Free Software License

I consider myself a "moderate" person, not "radical", but I have often gone off on a rant to friends and family about the virtues of free software. I tend to side with Richard Stallman (who IS radical), and I use the GPL3 for my software.

Even before GPL3 came out, I was wary of the "or any later" clause of the GPL2 license, and assumed that Linus's choice to remove that clause from the Linux kernel was for the same reason I was wary of it.

Giving the FSF control over my work (by letting them change the license) is a risk. A nefarious actor could embed wolves in sheep's clothing into the FSF, and screw everybody by introducing a GPL4 that is at odd with free software. Far fetched, but not impossible.

There are numerous reasons for choosing a "free"/"open" license, and it amuses me when one group argues at cross purposes with another, because they don't realise that their motivations are different, and the different motivations naturally lead to different license choices.

Here's my one-line motivation and a suitable license :

  1. Freedom for users : GPL2 or GPL3 with the "or later" clause.
  2. Code is King. I give you this code, you give me your improvements : GPL2 without the "or later"
  3. Wide adoption of my software (I don't care about users' freedoms nor reciprocal code improvements) : BSD
  4. Profit! (I don't care about user freedom nor reciprocal code contributions) : A closed license.

Stallman cares about freedom for his users, and advocates #1

Linus cares about the code, and favours GPL2 without the "or later" clause which prevents the FSF from taking away freedom from other developers.

When asked "What benefit is tivoisation to users of the Linux kernel", he answered simply : "None", but that's not so important to him. He accepts that Tivo limited user freedoms, but was happy that Tivo was obliged to give back their improvements to his work. Linux is better because of the work that Tivo contributed.

So while Linus and I shared the same worries about the "or later" clause, we had different reasons to be fearful. I was worried that my motivations would diverge from FSF's. Linus already had different motivations, and so was wisely much more fearful of what the FSF would do.

I'm happy with the GPL3, but Linus has swayed me to his way of thinking somewhat. So maybe I should switch to the GPL2 without the "or later". Hmmm.