GPL Not Needed

“We don’t need the GPL anymore. It’s based on the belief that open source software is weak and needs to be protected. Open source would be succeeding faster if the GPL didn’t make lots of people nervous about adopting it.” — ESR. Some interesting arguments. I don’t agree with it all but it’s a good read nonetheless.

3 thoughts on “GPL Not Needed

  1. I don’t agree. Without the GPL, private companies could go to market and make big money on the sweat of developers who aren’t getting paid. The GPL can be used effectively in court if work is stolen and used commercially.

    What weakens the GPL is developers not asserting their rights to their intellectual property when it is stolen by a commercial venture.

  2. It is impossible to decide whether you think the GPL is needed unless you define what you think the goal of adopting the GPL is. Obviously, the GPL isn’t essential to the creation of free or open source software, the obvious counterexamples being software which is licensed under the BSD License (keep attribution, but you are allowed to modify and redistribute). Many pieces of software are released freely under this less restrictive license.

    What licenses like the BSD don’t enforce is any kind of fairness. The BSD License effectively says “look, take this, do whatever”. The GPL says “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” The GPL is effectively a viral license: it is designed to encourage others to distribute software on the same terms by giving you something you want.

    The commentor above says that companies could take code from private developers who aren’t paid and could make big money. That’s just not correct: copyright remains with the developer, and commercial companies aren’t allowed to derive or redistribute unless explicitly granted the right to do so by the copyright holders. Without the GPL, they have no rights _whatsoever_ to the code, and it would be a copyright violation for them to do almost anything with it. On the other hand, if the developers choose to relinquish their right to limit derivative copies or redistribution (and there are many good reasons why they might choose to do so) then it _isn’t copyright infringement for companies to take advantage of the granted rights_. Indeed, that is what expected. People who promote the GPL often cite Microsoft’s adoption of the BSD socket code as an example of this corporate greed, but in fact their adoption of this code was PRECISELY what was intended by the authors when they released their code under the BSD license.

    ESR has never been a particularly ideological supporter of the GPL. It is altogether unsurprising to me that he would write what he has said above.