Episode 30: Digital Autonomy and Software Freedom

In which I posit that software freedom is a small part of a bigger picture.

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2 Responses to Episode 30: Digital Autonomy and Software Freedom

  1. Thaeke says:

    Hey Graham!
    I thought this was a very interesting podcast episode where you hit upon some important topics.
    The reasons for using and creating free software opposed to proprietary software are numerous.
    However, since many creators of free software can not do this full-time because of the lack of funding for these projects, I suppose there could be a bigger societal benefit from having limits on the openness of your software in order to make a profit, and therefore develop your product more.
    This might be me engaging in consequentialism, but I don’t think the argument can be completely dismissed.

    There are some ways (through licensing) that a company could still make more profit, and therefore develop their product faster that I would deem as a good compromise.
    The licenses I’m talking about here are:
    – Dual licensing
    This means that there is one version of your software that uses a viral copyleft license like GPLv3 available for everyone, with the limit that all derived work needs to be under a GPLv3 license as well.
    And there is one version that has a permissive license like an MIT-license that costs money but doesn’t force the derived work to be open-source.
    This enables people to still see, use, and learn from the source code while allowing a company to make a profit.

    – Business source license
    This allows everyone to use the code freely (under any license you want) except when a company / organization has met a certain milestone like profit, userbase etc. that you can choose for your software.

    Do you think these are fair options to maximize code quality and output while allowing free use of the code by many?

    Love to hear from you!

  2. Graham says:

    Hi Thaeke,

    Dual licensing is a common approach, and it does allow for a fully-free product to also be licensed for income. The “pay for MIT” scheme is flawed though because it gives the first paying customer access under the MIT license, and they can then choose (immediately or at any point after) to publicly share under the terms of that license and to undermine the copyleft on the GPLv3 grant you’ve been giving out to anybody else. I’ve never heard of your business source license approach, but it doesn’t sound compatible with the four freedoms or the open source definition. Actually it doesn’t sound like it’s compatible with the GPLv3 family of licenses even, which don’t allow additional restrictions to be added.

    Another choice is not to “sell” the software at all, but to sell the rest of the services around the software: training, consultancy, literature, merchandise. Red Hat became a multi-billion dollar concern using that approach, Canonical have done well, Collabora, and so on.

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