[Discuss] free/open licenses could discourage participation just because they're unusual

Matt Maier blueback09 at gmail.com
Wed May 7 13:36:29 UTC 2014

In this article the case is phrased a little differently.


Basically, Google (and presumably most of the other biggies) have an
explicit policy of not contributing money to the OSS they incorporate into
their own projects. They might contribute an engineer or two, but they will
probably just use it as-is.

So there are two primary options. If your project opts to grow as large as
possible by using a permissive license nobody has to pay for anything. They
can use it, and if it's good a lot of licensees will use it, but you can't
get any revenue from your core work. On the other hand, if you choose a
copyleft license, anybody can use it as long as their own work is similarly
licensed. If they want to distribute their work with restrictions, as most
businesses do, they have to pay you for an individual, business-appropriate

"*There is unfortunately no license to straddle the business-friendly vs.
copyleft divide. As a result, projects that need a revenue stream to
sustain them but opt for a business-friendly license to develop a community
face significant difficulties. This was the case with OpenSSL. The team
chose an Apache/BSD-style license. This successfully built community but,
it turns out, communities simply do not pay for their tools. Even
well-heeled users, such as Cisco and Google, don't pay. In the OSS
community, this is viewed as no accident, but a matter of policy.*"

Binstock also mentions what he sees as an increasing call for avoiding
copyleft licenses because they violate the spirit of open source (which I
agree is an 'imaginative' interpretation). I get the impression that the
major players would like to push the open source community as a whole to
become just a large R&D jungle like Silicon Valley. They don't want to
help, they want to do the opposite. If they starve the community for
investment the developers will have to fight each other and then they can
just use whatever survives. They'll sell the young/idealistic developers on
grand ideas like "the spirit of open source" and being the 1 out of
100/1K/1M who "makes it" and changes the world, but the vast majority of
developers get nothing out of it except an education. It's not that they're
immoral or anything, it's that that if they have a policy of withholding
money so that the community has to cannibalize itself (99% of open source
projects never get any outside contributions) then there's no middle
ground. You're either working for free or you randomly make it. As
Heartbleed shows, even if your software is legitimately great, nobody is
going to donate enough to fund your work. You have to charge for it.

I don't think the same situation applies to open source hardware, though.
The fundamental difference is that a hardware "source" has to be converted
into a tangible object. There will always be an opportunity to charge for
guaranteeing the success of that conversion. Hardware projects can always
just sell their own hardware, even if they can't effectively use the
copyleft option like software.

On Tue, May 6, 2014 at 7:47 AM, Jordan Miller <jrdnmlr at gmail.com> wrote:

> afaik heartbleed didn't happen due to lack of code review or lazy or
> scared developers; it happened because no one ever paid the $100k for a
> total code audit. a professional total code audit can be contracted by
> anyone no matter what license is chosen. but no large company ever sprang
> for this "cost".
> Jordan
> On Tuesday, May 6, 2014, J. Simmons <jrs at mach30.org> wrote:
>> That is very interesting, Alicia.  I think I remember reading the results
>> of that survey, but I had forgotten that part.  I wonder what a similar
>> question in the open source software community would reveal.  And I wonder
>> if the Creative Commons approach on their website of explaining their
>> licenses leads to wider adoption because of greater understanding.
>> Thanks,
>>  -J
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