License wars: GPL vs. BSD (or What happened to the public domain?)

There is a very interesting article about the GPL copyright license and the BSD copyright license, and this author’s view that the public domain is the only way to go. This is a very interesting take on both licenses.

His (her?) view is that both licenses place restrictions on the user (as he suggests all licenses do). However, I would beg to differ with the assessment on both licenses…

The GPL license does place restrictions on the user; however, those restrictions are there to preserve the freedom to change, modify, and give away the source code. That’s it. The restrictions are there to preserve freedom.

The BSD license places restrictions that basically say the user is responsible for the software, and says nothing about anything else. The BSD license was designed to preserve the freedom to do whatsoever you will with the software (including putting it into proprietary systems and not releasing source code).

However, the public domain basically places no restrictions whatsoever on your software. Thus, someone can appropriate the software, start selling it, claim they wrote it, and more – without any recourse for you, the original author. It is for this reason that the Public Domain is not where you want your software.

6 thoughts on “License wars: GPL vs. BSD (or What happened to the public domain?)”

  1. “His” 😉

    I have a habit of ranting when I’m upset, hence the tone of that post. It was a long day at work…

    I do think it’s a noble cause to try and preserve “free” code and ensure future “free” availability irrespective of what the author(s) decide to do in the future. But this isn’t “freedom.”

    Would I get upset that someone would take my work without giving me credit or sharing the modifications? Sure! I still have an ego… I’m only human.

    But I want to leave the user the freedom to choose to do the right thing just as I would like to have the choice given to me by someone else. My belief that a significant portion (if not a majority) of people would choose to share and give credit where it is due, overrides my urge to place restrictions on my work.

    What I really wanted to get across is that the GPL isn’t leaving the choice to do the right thing up to the user. From an ideological standpoint re: RMS’ sentiment on free software, it makes perfect sense. But this, again, isn’t freedom. Choice, I believe, entails true freedom.

    Hence the contradiction in sentiment.

    That said, I’m not saying everyone should place their software in the public domain as that would also be me forcing my point of view on others. I’m merely pointing out that there is where true “freedom” lives.

    Besides, projects like SQLite already are in the public domain.
    And I see “Powered by SQLite” including links to the project homepage all the time in many code libraries. So there are enough people out there choosing to do the right thing even when it isn’t legally required.

  2. Your thoughts are well put and well reasoned.

    When I read about the public domain, it seems altogether too scary for me. The risks are too great; there could be ramifications later, including someone taking your code out of the public domain and refusing to let you continue developing it or other things.

    To me it comes down to this: if you want to share your code and to force others to do the same, then the GPL is the license you want. If you want to share your code and let others do as they please, use the BSD license.

    Then there are other licenses as well: the Artistic License, the Mozilla License, et al.

    I believe that the Creative Commons licenses are also good licenses.

  3. There’s that word I don’t like… “force”. Which is the big reason I said in that post, the word “freedom” doesn’t belong in the GPL.
    “Free” is appropriate and fits the theme. But not “freedom”.

    What I’m worried about is that people get caught up in the philosophy of it without realising that they’re actually taking away freedoms. I wouldn’t have a problem with the GPL at all if it weren’t for the sheer number of people who blindly support it without knowing what it truly means. They see the word “freedom” in the preamble and that’s as far as they thought it out.

    I don’t think there’s anything to fear from the public domain. After all, control is an illusion. We think we have a say in how our work is used because we place it under a license, but the truth is that anyone can do whatever they please anyway without you ever knowing it.

    But what’s important is the opportunity for me to do whatever I please on my end thereby giving users the ability to do whatever they please on their end.

    Technically someone can take my work and release with improvements or re-label and sell it, but that doesn’t in any way affect what I’ve already created. My copy will still exist in its original form and I will continue to make releases. No one can say “stop what you’re doing” because they’ve created a derivative from it.

    As for other licenses…

    One of the comments on that post is from a fellow programmer who actually couldn’t use two libraries together even though they were both “Open Source” only because the licenses clashed on what was allowed. Ironically, the sentiment of “freedom” was present in both licences, but the differing restrictions killed any chance of either library being adopted.

    As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

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