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Open Source Project Licenses Trending Toward Open Rather than Free 369

Posted by timothy
from the for-some-values-of-open-or-free dept.
bonch writes "An analysis of software licenses shows usage of GPL and other copyleft licenses declining at an accelerating rate. In their place, developers are choosing permissive licenses such as BSD, MIT, and ASL. One theory for the decline is that GPL usage was primarily driven by vendor-led projects, and with the shift to community-led projects, permissive licenses are becoming more common."
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Open Source Project Licenses Trending Toward Open Rather than Free

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  • by Chrisq (894406) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @08:30AM (#39761725)
    "Open Rather than Free" implies that there is some charge. Both licenses are "free" in terms of you can use the software without paying. The difference is that any works derived or using GPL type licenses also have to be released on the same license. Whether this is more or less open depends on your point of view.
    • by Nursie (632944) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @08:38AM (#39761757)

      It's also a misleading summary and article.

      The proportion of open source projects using the GPL, LGPL and AGPL is declining, not the absolute number of projects.

      *GPL may not actually be in decline at all, the article doesn't say, it just says that it's falling as a proportion. This information is pretty worthless on its own.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by w.hamra1987 (1193987)

        well, technically... GPL cant decline unless a project is taken offline, the license doesn't permit the project to get another non-free license after it gets GPL'ed

        • by djmurdoch (306849) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @09:21AM (#39761993)

          If you're speaking "technically", you're wrong. If I release a project under GPL, I can release it under any other license I like later.

          The only time I am tied to GPL is if I choose to incorporate someone else's work into my project, and they don't want to change licenses.

          So on a big project with lots of copyright holders, it is nearly impossible to switch to a more permissive license, but that's because it's so hard to get a big group of people to agree, not because the GPL doesn't allow it.

          • by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @09:48AM (#39762169)

            If I release a project under GPL, I can create a non-GPL license fork later.

            FTFY

            You can choose to change your license on new code. However the code that is already release will remain GPL and can continue under someone else's leadership.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Anonymous Coward

              Not necessarily true. The case law with respect to this is highly lacking. Your stance is what the FSF wants to believe, not necessarily what would be the case if this had more firm case law rulings.

              • by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @10:41AM (#39762531)

                The case law with respect to this is highly lacking.

                I am not a lawyer, however:

                So you base your doubt on the lack of court cases involving forked projects? The lack of case law could be attributed to the contract agreement between the original author and the code users of the GPL version. The original developer convincing the court that the contract is null and void seems like a large obstacle to pass. Especially when the defendant is being accused to upholding their end of the written agreement, and I don't see a revocation clause within the GPL agreement.

                The original author is free to make his new code more restrictive, however people who continue to use the code that was originally licensed as GPL has a contractual agreement that they are free to continue to make modifications of said code as long as they make a credible effort to send the changes back to the original developer.

                The irony being that the submitted changes are copyrighted by the submitter and that code can not be added to the now non-GPL code of the original author.

              • I don't think you need to read case law to know that once you've granted someone a license, you can't simply take it away.

                This remark was silly.

                • That potentially depends on how you granted the licence, and probably on what jurisdiction you are in as well.

                  Asking these questions is not silly at all if you're going to be on the wrong end of any adverse legal consequences. It's clear from some of the comments here that some people automatically believe the FSF's interpretation, even though they have never personally talked to a lawyer to understand how copyright, licensing, contracts, deeds and so on actually work in law.

              • by allo (1728082)

                interesting point. lets assume, nobody "licensed" my work while it was available as gpl, and then i decide to only distribute it under another license. Can somebody say "hey, it were gpl some time ago"?

                when i offer my pictures under some conditions, and change the conditions when i notice noone is buying them with the old conditions, you could not insist on buying them under the old conditions.

                And the GPL is only effective, when somebody redistributes the work. So a simple user is not enough, when he's not

          • by Teancum (67324)

            So on a big project with lots of copyright holders, it is nearly impossible to switch to a more permissive license, but that's because it's so hard to get a big group of people to agree, not because the GPL doesn't allow it.

            You could also go the route that the Wikimedia Foundation took for such a dilemma: Convince Richard Stallman that the license is worthless and put in an "escape clause" that allows a project to switch licenses through a rewrite of the next version of the GPL.

            The fact that such a tactic was even permitted for the GFDL should give pause to anybody working with licenses produced by the Free Software Foundation. I admit that in the case of the Wikimedia Foundation they switched from the GFDL to a roughly simi

        • by allo (1728082)

          wrong. all the authors together can agree to another additional license. Then one of them adds a patch which is only licensed under the new license, and then the current state of the project has only the new license.

      • What the article is saying that the GPL license marketshare is in decline, while the other less restrictive opens source licenses' marketshare is on the rise.

        In other words, a large number of new open source projects are not choosing to use GPL licensing. While technically the number of GPL projects are not declining, their future relevancy (as far as the general computing community is concerned) is falling.

        Since the goal of most GPL projects are to "scratch a particular itch" and not to be the most pop

      • by KiloByte (825081) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @11:22AM (#39762807)

        The proportion of GPL is "declining" fast -- from 71% in 2005 to 93% in 2011 (source [itwire.com]). That's if you disregard fart apps and look only at software good enough for someone to package it for Debian. This does discriminate against some Mac/iOS-only stuff, but not by much as anything useful enough and freely licensed will probably have someone port it.

        Also, this is the same Apple shill posting the very same data on Slashdot for the third time.

    • by Moldiver (1343577)

      It's not about more open - it's about more freedom.

      • by Goaway (82658)

        And the BSD-like licenses grant you more freedom, so...

    • Misleading... "Open Rather than Free" implies that there is some charge.

      I'm not sure it's misleading at all — Free software and open source software are simply terms of art. "Open" no more means that it is supplied at a cost than "Free" refers to price.

      • It's misleading because the neither the Free Software Foundation's list of four freedoms required for something to be Free Software, nor the Open Source Definition requires something to be copyleft. I think there are some corner cases where something can be covered by one definition but not the other, but I've never seen one in the wild: projects tend to be either proprietary or both free software and open source. What the title meant was that open source project licenses are tending towards permissive, r
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 22, 2012 @08:56AM (#39761839)

      Even by the FSF's definition, "copyleft" and "free" are distinct terms. Every license in the summary is considered free by the FSF: BSD [gnu.org] MIT [gnu.org] ASL [gnu.org]

    • by miknix (1047580) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @09:29AM (#39762041) Homepage

      From TFA:

      That was the conclusion of Matthew Aslett's analysis of recent data from Black Duck Software

      Do we even need to say anything else?

      http://techrights.org/wiki/index.php/Black_Duck [techrights.org]

    • by sribe (304414) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @10:17AM (#39762345)

      The difference is that any works derived or using GPL type licenses also have to be released on the same license.

      Correction: may only be distributed under the same license. Please don't accidentally be Steve Ballmer's mouthpiece by spreading subtly misleading information about the GPL.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      "Open Rather than Free" implies that there is some charge.

      No, no it doesn't.

      You can be charged for either Open or Free software.

      The difference is what you can do with the source code afterwards.

      Unfortunately, while nerds are friendly to case-sensitivity and have nominally accepted Free to mean "Free Software" and "free" to mean "free as in I hand you a beer and it's your beer" this does not come through in the headline.

      Essentially, you are therefore complaining about the term "Free Software" (which is the correct term) and not about the headline, which simply uses

    • You missed the Free with a capital 'F'. It's the geek code for freedom rather than free beer.

    • Open vs Free (Score:5, Insightful)

      by unixisc (2429386) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @11:53AM (#39763061)

      There is very much a difference. A lot more licenses are considered 'open' [opensource.org] than 'free [gnu.org]', even while containing provisions that make it more palatable for the software creators. Look at the 2 lists that I linked to. The ones mentioned as 'open' are simply listed and categorized by their utility, w/o any judgement calls about their ethics, while GNU is more interested in listing them according to their purity i.e. similarity to the GPL itself. So it's small wonder that projects would pick an 'open' but not 'free' license - there are simply more of the latter than the former, and w/o onerous restrictions on software creators.

      Contrary to myth, the Open Source movement, rather than the FSF, is the reason we have such major open source software such as Open Office, Firefox, Chromium, Apache, Android, and so on - if you notice, most of them are not GPL, and even Linus has decided not to make his kernel GPL3. If anything, companies like Sun went for things like the CDDL because it is not GPL. Oh, and before anyone says 'Android is Linux', Android is released under an Apache license and not GPL 2 nor 3.

      I'd credit the likes of the OSI in helping popularize the Open Source model and bringing it to where it is. Unlike the FSF, it is not hostile to corporate interests and prefers to promote the advantages of this development model, rather than moralizing about the 'ethics' of 'Free Software'. Speaking of which, what is this 'community' that RMS, and you are talking of? People typically buy/download for free/copy software that they want to use, and use it. Most people don't, and won't, tinker w/ source code, nor pay someone else to tinker w/ them - if a software doesn't work the way they need, they either look for alternatives or workarounds.

      ESR mentioned some of that in the 'Cathedral and the Bazaar', where he noted that worse than the confusion over the word 'free' was the perception that the FSF was down and out hostile to business. I'd say that that perception is accurate - name me one company (not non-profit organization like FSF) that Stallman endorses. As I've pointed out several times in the past, Freedom 2 of GNU is the poison pill in the GNU charter that makes it the most business hostile model. If a company, otoh, is fine w/ distributing its source code to its customers, but restricts re-distribution further downstream (for the obvious reason that they want to sell to those downstream potential customers themselves, and not have the value of their work diluted by other people who put no effort into it simply distributing it for free or their own profits), then they are more likely to find a sympathetic solution from OSI than FSF, who probably wouldn't give them the time of day.

      There is only one case that I can think of where 'free' is a better idea than 'open'. It is the case of when a company is releasing support software for a competitor, like the recent story on /. about a TI employee writing FOSS drivers for QCOM in his free time the same way that he was writing FOSS drivers for TI in his work time. In such a case, it would be a good idea to use something like GPL3, just so that QCOM cannot make use of a non-employee's unpaid work and then include enhancements after making that proprietary. While it would have been perfectly ethical for them to do it w/ their own paid employees, it is somewhat unethical for them to do it w/ work done by employees of their competitors off the clock.

    • by ArsonSmith (13997)

      Yea, reading the summery I immediately thought the Open vs Free intro was described the opposite in the rest. I envision GPL to guarantees the code remains open, while the others are free to be enslaved. It boils down tho the argument, Is a county more or less free if you have the freedom to enslave others?

  • by Reality Master 301 (1462839) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @08:33AM (#39761737)
    Free as in beer, or open as in... beer?
  • black duck (Score:5, Informative)

    by neonsignal (890658) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @08:37AM (#39761753)

    Surprise, surprise, yet another anti-GPL study from Black Duck software.

  • by msclrhd (1211086) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @08:38AM (#39761759)

    If you look at the work that Apple supports (clang, etc.), they are using non-GPL licenses. Same goes for code on CodePlex (the Microsoft site for C#/.NET open source projects). If you look at any of the ruby, python, javascript projects on GitHub, they tend to use a non-GPL license.

    C/C++ projects make up 11% of the projects on github and these tend to be the languages that use GPL.

    I personally use GPL for my projects because I am happy with that license, and use other projects that are GPL. Others may not, so they are free to choose a different language.

    And we have heard repeatedly from Brian Proffitt that the GPL is dying/dead, but is still being used for new projects. Oh and this is article dated December 16, 2011, so why is this news now?

    Welcome to the FUD machine.

    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      Apple is pretty hostile towards GPLv3. They won't distribute any code licensed under it. That's almost certainly why they stuck with an older version of Samba in OS X until they could replace it with their own implementation. Pretty much, once something goes GPLv3, they're going to fork & maintain, or rewrite from scratch.

      • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @10:11AM (#39762297) Journal
        Apple isn't the only company. The patent clauses and termination clauses in GPLv3 make a lot of companies nervous. There is a lot of FUD in the classic sense surrounding the GPLv3, but the most important is the U: uncertainty. When legal says 'we're 80% sure that there will be no problems with distributing this code in our products,' management hears 'there is a 20% chance that this will be really expensive' and opts for a more permissively license alternative.
      • by gnasher719 (869701) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @10:17AM (#39762341)

        Apple is pretty hostile towards GPLv3. They won't distribute any code licensed under it. That's almost certainly why they stuck with an older version of Samba in OS X until they could replace it with their own implementation. Pretty much, once something goes GPLv3, they're going to fork & maintain, or rewrite from scratch.

        I wonder which side the hostility comes from.

  • Bullshit (Score:5, Informative)

    by peppepz (1311345) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @08:43AM (#39761785)
    Permissive licenses are universally chosen by companies (Android) while the GPL is chosen by community projects (Linux, gcc).

    MS-PL? Who on earth has ever heard of that license? Perhaps the fact that the only source of the data is a company that is connected to Microsoft [techrights.org] has something to do with its mention? The fact that the same company has been emitting anti-GPL propaganda since 2008 is also interesting.

    Slashdot, please don't propagate astroturfing.

  • All of these licences are opensource and all of the permit you to create derivative works. In what way is, for example, a MIT licence not free?

  • by GNUALMAFUERTE (697061) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (etreufamla)> on Sunday April 22, 2012 @09:04AM (#39761883)

    This is bullshit. It's counting by project, not by importance or size. I'm sure if we counted by lines of code, the GPL would still be #1.

    What's happening is that we are seeing new "projects" being created at an alarming rate, most of this projects being wordpress plugins that do nothing important, collections of shitty javascript functions, and themes for various CMS, forums, etc.

    Sure, it's full of kids that "just learned" the latest "cool" language (you know the type, Ruby, Python, etc) and just create some project that is either trivial, or is going nowhere past "we uploaded a readme and a roadmap to sourceforge". Half of sourceforge is dead projects.

    The truth is that projects aren't jumping ships. No GPL projects are trying to change their license.

    I could report "The earth is getting smaller and less important", but the truth is that the inflation of the universe doesn't change the size of the earth, just what percentage of the universe it represents.

    • by pankkake (877909)

      The Black Duck KnowledgeBase includes over 540,000 projects

      Looks like you're right, they must be counting every hipster Github project.

      As for projects with actual users, I've seen more migrations from GPL2 to 3

    • Re:Shenanigans. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @10:22AM (#39762379) Journal

      The truth is that projects aren't jumping ships. No GPL projects are trying to change their license.

      Projects aren't relicensing (it's really hard!), but GPL'd projects are seeing competition from more permissively licensed alternatives. It looks like in FreeBSD 10 we'll be able to replace all of the GPL'd components of the base system with permissively licensed alternatives. Doing that five years ago would have been impossible.

  • This is because (I'm wearing my flame-retardant suit) the GPL isn't necessary to preserve software freedom anymore; and in its own way is restrictive of those freedoms.

    1) It scares off a lot of people and companies who might otherwise use such software. Nobody wants to be caught staring down the barrel of a loaded lawyer because of their choice of software. Whether or not this fear is *realistic* is not relevant - it is a *real* fear.

    2) By using a license to force-propagate specific freedoms, we restrict o

    • by Skuto (171945) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @09:39AM (#39762099) Homepage

      Free software is here. We've won. The strict rules of the GPL aren't necessary because people are willing to create, use, and propagate free software without them.

      Citation needed.

      GPL3 focuses on anti-tivoization and patents. According to your reasoning, that's not needed because companies are voluntarily allowing their users to hack their devices, and they're not patenting software? You must live on another planet. Without an axe to wield like the GPL, free software is dead in 5 years. It's annoying so many people are just so incredibly naive, or corporate brainwashed, in this regard.

    • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday April 22, 2012 @10:30AM (#39762423) Homepage Journal

      A lot of newer projects are more concerned with getting their source adopted and in use than with making sure users contribute back. And the best way to get better adoption is to use a license that doesn't scare people (and lawyers).

      Licenses which aren't the GPL scare me, because I always assume that eventually the critical people will end up working for some company that manages a closed fork.

      • A lot of newer projects are more concerned with getting their source adopted and in use than with making sure users contribute back. And the best way to get better adoption is to use a license that doesn't scare people (and lawyers).

        Licenses which aren't the GPL scare me, because I always assume that eventually the critical people will end up working for some company that manages a closed fork.

        That's definitely possible, yet this does not give those core contributors - or their new corporate overlords - the means to remove the original source from circulation. It can still be picked up by others and improved upon.

        And if the project is so reliant on those specific individuals that this isn't realistic, I would argue it's not safe to rely on such a project to begin with due to the unpredictable nature of busses.

  • Choose a license the way you choose a screwdriver, not the way you choose a religion.

    What are your goals? Are you inventing a new protocol that you want everyone, everywhere, to integrate and ship with their software, be it open or proprietary? Then you want a BSD-like or MIT-like license.

    Do you want to have control over the commercial uses of your work, while keep non-commercial use low cost? Then GPL or similar is for you.

    At one hardware company I worked at, we released drivers under BSD. From the com

  • by ninetyninebottles (2174630) on Sunday April 22, 2012 @11:42AM (#39762949)

    Copyleft licenses like GPL have always been ideal for projects where you're trying to build something you use in conjunction with others that use it. It's a community contract for building a shared tool with many contributors where one competitor forking it is a danger. This is great for things like LibreOffice or Webkit. Developers are large users and so long as it is a shared resource no one party gets an advantage.

    Open, permissive licenses like BSD have always been better for component level technology or proposed new standard protocols or other software that requires both interoperability and adoption to have value. Things like drivers, services that run communication protocols, and generic system services all fit into this category. In these cases barriers to adoption (like dropping it into a bunch of closed source code) are detrimental to the project as a whole. It's better if MS takes it and incorporates it into Windows, even if they don't contribute anything back.

    So an increase in the proportion of the latter category is hardly surprising as technology trends change. The move to mobile devices, cheaper targeted hardware manufacturing, and smaller, more efficient computing components lead to an increased number of projects in this latter category. Building a service to print wirelessly from your tablet? Why wouldn't you want you code as widely adopted and thus as widely supported by printer makers as possible? Does a competitor closing the source on the audio driver you built really give them any sort of advantage over a GPL where they have to give bug fixes back (but probably won't do much since you already made a feature complete product)?

    It used to be the only place we saw this sort of development was in the Linux and BSD server markets because hardware costs made it out of the reach of those who built small devices. Now WindRiver and the like are taking a back seat as the market is flooded with cheap, small components. Most everyone in the industry has seen this trend ramping up for a long time. It isn't an ideological shift. We are all still applying the licenses that make sense to our projects. There are just more projects in the latter category now because the environment has changed.

  • They're two different kinds of freedom, the GPL, like liberalism, uses rules that are technically anti-freedom to actively defend the (in-practice) freedom of the parties involved. The BSD license, like libertarianism, is like setting out a very barebones set of rules (theoretically very free) and hoping for the best.

    How does it work in practice? Well which license gets its softeware incorporated into closed commercial products while the developers get a big fat nothing, and which one was updated with new rules when a loophole allowed similar behavior? So you have to choose whether you want freedom in theory or practice.

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