It's time to say goodbye to the GPL

I don’t have strong opinions on licensing – I use excellent projects licensed under the GPL, including the Linux kernel, Discourse (this platform), and Wordpress. However, many of these points resonate:

You can force a company to make their source code of a GPL-derived software project available, but you cannot force them to be good citizens of the open source community (e.g. continuing to maintain the features they have added, fixing bugs, helping other contributors, providing good documentation, participating in project governance). What worth is source code that is just “thrown over the wall” without genuine engagement in the open source project? At best it’s worthless, and at worst it’s harmful because it shifts the burden of maintenance to other contributors of the project.

We need people to be good contributors to the open source community, and this is achieved by setting up the right incentives and by being welcoming, not by software licenses.

Perhaps the biggest factor to success is the culture we build around a project. Legal constraints, while necessary to set basic structure and expectations, are likely not very motivating.

More discussion on this article:

OpenWRT was one good thing that happened due to GPL enforcement, that has benefitted the
OSS community, most of other times, it has not been as effective. so I agree, its far more beneficial to spend your energy on building the project community and culture and. sustainable business model around it. There are licenses like Apache-2.0 which are quite good options these days.

I disagree with the statement that the GPL is worthless and harmful. The GPL is great and can be very useful as a consumer since you can have access to the code and for an informed an tech-capable consumer this means you can fix your problems yourself and won’t be (as) locked into the vendor’s services and post-purchase subscriptions.

As an engineer, when I have problems with a tool and I don’t have access to the source code, I’m at the mercy of the vendor. If I can obtain the source code and spend a reasonable amount of time looking it over, often I’ve found I’m quite a bit more informed than the first line of support representatives at the vendor’s company. Plus, even if the vendor doesn’t care about me, I can fix my problem and get on with my job.

Sure, BSD/MIT/Apache/etc licenses are great from a business perspective as you don’t have to give away your “IP,” but the GPL and forcing distribution of the source code is hugely valuable in my eyes as a consumer of computing technology. Even if I never look at the code, knowing it’s there should I need it is reassuring and comforting.

Good points – especially in the case of projects like the Linux kernel which is widely used – source code has opened up access where many manufacturers likely would have not provided source.

I don’t have any direct experience, but I hear the BSD projects (completely different license) are still thriving and growing. We’ll be releasing a podcast soon which contains one person’s perspective on this. It was mentioned that with BSD, it is hard to know where all it is being used. Like you said, this may not be the best from a consumer’s perspective. (Just making observations here, not advocating BSD)

As systems become more and more complex and capable, opening up some parts of a product is going to be necessary just to support the product. If the burden of supporting a complex product can be spread over the users and community, everyone can benefit. I am seeing this dynamic as I try to get support from some chip vendors, such as Microchip. Tradition support channels (internal FAEs, etc) don’t seem to be scaling as I at times wait days for a response.

I think we all like GPL that goes without saying

I was reading through this report and its interesting

Interesting report. I wonder how they measure usage – by project, lines of source code, usage? If by usage, then it would seem GPL is probably still by far the largest license in use when you consider projects like the Linux kernel and Wordpress. However, for web and application building blocks, it seems something like Apache or MIT probably makes more sense. Licenses are just another tool – use that one that makes sense for your project goals – nice to have options.

Yeah usage wise perhaps its right, because key components of Linux platforms are still GPL
One thing I see is that new projects are not adopting GPL as much as they did in past.

Another person’s perspective on AGPL:

I like the licenses Kyle has come up with because they are so simple and refreshing after the typical legalese we see in most contracts and licenses. However, time will tell if they are ever widely accepted.