Posted by: vwbusguy | July 15, 2009

The value of the GPL

UPDATE:  In related news, Microsoft of all companies just submitted several thousands of lines of code to the Linux kernel under GPLv2.

Reading Zed Shaw’s blog post this week brings up several good points and re-iterates the value that the GPL has in both protecting and advancing the open source community.

Zed has personally experienced what GPL-fans (including myself) have long seen as weaknesses of open source licenses that are not copy-lefts.  GPL lays down the common understanding of open source in ways that avoid exploitation, while at the same time allowing the GPL to be used commercially.

The heart of the GPL is about protecting the open source community so it can continue to grow organically where projects build on each other to produce amazing things.  The problem is when $BIG_CORP decides to take the open source code, rebrand it, sell it, and contribute nothing back.  It halts the organic nature of open source at the hands of greedy suits.

I have nothing against companies profiting on open source code.  If someone somewhere makes money on the few petty projects I’ve done, great.  Use my code, learn from it, integrate it.  But please also pass that knowledge on to others to make it better and more useful to the world at large.

We in the open source community are standing on the shoulders of giants, but lets not get bled to death by corporate giants.


  1. The _GNU_ General Public License is a Free Software license authored by the founder of the Free Software movement; the GPL, the founder, and the movement all precede Open Source. The GPL has nothing to do with Open Source in origin, design, intent, or other tenuous ways Open Source people fancifully try to relate. Not only does Richard tirelessly make this clear but if you are able to think yer way out of a paper-sack, reading the GPL says this, also. Happy Hacking.

    • Regardless of the origins of the GPL or if the GPL explicitly states its intent in being for the benefit of the open source community, my post was more about its value as a tool for the open source community. It definitely affects how developers deal with each other in the sense that GPL comes with certain rights and restrictions that other licenses lack that, in my opinion, are valuable for protecting the organic growth of free software as well as nurturing that environment.

  2. e.g. ‘The heart of the GPL is about protecting the open source community’, these cleverly worded phrasings are what gets my interest; characterizing the ‘heart’ of the gpl as ‘protecting the open source community’. the gpl isn’t interested nor are those of us in the free software movement with software being open source; we want to know if it is free software. i don’t doubt the open source movement finds it a valuable tool so long as the nature of its origin and intent is misapplied; software users’ freedom. happy, hacking.

    • I think what we’re really arguing about here is that I’m meaning “open source” in the context of free-as-in-speech free software. I understand that some companies claim “open source” because they allow their customers to see their source code but not redistribute it.

      Perhaps I should qualify that I meant this in the context of Free (as in speech) software.

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