Licenses aren’t sufficient

Another recent issue in the world of “centralised open source dependency repositories were a bad idea” initiated by the central contradiction of free software. People want to both give everything away without limitation on who uses it or how, and they want “Big Program” to pay for the work to be done.

While the license is the only tool used by free software authors, there is no way that this is going to be resolved in the favour of the Robin Hood model. There’s nothing of value on offer to Big Program in the software. They want the right to use the software for their nefarious purposes, and for free they can get the right to use the software for any purpose. Why would they pay more?

They wouldn’t. And no amount of whataboutism is going to change that. Whatabout if nobody can afford to work on free software any more, and they lose access to updates? Doesn’t happen. The current set of incentives – part financial, mostly reputational, and part itch-scratching – actually observably cause an increasing amount of free software to be created over time.

That gap needs to be resolved in other ways. There are things that companies will pay for even when they have the freedom to use the software for any purpose, at no charge. They will pay for support, bug bounties, indemnification, training, documentation, consultancy, integration, operations…

If the free software community hadn’t completely withdrawn from the patents discussion, they might pay to license the patent whether or not they take the (free) copyright licence. But that has yet to happen.

Plenty of organisations understand this: Red Hat became a forty-odd-billion dollar company giving away the software for free and selling other things. Canonical, Cygnus, ActiveState, O’Reilly, Mozilla, Musescore, Nextcloud…all of them make software, none of them is a software company. All make money in the free software world, none is a free software company.

Please continue giving us all the freedom to use the software for any purpose. Also the other freedoms, to study, improve, and share the software. But remember that freedom is not for sale.

About Graham

I make it faster and easier for you to create high-quality code.
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