Friday, July 20, 2007

Why the GPL sucks as a license...


The Security Blogger's Network has been debating the GPL recently but this is a debate that has been going for years..

The short version of the printer story: Richard Stallman worked for a company. They had a printer. They modified the printer driver's source to do stuff the printer makers didn't think of. They were happy. They upgraded the printer. The new printer driver worked but had no source so they couldn't modify it to do what the old printer did. Richard Stallman fell in love with the idea of having source code. He wrote the GPL to enable users to be able to manage their software.

It was later discovered that the GPL can help a company to expand their product for free and get community involvement. This was an unexpected bonus but not why the license was created in the first place. One of the shortcomings is that if you never redistribute the binary or don't redistribute it to the original author, you don't have to forward your source code changes. This could make coders upset but really - the GPL is designed to make users happy.

I've had a good think about companies changing the license from GPL to something else when their product becomes more successful and I think it is fine to do that.. it is their work but.. they must strip out all the bits and pieces that others have contributed to the product or inform them up front that their work may become part of a non GPL software offering.

I remember back when Netscape announced to great fan fare that they would be releasing an open source version of their browser it took a very long time for the source to actually be released because so much of it had to be stripped out because it was non-Netscape proprietary code.

I remember also when the CDDB went private taking all the hard work of their contributors along with them. I am not a lawyer but I know what is fair.
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