License to Share

Yes, tacky. Her Majesty’s GPL-enforcer.

I came across Drew DeVault’s essay on source code licenses, from a few years ago, and agreed with the first few lines:

I agreed with the first few lines of this essay:

I generally preferred the MIT license. I actually made fun of the “copyleft” GPL licenses, on the grounds that they are less free

Yes, so far so good.

… once I started using Linux as my daily driver, however, it took a while still for the importance of free software to set in. But this realization is inevitable, for a programmer immersed in Linux. It radically changes your perspective when all of the software you use guarantees these four freedoms. If I’m curious about how something works, I can usually be reading the code within a few seconds. I can find the author’s name and email in the git blame and shoot them some questions. And when I find a bug, I can fix it and send them a patch.

Okay, sure, don’t disagree. But then, the lede:

These days, on the rare occasion that I run into some proprietary software, this all grinds to a halt. It’s like miscounting the number of steps on your staircase in the dark. These moments drive the truth home: Free software is good. It’s starkly better than the alternative. And copyleft defends it.

Making the point clearer:

I’ve learned that the effort I sink into my work far outstrips the effort required to reuse my work. The collective effort of the free software community amounts to tens of millions of hours of work, which you can download at touch of a button, for free. If the people with their fingers on that button held these same ideals, we wouldn’t need the GPL.

The case being that we need the GPL because of human nature … or at least human society as it exists right now.

The GPL is the legal embodiment of this Golden Rule: in exchange for benefiting from my hard work, you just have to extend me the same courtesy. Its the unfortunate acknowledgement that we’ve created a society that incentivises people to forget the Golden Rule. I give people free software because I want them to reciprocate with the same. That’s really all the GPL does. Its restrictions just protect the four freedoms in derivative works. Anyone who can’t agree to this is looking to exploit your work for their gain – and definitely not yours.

As someone who’s oscillated between GPL & FSF and MIT/BSD, this is definitely something to chew on.

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