less effective for their particular business purpose. And making Free Software under the BSD license is not incompatible with Richard's philosophy. Remember that Richard is against software being copyrighted, and BSD licensing is pretty close to abandonment of copyright.

      Thanks

      Bruce

      • I have actually RTFA, but it still seems to me a little simplified.

        E.g., you yourself give the example of AFFERO GPL as a case where an extra tweak was considered needed because of the software-as-a-service phenomenon. That both are "sharing with rules" just glosses over a distinction that obviously someone thought relevant to their values. One camp basically says "I only want your sources if you distribute the software in binary form", while the other basically says, "I also want them if you run them on yo

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Bruce Perens (3872) *

          One camp basically says "I only want your sources if you distribute the software in binary form", while the other basically says, "I also want them if you run them on your servers." Over-simplified, but you get the idea.

          I think it's more a matter of history. There was no SaaS when the GPL was written, or the GPL would have addressed the issue. In the first discussions leading to GPL3, way back in 2004, we were talking about addressing the "ASP problem" in GPL3, not the Affero version. Further GPL revisions

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by T-Ranger (10520)
            Yes there was SaaS when the GPL was written. Significantly before it. Or at least attempts at it.

            The Multics project has the very specific purpose of making computing resources a service, just like phones and electricity. CompuServe was one specific example, setup in 1969, to provide time-sharing services to external companies.

            Arguably, pre-1975, SaaS was the default, not the exception. Computers were rented, perhaps on your premises, and tended to by vendor techs.

            Anyway, this mantra of "we didn't know abou
      • Remember that Richard is against software being copyrighted, and BSD licensing is pretty close to abandonment of copyright.

        Richard seems to prefer "copyleft" to no copyright at all...

        And why not go all the way and start public domaining stuff? SQLite is public domain, for example.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Bruce Perens (3872) *

          And why not go all the way and start public domaining stuff? SQLite is public domain, for example.

          Mainly because we want to be protected from patent lawsuits. It's really painful to give your stuff away with no strings and get sued for your trouble. The Apache license tries to protect you from that.

          Bruce

      • Remember that Richard is against software being copyrighted

        Not quite exactly. What RMS opposes is the practice of not giving people freedom with respect to the software they run.

        To your credit, it's true that copyright as it's typically applied is part of what RMS is against---but I suspect that he won't be happy if copyright was abolished tomorrow: we could all share our binary copies of Windows, but without source code freedoms 1 and 3 in effect don't exist. The freedoms are the crucial part (to him).

        Whether the collective you agrees or not is up to you to deci

        • by Plunky (929104)

          ... if copyright was abolished tomorrow: we could all share our binary copies of Windows, but without source code freedoms 1 and 3 in effect don't exist.

          If copyright was abolished, you could download the Microsoft Windows source code from your nearest bittorrent tracker pretty well right away I would have thought, even if the people running the Microsoft corporation didn't release it themselves.. something that big can never remain a secret, and if they did by any means manage to keep a part of it secret,

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by onefriedrice (1171917)
      I think that your statement can pretty much end the discussion. Summarized: Choose the license that most closely matches your values of code sharing and the needs of your project. It's not any more complicated than that, and discussing license consolidation is next to useless since it will never happen for the obvious reason that everybody has different values and project needs.

      I tend to stick with BSD/MIT-style licenses, but I have absolutely no problem at all with people who like and use GPL licenses
    • I agree. The license should reflect what the programmer wants. If you look at closed source software, there are almost as many licenses as there are programs, because each program wants to restrict you differently. With open source that are usually just a few large categories with numerous sub-modifications. The three big categories being completely free (MIT license), free with restrictions (GPL), and finally the ones where the code is open, but you're not necessarily allowed to use it (Microsoft open lice
  • Not that I would oppose attempts to standardize and consolidate licensing for the sake of making it easier for people to know their rights, but why shouldn't developers/publishers be allowed to use whatever license they want, and make up their own if nothing else meets their needs?

    I don't see the point of any attempt to artificially limit choice here.

    • by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday February 16, 2009 @01:38PM (#26874335) Homepage Journal

      why shouldn't developers/publishers be allowed to use whatever license they want, and make up their own if nothing else meets their needs?

      You are free to use your own license, containing whatever text you wish. The main limitations on you are 1) whether you can get anyone else to participate and 2) whether your license is effective in court. If your license requires me to sell my first born son into indenture, the court is not likely to uphold your license.

      As you observe, standardization is desirable. One of the biggest goals of Open Source is to make more Open Source. You should be able to combine different Open Source programs into another new one, in a way the creators of the original pieces did not envision. To do this, the licenses must be compatible with each other. So, having everybody write their own is, in the long run, detrimental because all of those licenses will be incompatible with each other, or nobody will be able to understand if they are compatible or not.

      So, I laid out one scenario in which lots of people and companies can use a minimal set of different Open Source licenses that fulfill the different purposes that people have for Open Source, and are compatible with each other. You are free to use that list, or ignore me.

      Thanks

      Bruce

      • by Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) on Monday February 16, 2009 @01:58PM (#26874585) Journal
        I would add, in addition to the the possibility of it being held up in court, would be the probability of success in court. If we can generate a substantial case history full of precedents dealing with the main licenses, it would ensure that newer cases that handled similar issues would be handled quicker and with more predictable results. That would ensure that companies take the licenses more seriously, and /or make any actual legal action quicker and less painful to everyone involved.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TheRaven64 (641858)
        Given that, why would you advocate the GPL, in either revision, at all? I can't think of a single other Free Software license that is incompatible with as many other license as the GPL. The GPLv2 is even incompatible with LGPLv3.
        • But everyone knows that. Its okay if everyone knows the license compatibilities at the beginning of a project and are trying to decide what license to use. But if you have to hire a lawyer to parse a pletera of poorly written licenses for compatibility with each other, then it sort of sucks.
        • by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday February 16, 2009 @03:50PM (#26876089) Homepage Journal
          Because "can share" / "must share" embodies the fundamental difference in Open Source licenses, and each makes business sense for a different set of purposes. In addition. GPL is applied to a very large number of Open Source projects, more than any other license, so the main compatibility issue is that a license be compatible with GPL.
    • by grumbel (592662)

      If you have to many licenses you can no longer combine two pieces of Open Source software, because the licenses are incompatible with each other.

    • by jedidiah (1196)

      Consumer protection.

      Most people don't get to "negotiate" with people they buy
      software from or original authors. The expectations in those
      situations should be pretty simple and predictable. When you buy
      something, you should have a fairly good idea what to expect and
      those expectations should have the force of law. IOW, you should
      be able to sue or prosecute for something being unusable, unbroken
      or not what it was advertised to be.

      As a matter of legal pr

  • by geminidomino (614729) * on Monday February 16, 2009 @01:34PM (#26874269) Journal

    You need fewer license zea^Wadvocates.

    Seriously, the amount of FUD spread about by certain licenses about certain others is staggering (not naming any names), to say nothing of tautological mottoes revolving around redefinitions of words, self-serving rationalizations, and more FUD.

    You're going to get this mess any time something becomes a platform for political agendas, because Bruce's single "Shared with rules" license gets forked depending on the rules. GPL3 has the obvious rules, but under that heading would be the "Kinda BSD, except can't be used by the military of any country/companies that test on animals/people who eat meat/etc..."

    • by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday February 16, 2009 @02:03PM (#26874659) Homepage Journal

      Bruce's single "Shared with rules" license gets forked depending on the rules. GPL3 has the obvious rules, but under that heading would be the "Kinda BSD, except can't be used by the military of any country/companies that test on animals/people who eat meat/etc..."

      This is why I wrote the DFSG / Open Source Definition. It provides a single name for a set of licenses that grant a particular set of privileges.

      I did consider licenses that prohibit military use, and decided they were a bad idea, and the DFSG / Open Source Definition does not allow them. The license that was a bad example the time was the Berkeley SPICE license. This license was written during the period of South African Apartheid, and prohibited use of the SPICE circuit simulation software by the police of South Africa. 10 years after Apartheid was over, the license restriction was still in effect. Even though the police by that time were probably Black.

      The other big prohibition to consider was Commercial Use. There were a number of "personal-use only" licenses at the time. I figured that licenses that prohibited commercial use made the software pretty useless and that it would not have effective collaboration to advance its development.

      Licenses are important because they use rules to structure partnerships. We need to understand them, and how to use them. Yes, there are people who are very partisan. But just calling them zealots doesn't get at the reasons for their license, and whether those reasons make sense for you.

      Bruce

      • Licenses are important because they use rules to structure partnerships. We need to understand them, and how to use them. Yes, there are people who are very partisan. But just calling them zealots doesn't get at the reasons for their license, and whether those reasons make sense for you.

        Bruce

        Whether for business or hobby/personal work, I find it far less stressful to rewrite code from scratch rather than to partner with someone for whom choice of license is a religious/dogmatic issue rather than a pragmatic one. Such reasons *never* make sense for me.

  • Choice is good and the best licenses will grow to popularity unless tampered with by an outside force.

    Hence the GPL is doing quite well. It does what most people want -- it allows for your work to stay free as it was intended.

    If something better comes along, it may be used. Sort of like evolution -- survival of the best fit.

  • The kernel, which is one of the biggest, certainly the most famous, GPL v2 project isn't planning to change to GPL v3.

    I'm impressed how Perens feels he can just brush away all disagreement with the GPL v3 because "Linus had a personal issue with it, some I'm ignoring that".

    Joining the GPL v3 steamroller isn't going to make developers any more willing to use it.

    • by grumbel (592662)

      Which issue are you talking about? Latest time I checked there weren't really any issues with GPLv3 itself, the issue was simply that Linux is "GPLv2 only" instead of "GPLv2 or any later version", which would make an update quite complicated and time consuming.

      • by gclef (96311)

        Philosophically, Linus sees no problem with "Tivo-isation", which is what a big part of the changes in v3 of the GPL were all about. So, since Linus sees no need for those protections, he's not terribly enthusiastic about using them.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Improv (2467)

          Linus is unfortunately one of the typically "can't we all just get along" geeks - he doesn't seem to care for the social good so much as being able to continue to work on his projects. Such people are certainly useful - "not seeing the big picture" isn't a barrier to being an effective technical leader (and by pretending such problems/disagreements don't exist or minimising them, they better enable people with substantive differences in the area to work together).

          For people who do care about the public good

          • Linus is unfortunately one of the typically "can't we all just get along" geeks - he doesn't seem to care for the social good so much as being able to continue to work on his projects. Such people are certainly useful - "not seeing the big picture" isn't a barrier to being an effective technical leader (and by pretending such problems/disagreements don't exist or minimising them, they better enable people with substantive differences in the area to work together).

            For people who do care about the public good, the best thing to do is to look for other people for inspiration on matters of licenses and large-scale strategy (like rms, BPerens, esr, theo, or one of several others, depending on one's particular inclinations). There's a lot of positions one might take on these matters, most of them better than playing ostrich..

            We also should refuse to "play ostrich" about countries currently going through something like the Industrial Revolution, and embargo them until they decide to lift themselves, unassisted, by their own bootstraps, into sufficient prosperity to care about working conditions.

            Yeah, it's stupid, but this is no different.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Maybe Linus does see the "Big Picture". He just sees it different from you.

            Nah, anyone disagreeing with you must just have their head in the sand. (that was sarcasm in case you missed it)

            What utter crap to think only people who agree with your licensing fetish have the public good in mind. I assure you, my preference for the BSD license is for the public good. I consider it much better for the public good than any version of the GPL. You may disagree, but don't be an ass and say I don't care about the

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mkcmkc (197982)

      I'm impressed how Perens feels he can just brush away all disagreement with the GPL v3 because "Linus had a personal issue with it, some I'm ignoring that".

      When considered against the backdrop of the entire space of Open Source (-ish) licenses, the differences between versions 2 and 3 of the GPL barely warrant a footnote. They are completely immaterial for almost all projects, and the only real question is whether or not you feel that Stallman's tweaks (which were based on lengthy consultation with the community) are worth following. Virtually everyone who's using the GPL in the first place would be sympathetic to the goals of the FSF, and therefore ought to

  • IANAL - but as I understand it:

    As the original author of anything that is subject to Copyright you are free to license the same piece of work (even if it is undergoing continuous change by you) under several licenses - and it is also available under the basic grounds of Copyright in the country of origin too.

    This means that I can write and sell commercial software - and also license the same software under the GPL (or Creative Commons for text/images, etc.)

    But those who don't subscribe to the GPL/CC c

  • Biased... (Score:2, Informative)

    by synthespian (563437)

    The characterization of BSD, Apache, etc. as "gift" licenses just display Perens' bias.

    These are licenses that allow you to work both in proprietary projects and open source projects at the same time.

    The word "gift" implies the person does not have a job and is doing it for free when, in reality, the developer might be working for a company that would only use business-friendly licenses.

    The real distinctions are: are you going to work for a project else who will demand that you give away your copyright and

    • by Improv (2467)

      I don't think the use of the word "gift" implies that at all. It's more of a reference to the idea of a "gift economy".

      On the dual-licensing, that's not really about the GPL versus other licenses so much as it is purely about how copyright works. The forms of the BSD license that required attribution had this characteristic as well, which were also (maybe a bit more loosely) an example of unequal rights. Dual-licensing also has social costs - it creates a tension between external contributors and the primar

    • I frequently hear them characterized that way, and I talk mostly to Windows-using academics who're discussing how to release their code, and could hardly care less about Linux or the Free Software Foundation.

      The general viewpoint of options that get bandied about is something like:

      1. "Research-only" or "non-commercial-use" license: minimal release that will ensure researchers who want it can get it, while retaining all commercial rights that default copyright gives.

      2. Copyleft licensing: release that allows

      • As an example of that viewpoint, this article (PDF) [mit.edu], from a 2007 volume of the Journal of Machine Learning Research characterizes open-source license choices from the perspective of scientists releasing their software as follows:

        1. "A developer who wants to give away the source code in exchange for proper credit for derivative works, even closed-source ones, could choose the BSD license."

        2. "A developer who wants to give away the source code, is comfortable with his source being incorporated into a closed-s

    • gift - Something that is bestowed voluntarily and without compensation.

      I think that was the definition implied when referring to BSD as a "gift license". Your characterization of Parens just displays your bias.

      The GPL license, due to copyright laws, allows this dual-licensing, which basically means unequal rights for developers (those who hold the copyright and, thus, can fork it into a proprietary license, while demanding that everyone else stick to the GPL version). If you want developers to have equal

    • The Apache-style license is a gift because a company can use the work without any quid pro quo. Obviously, much Open Source is written as part of someone's employment, whether it is BSD or GPL licensed.

      Dual licensing does give some special rights to one party. In general, this one party is the main contributor, and their business purpose doesn't work without dual licensing - because they won't have a revenue stream that supports their creation of the software. A license that does not fulfill that purpose is hardly more "business friendly" than one that does.

      This is not a matter of philosophy, just business sense.

      Bruce

  • GPL advocates generally it is a good, and necessary, freedom for people to be able to do things like recompile their software (e.g. a Linux kernel) modifying part of it, and perhaps distribute their modifications.

    Yet it is apparently a bad thing for people to modify their Open Source software licenses, because of the number of different combinations which arise as a result. Indeed, the FSF copyright the text of their license, and do not allow modified versions to be distributed. The article asserts they wer

    • by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday February 16, 2009 @03:57PM (#26876169) Homepage Journal

      Why is it "smart" to copyright text, but not smart (restrictive, proprietary, evil etc.) to copyright source code?

      Both are copyrighted. One grants the right to modify, one does not.

      Consider why it is not smart to modify your TCP/IP stack to be incompatible with the standard. You have the right to do so, but doing so will make it very difficult to communicate with others. And unfortunately engineers and tech companies are more likely to understand the consequences of modifying TCP than those of modifying a license. FSF doesn't prohibit you from using your own license text, they can't. They just decline to help you stick your foot in your mouth by modifying their text.

      Bruce

  • by new-black-hand (197043) <<nik> <at> <techcrunch.com>> on Monday February 16, 2009 @02:05PM (#26874683) Homepage
    From the article:

    I want the people who extend my software to give their extensions to the world to share, the same way I gave them my original program. So, my payback for writing Open Source is that my software drives a further increase in the amount of available Open Source software, beyond my individual contribution.

    Has anybody ever proven this?

    ie. has it ever been proven that attaching a 'must share' clause to a license (ie. GPL vs BSD) actually results in more people sharing code.

    I am inclined to think and believe, based on experience, that it does not. Those who share are likely to share regardless of license, ditto to those who take your code and improve it with no intention of sharing.

    Just how much does 'sharing' contribute to open source anyway, considering that all the top projects are tightly controlled by a small number of lead developers who hold the keys to commitments and in accepting patches. Code being shared will likely just go unnoticed anyway.

    So, after 10 years, has anyone proven that the GPL works?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Bruce Perens (3872) *
      I gave my particular example, which was a program written in a month of evenings that got a subsequent 5 man-year plus contribution from other developers. The primary two companies interested had a (probably misled) economic incentive to keep their work away from their competitor.

      Bruce

      • I can name dozens of examples, and more recently they have mostly been with more liberal licenses.

        The key question is, does enforcing sharing in the license actually provide for a better overall open source ecosystem.

        From my experience, the answer is no - because the downside of having companies not wanting to touch GPL'd code for fear of legal challenge and problems *FAR* outweighs the potential benefits of having those companies contribute resources with more liberal licensed code.

        Overall, I find th

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by domatic (1128127)

          Then again look at the Wine project. There is a class of developers that is content with attribution at most and no other conditions and those tend use licenses of the MIT/BSD/X ilk. There are others who are more prone to feeling taken advantage of and these people tend want more rules so feel comfortable contributing only some rules are stated. The amount of this comfort needed varies hence things like the LGPL.

          IMHO there is an implicit fallacy here. The fallacy is if the copyleft licenses didn't exist

        • I am waiting for BSD kernel development and user popularity to overtake Linux, before I believe that the GPL hasn't played a very strong role in making something like Linux possible. Don't worry, I won't hold my breath.
    • I seem to recall that RMS, in one of his talks, highlights an example where a company uses libreadline in a program, and when finding out that libreadline is released under the GPL (I think through the FSF pointing it out), the company decides to release their product under the GPL.

      I know, [citation needed]. I apologize that I can't give it. The jury will disregard this post ;-)

      • by skeeto (1138903)
        You may be thinking of CLISP [wikipedia.org]. It was non-GPL and used libreadline, Stallman pointed out the GPL issue, a public e-mail exchanged ensued, and Haible eventually agreed with Stallman and decided to go GPL with CLISP.
    • Just how much does 'sharing' contribute to open source anyway, considering that all the top projects are tightly controlled by a small number of lead developers who hold the keys to commitments and in accepting patches.

      Who's sending patches?

    • The GPL is to ensure that contributed code remains open. It's not about quantity.
    • The clearest examples, of course, are the "hardball" ones: code releases where the person in question did not want to release the code for their derived version, but was forced to do so as part of the settlement of a GPL-violation lawsuit. For example, Monsoon Media released their source code only after being sued by BusyBox developers [cnet.com]. It seems pretty clear that had BusyBox not been copyleft-licensed, Monsoon Media wouldn't have released their code.

      • That is my point. Those who have no intention of releasing code are not going to regardless of what the license says.

        When you have a party that derives code but then becomes uncooperative, what value do they add to the community in any case?

        The key benefit of open source is that with an efficient ecosystem of code production and maintenance, developers have a readily accessible repository of code that solves known common problems.

        This code can be used so that wheels are not re-invented, and so that bu

        • These new forces being applied to what is an extremely efficient ecosystem of code sharing will completely break apart open source as we know it.

          Can't happen. Any movement in that direction would very quickly result in the instigators being widely ignored, regardless of their (prior) status.

        • I don't see how you can draw your conclusion that "Those who have no intention of releasing code are not going to regardless of what the license says."

          There are dozens of examples, one of which I linked, of them doing precisely that: people who had no intention of releasing code, like Monsoon, being forced to do so by the license.

    • by Kjella (173770)

      ie. has it ever been proven that attaching a 'must share' clause to a license (ie. GPL vs BSD) actually results in more people sharing code.

      Everyone that launched a GPL project? There's plenty software that otherwise would never have existed in the first place, because they weren't happy to release it under the BSD license. Freshmeat got a license breakdown:

      http://freshmeat.net/stats/ [freshmeat.net]

      It tells me about 70%+ are GPL licensed, 6% BSD licensed and the rest a good mix. Maybe or maybe not the 6% get more patches per project, but in volume it seems pretty clear to me that people start GPL projects and unless there's a really, really huge difference be

      • but in volume it seems pretty clear to me that people start GPL projects

        Why? Is it because they have seriously considered the alternatives and prefer GPL, or because they bought into the FUD ("unpaid employee", "your code can be taken away and made proprietary"), or just because the FSF has been successful in positioning the GPL as the "default" license for people who don't bother to care?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        That might be right, because Freshmeat is mostly desktop applications and small utilities.

        If you look at more recent projects, especially web-related projects (such as web frameworks) there is an increasing trend towards more permissive licenses. Looking at frameworks (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_web_application_frameworks [wikipedia.org]):

        RubyOnRails: MIT
        Django: MIT
        CakePHP: MIT
        Codeigniter: BSD
        Zend Framework: BSD
        Symfony: MIT
        Turbogears: MIT & LGPL

        jQuery: MIT & GPL
        Dojo: Academic free
        Prototyp

  • by bcrowell (177657) on Monday February 16, 2009 @02:08PM (#26874723) Homepage

    In addition to software licenses, we have licenses like GFDL [gnu.org] and CC-BY-SA [creativecommons.org], which are intended for books, software manuals, etc. That whole situation is a total botch. The GFDL (without any of the added options like invariant sections, etc.) is essentially philosophically and legally equivalent to CC-BY-SA. The fact that we have two licenses for a single purpose is not a good thing. For instance, I've written some physics textbooks that are copylefted. Sometimes I've taken diagrams and photos I did for the books and added them to WP articles. Other times I've taken photos from WP and put them in my books. What makes this all unnecessarily difficult is that although WP uses GFDL (for historical reasons, because CC postdates WP), various other people use CC-BY-SA. We all want to share, but the licensing creates problems. I've ended up dual-licensing my books for this reason, and as far as I can tell, this allows me to bring in either CC-BY-SA or GFDL materials. On the other hand, if other people want to use a photo from my book, they have to look in the photo credits section at the back, and they may find that it's a photo I got from someone else under GFDL, but their project is CC-BY-SA, so they can't use it. They might be able to switch their own project to a similar dual-license scheme to get around this, but that might not be possible; e.g., look at the Linux kernel, which could never change licenses even if Linus wanted it to, because there are too many copyright holders.

    One thing I would suggest to anyone uploading pictures to WP or Wikimedia Commons is that you use their recommended licensing option, which is now dual GFDL/CC-BY-SA.

    Another real problem in this area is the tendency of people to pick CC-BY-NC, with a noncommercial clause. I see tons of people doing this even for materials that have zero commercial value. For example, there's an innovative physics textbook from the 1970's that went out of print. Cool book, but it was just a little too controversial; the big sellers tend to be the plain vanilla ones that can make everyone in a university department happy enough to sign off on adopting it. It's been out of print for 30 years, and the rights reverted to the author. He scanned it and put it up on his web site as a PDF. I contacted him, told him how much I liked the book, and suggested that he put it under a CC license, because, e.g., otherwise it would have to disappear from the world on the day he got tired of paying a webhosting bill. He decided to do that, which is cool, but he picked CC-BY-NC, which means the book can never be used as the basis for further collaborative work. I think people have this emotional feeling that they don't want to risk having their work exploited commercially by someone else, because that would be a ripoff. The problem is that they don't seem to do a good job of realistically assessing the chances that that would happen. Although the guy I'm referring to is a published author, there are many other people who just don't have a realistic idea of what it's like to try to make a significant amount of money by writing. There are just too many people out there who think they have the next bestseller on their hands.

    • by spinkham (56603)
      GFDL 1.3 has terms that allow Wikipedia to migrate all their content to CC-BY-SA, as long as they do it by the middle of this year. So score one for license consolidation.
    • by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Monday February 16, 2009 @03:07PM (#26875483) Homepage Journal
      I agree that GFDL is a botch. I used the Open Content License (otherwise mostly unknown today) for my own books. My problem with Creative Content is that it's one name over a broad spectrum of incompatible licenses that have few rights in common other than the right to read the text at all. Can/can't distribute, can/can't do it commercially, can/can't modify, and so on.
  • Just one (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 16, 2009 @02:15PM (#26874815)

    You only need one license.. The WTFPL

  • Abraham Lincoln says four score plus seven. It is President's Day afterall...
  • by ljw1004 (764174) on Monday February 16, 2009 @02:55PM (#26875297)

    Bruce missed the one option I think is the most important: public domain. It's not a license and so captures the "giftiness" of the gift licenses better than any of them.

  • Just one more... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dubbreak (623656) on Monday February 16, 2009 @03:08PM (#26875497)
    This reminds me of a musician joke:

    q: How many guitars does a guitarist need?
    a: Just one more.

    There is always going to be someone that thinks they need something just a little bit different to suit their particular needs. In reality the number of open source licenses could be dramatically reduced, but the human condition makes us each think we are unique and have special needs and requirements for our unique project.

    Are there too many open source licenses? Yeah. It's way to complicated for the end user. Will this ever change? Most likely not.
  • by Weasel Boy (13855) on Monday February 16, 2009 @06:47PM (#26878721) Journal

    Bruce's article discusses license proliferation from the perspective of how-do-I; I'd like to confront those who use it to say why-should-I.

    I used to work for a company whose lawyers argued that we must avoid Free Software because there were too many licenses to understand. Really.

    Okay, so hundreds or thousands of Free Software products tend to use one of a few dozen licenses. We get that.

    When you use proprietary software, every software product is governed by its own unique license. This is an improvement?

    License proliferation is a totally bogus reason not to use Free Software.

    Epilogue: My former employer has since seen the light. The legal team (whole executive team, actually) was sacked, and the company now uses and writes software under the GPL.

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