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Why it's time to stop using open source licences

The H Open - Glyn Moody - Free software is built on a paradox. In order to give freedom to users, free software licences use something that takes away freedom – copyright, which is an intellectual monopoly based on limiting people's freedom to share, not enlarging it. That was a brilliant hack when Richard Stallman first came up with it in 1985, with the GNU Emacs General Public Licence, but maybe now it's time to move on.

There are signs of that happening already. Eighteen months ago, people started noting the decline of copyleft licences in favour of more "permissive" ones like Apache and BSD. More recently, the rise of GitHub has attracted attention, and the fact that increasingly people have stopped specifying licences there (which is somewhat problematic).

I don't think this declining use of copyleft licences is a sign of failure – on the contrary. As I wrote in my previous column, free software has essentially won, taking over most key computing sectors. Similarly, the move to "permissive" licences has only been possible because of the success of copyleft: the ideas behind collaborative creation and contributing back to a project are now so pervasive that we don't require "strong" copyleft licences to enforce them – it's part of coders' mental DNA. As Ian Skerrett put it in 2011: