Rethinking Licensing
BSD vs GPL


I recently was rethinking licensing of a software project (OcherBook). At the time it was GPL version 3, because I am/was sick and tired of DRM and the overreach of corporations. GPLv3 was my symbolic way of striking back.

David vs Goliath

And yet, on reflection, I don’t think GPLv3 is the right way to address such problems. The GPL is the iron curtain. It is shock and awe. It’s us versus them. GPLv3 is arrogant. It is incompatible with (nearly?) every other license. Therefore it only makes sense

IF (you believe proprietary software is morally wrong) AND
    (you are so important that you can force others to follow OR
     you don't care whether your software is used)

On the first point, I don’t strictly believe proprietary software is wrong and immoral. Now, true, it is extremely rare that I use proprietary software. I don’t like it. I find it far less useful than free and open source software. It’s less flexible. And it’s more risky: Many licensing schemes allow software you “bought” to disappear at any time. (This is what FreeBSD has termed the orphaning problem). This naturally lowers the value of it.

On the second point, even though OcherBook isn’t anything much at this point, I have created other software that was simple yet quite useful, and it was simply a net win overall to be able to reuse it in whatever context. Why re-write the wheel?

On the third point, I want OcherBook (and any software I write) to be used. Otherwise, I’m wasting my time and my life.

All of this makes me lean BSD.

Points to RMS

On some topics, I agree with RMS:

I absolutely agree with the GPL’s desire to prevent “tivoization”.

Capitalism

Oddly enough, I initially leaned toward the GPL to “stick it to the man”. I’m not part of the one percent, so fuck ‘em. And yet, the GPL is oddly suited to further monopolistic behavior. If everyone has software for free and must share equally, who will profit the most? The ultimate capitalist will, because the only differentiating factor is what capital can bring to bear (financing the support, etc).

FreeBSD acknowledges this also here in the third paragraph.

Even RMS points this out, by arguing that GPL can provide income via consulting.

I suspect this is why Red Hat has nearly a $10B capitalization, with almost no competition. Mom-and-pop operations have the source code, but do not have capital to compete in the consulting space.

As labor costs are driven to zero, only the capitalist will acrete more capital. That almost reminds me of something, you know what I mean?

Escrow

Humanism

When seen in certain lights, I might be considered a humanist. That is, within this context, I care about advancing the knowledge and state of humanity.

And so it’s natural to wonder how best to be a humanist in the software world. Rational people can disagree here, I suspect.

Open source (of any strain) is a win, because it’s a permanent advancement. I have thought about this previously.

But once I consider the previous point of how GPL favors those who have much capital to throw at it, I again prefer to back off to the BSD license. Diversity is better than a monopoly.

December 23, 2013
547 words


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