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GNU is Not Unix Open Source Programming Software

Most Projects On GitHub Aren't Open Source Licensed 630

PCM2 writes "Kids these days just don't care about open source. That's the conclusion of the Software Freedom Law Center's Aaron Williamson, who analyzed some 1.7 million projects on GitHub and found that only about 15% of them had a clearly identifiable license in their top-level directories. And of the projects that did have licenses, the vast majority preferred permissive licenses such as the MIT, BSD, or Apache licenses, rather than the GPL. Has the younger generation given up on ideas like copyleft and Free Software? And if so, what can be done about it?" Not having an identifiable license is one thing, but it seems quite a stretch to say that choosing a permissive open source license is "not caring"; horses for courses.
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Most Projects On GitHub Aren't Open Source Licensed

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  • No license (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ceriel Nosforit ( 682174 ) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @01:41PM (#43484619)

    I have uploaded the meagre, puny code that I've written in a small number of projects without bothering with a license. I expect people to steal it and be quiet about it, because I am the noise floor of github.

    Frankly for most projects on github (1.7 million is not a small number of computer software projects), legalese is a bother. It is simply uncouth and considered harmful.

  • by Microlith ( 54737 ) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @01:47PM (#43484691)

    this generation doesn't care for limiting other developers' choices in development in the way Stallman wanted.

    Ooh, I can twist this one around:

    this generation doesn't care to preserve the freedom of others in using their computers, the way Stallman wanted

    That's a good one!

    They've seen the outcome of a "GPL-only" world, and they didn't like it.

    What exactly would be the outcome of a "GPL-only" world?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 18, 2013 @01:55PM (#43484813)

    Meh, there's plenty of substantial work (coulda-been-paid-for-it) on GitHub.

    However, it's is nearly all web-related. And the GPL doesn't offer much for web code, because the resulting application is rarely "distributed" beyond the company who built it. BSDish licenses are just a better fit for what they're trying to accomplish.

  • by Microlith ( 54737 ) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @01:59PM (#43484851)

    In the case of commercial applications, I like to think of the GPL as the asking price for my software. You're always free to re-negotiate if it's too high.

  • by h4rr4r ( 612664 ) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @02:09PM (#43484995)

    Go compare Linux and BSD then think about it for a while.

    Some folks will not contribute back if they can avoid it.

    I like BSD for somethings, boring stuff that gets shared and used everywhere. SSH, SSL that sort of thing, but if you want your new whiz-bang thing to get code back GPL is better for that.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 18, 2013 @02:09PM (#43484997)

    Or perhaps they simply don't care about *your* ideals. That hardly implies that they are ignorant. I don't include licenses in my github projects because I simply don't give a fuck. Yes, that means that by default technically nobody can use it. In practice nobody gives a fuck, and everyone lived happily ever after.

    Screw permission culture.

  • Younger? Er, what? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by seebs ( 15766 ) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @02:18PM (#43485103) Homepage

    I am pretty sure I'm not the younger generation.

    And yes, I've pretty much abandoned the GPL, because the GPLv3 is to open source what the anti-circumvention cause in the DMCA is to copyright. RMS had a vision of a cooperative paradise. Then he realized that some people wouldn't play nice, and did what everyone else does when they realize that not everyone will voluntarily adopt the business models they want everyone to use. Tried to figure out a way to make it happen by force.

    So, yeah, I'll use the GPL where it's the established license, and some of the stuff I work on ends up being put out under LGPL. But for stuff I write because I want it to be open source? Permissive licenses. Usually the lightweight BSD (no advertising clause) or Artistic, or heck, public domain. My goal is to give stuff away, not to force other people to give stuff away.

    It's the same thing that's happened to my morality over the years; I've started focusing more on living according to my own moral beliefs, and less on trying to find ways that society can force other people to do so too.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 18, 2013 @02:56PM (#43485547)

    I think the younger generation has discovered exactly what the older generation discovered, then lost and tried to reclaim.

    Stallman has talked about his time in academia and described the way that software worked. Everyone who wrote software shared it with each other and the ecosystem thrived. Then other interests realized that software was valuable and tried to lock it down. The GPL grew out of attempting to keep code from being locked down. But there was no GPL in those early days, only an informal way things were done.

    Github is the rediscovery of that way things are done. It encourages people to share software by providing tools (fork, pull request and such) that make sharing and contributing easy. For them, the complexities of the GPL just get in the way. It's easier to just give everything away under the most permissive license. Github, to programmer geeks, is another vector of Twitter, Facebook or's part of your online reputation. The more impressive your Github, the easier it is to find work or have your opinion respected online. And unlike LinkedIn where you can claim to know things just by saying you do, Github offers proof through code samples. We've actually had great results in hiring by using Github's search API to search for projects and then limiting that list to developers in our area.

    What remains to be seen is whether the same thing that happened to the older generation will happen to the Github generation. Will entrenched interests realize the value of what's being produced and try to control it or steal from it? If so, there may be a movement towards using the GPL or something similar that forces people to either opt into the spirit of Github or opt out entirely. However the complete lack of licenses might actually be a plus in this regard. Big companies will shy away from using code on Github because of the liability it creates. Small companies that are willing to do things the Github way will benefit from code created there and enrich the community.

    For example, the latest feature I worked on was made much simpler by a project I found on Github. It's very well done, but has some rough edges that I spent a week or so fixing. I submitted a pull request which was accepted and the developer was friendly and genuinely seemed happy that his code was being used and others were participating in his project. There's no license for the project, but I know we're not going to run into problems because we're not a user of the project, we're a participant in the project and have helped to make it better.

    The Github community seems to be attempting to recreate Stallman's programmer utopia by simply ignoring copyright law entirely rather than attempting to wrangle it to that purpose. Only time will tell which approach works better.

  • by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdot&worf,net> on Thursday April 18, 2013 @03:38PM (#43486107)

    In other words: this generation doesn't care for limiting other developers' choices in development in the way Stallman wanted. They prefer to just give away the code instead of forcing everyone who uses it to open their own work. Good for this generation, I'd say. They've seen the outcome of a "GPL-only" world, and they didn't like it.

    Or maybe they're tired of license confusion?

    You can have two codebases that are "GPL" but which cannot be mixed together because they violate the GPL.

    Yes, you can end up in this situation very easily, because GPLv2 is not compatible with GPLv3 []. You can combine GPLv2+ code with GPLv3 code (producing a GPLv3 work), GPLv2+ with GPLv3+ (producing GPLv3+ work), but NOT GPLv2 and GPLv3 because GPLv3 contains clauses that violate other clauses in GPLv2.

    Anyone with a reasonably large codebase has to re-verify that there is no GPLv2 code in there before moving over to GPLv3.

    Of course, there's also a chance that they're doing it because companies are scared of GPLv3 - I've seen companies enforce open-source policies because of GPLv3 where you're not allowed to use any GPL'd code - whether it's for internal use only or distribution without engaging lawyers and all that stuff.

    Of course, things like Android have also helped raise the profile of alternative open-source licenses - I'm sure a lot of GPL'd projects used the GPL because that's all they knew - that all FOSS software was GPL'd.

    (And for the record, I tend to use a mix of BSD, MIT and GPLv2 (not v2+ or v3) for my code. Heck, you can even use unmodified BSD (the GPL-incompatible one)).

  • by Spazmania ( 174582 ) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @04:20PM (#43486515) Homepage

    I first considered Gnu Scientific Library, but if I used this I would have to GPL my own code

    If you think so, you're suffering a major failure of imagination. You can always find a practical way for non-GPL code to interact with GPL code that doesn't subject it to the GPL. Worst case, you build a light-weight wrapper around the GPL code and run it in a separate process. The beauty of it is that the authors of the GPL code can't even say nay: the GPL expressly forbids them from modifying it terms to disallow that higher level interaction.

  • by Spazmania ( 174582 ) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @06:50PM (#43487813) Homepage

    No my argument is that if the FSF wanted GPL software to be used only with other GPL software, they'd have written the license that way. They didn't. They wrote the license so that if you link with the code yours becomes GPL but if you merely use the programs together, it doesn't. So, make your improvements to the GPL code, release your improvements to the GPL code and if you want to keep the rest of your application closed source then do it. We'll appreciate what you chose to contribute and those of us with a brain will respect your choice for the things you chose not to contribute. We probably won't use the closed source parts, but we'll respect your choice.

  • by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @06:53PM (#43487841) Journal

    This line of reasoning also brings us down another familiar path--the cognitive dissonance among Free Software folks concerning "theft". When you discuss "piracy" they are all on board with the idea that "IP can't be stolen because it isn't property, and you still have the first copy", but when you mention permissive licensing they immediately complain that it allows companies to steal code.

No extensible language will be universal. -- T. Cheatham