James Dixon’s Blog

James Dixon’s thoughts on commercial open source and open source business intelligence

Is the General Public License (GPL) futile or unneccessary?

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In a recent post – The Economic Case Against the GPL Eric Raymond contents that the GPL is either futile or unnecessary. Here are my thoughts.

The core of the GPL is very simple and elegant. It is a work of art in licensing terms. Put simply it says  “I am making my work available to you with a wide set of freedoms, and I only ask that these same freedoms are given to anyone you distribute your work to.” This creates an intellectualy property ‘lock-out’ (as opposed to a lock-in). It does not stop you from selling your work, but it does stop you from keeping your intellectual property to yourself.

So the first question is – is this futile? I think the answer to this is no. The lock-out is effective. In fact many commercial open source businesses use a dual – license strategy : they offering technology under a GPL license for no cost and selling the same technology under a commercial license. This would not be a viable model if the GPL was futile or inaffective.

The second question – is this unnecessary? Can software that is open and transparent with similar freedoms, but without the intellectual property lock-out be successful? The Apache Foundation, the Eclipse Foundation, and JBoss are certainly successful. So maybe this is the case.

As Raymond says the GPL is effective for community forming and as a ‘badge’. But the Apache license is just as effective at this in my mind.

The GPL is certainly not futile, but there is a case for saying it is unnecessary. As always, we will have to wait and see what plays out in the long term.


Written by James

April 27, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Posted in licenses, open source

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