Licensing

Licensing has become a vexatious issue, it seems, in the open software world. There are too many Bad Actors.

I can’t speak for any others but I’m writing this software and documentation in my own time and at my own expense primarily for my own interest but, like many people in a similar position, I’m going to publish it for anyone to use at no charge.

I am hoping that in doing so the world becomes a better place. (Ferociously, naïve, I know, but I am going to let it pass as there’s more to come.)

I would like to be rewarded for my efforts but I don’t expect to. What I’m saying to you is that here’s A Thing, feel free to use it and if it helps you along your way then we’re all good. I’m happy, you’re happy, thumbs up all round.

But here’s the rub. Some people are taking that thing, worse, continually taking (updates to) that thing, and making a lot of money on the back of it.

And they’re not paying back. Figuratively or literally. That doesn’t seem…right.

I don’t think anyone expects to be rewarded with a gilded palace wherein to gorge on ambrosian delights and be proffered exotic libations by lissom young things but you would like to think that these takers would concern themselves with ensuring that the sources of their new found wealth are placed in a position where they can continue to provide the software they’re making so much money off of. You could even imagine that it is in their interest to do so.

Few commercial organisations have any altruistic form, though, it’s not in their DNA. Their charge is to increase the wealth of their shareholders by any means, however sociopathic. Giving people reward who never asked for any is, by any commercial measure, unwise.

The more egregious abuses are as-a-service provision where the provider, by dint of not actually giving their customers any product but merely allowing them to use it, do not even have to return any improvements they have made to the original project.

We are all diminished by this. Our apparent gain by the new service is far outweighed by the pernicious loss of knowledge to the collective whole.

This has led many developers to turn to a more restrictive form of licence with more rigour in the requirements on the user to pay back any changes they make.

I can understand that but the flip-side is that we have large enterprises that could make the world a better place (through their scale of presence) actively shun such software. In a sense the use of a licence is politicizing software.

I can’t see that ending well. I sense the right action is to encourage the users of software to pay back, however unlikely that might appear now.

There are bad actors today and, unless human nature changes, there will always be bad actors in the future. Worse, still, is a significant group who will ignore whatever is written in any attached licence file anyway.

On the one, legal, hand, we can’t stop those who take stuff they shouldn’t. And few amongst us can afford to litigate against them if we catch them. On the other, moral, hand, we’ve asked for nothing in return for our software so our expectations can only be moral.

There’s nothing much to exert in a court of law claiming moral justice but we do have access to the court of public opinion and corporate interests do not include being publicly shamed for their poor behaviour. It’s not pretty and doesn’t sit well but maybe it is the only action likely to have a long-term impact on their behaviour either directly or by encouraging their customers to shop elsewhere.

My long-time software buddies, Emacs, Bash and GCC (and now, of course, the Linux kernel and most of its associated user-space) are all in the GNU GPL camp. I have a lot of sympathy for their standpoint but, if I’m honest, it feels too ardent.

I want to believe the word is full of good people trying to do the right thing but for circumstance. If we can give them a nudge in the right direction then everything will be better. The bad guys will ignore us whatever we do.

So I’m going to use the relatively non-restrictive Apache 2 Licence. I hope I’ve done the right thing.

Last built at 2024-05-19T06:11:23Z+0000 from 463152b (dev)