More freedom, or less? (Or: Qt to be released under LGPL)
A couple of weeks ago at FOSDEM in the Java Libre Room we had a discussion about whether pure GPL (as in 'strict' - with no exceptions) is still up to date given the evolution of open source and it's increased acceptance and use in the IT industry.
Pure GPL without any exceptions is a strong copyleft license. A key goal of the license is to safeguard certain software freedoms by requiring distributed derived works to be licensed under the same strong copyleft terms.
By design, the GPL limits the freedom of developers, users, and commercial companies in the way they can build upon, distribute, and license software that includes GPL-licensed code. Effectively, this also limits the use of GPL'ed code to likewise projects - and misses out on driving adoption of the code and functionality into the big pool of non-GPL projects and code that exists in the industry today. But isn't adoption a key measure of success for free and open source software?
On the flip-side, more permissive licenses (such as GPL with Classpath Exception, LGPL, APL, and others) give companies, developers, and users more freedoms in using and combining open source code. This tends to drive wider penetration of the code base and allows more people to benefit from the features of the original code. Undeniably, the trade-off is that some of the important software freedoms (such as the ones imparted by the GPL) are unavailable in this scenario or have much more limited reach.
To me this really boils down to a few very interesting questions:
- Does pure GPL mean more freedom, or less?
- Freedom for whom?
- And what kinds of freedoms?
- Is there a price to pay for adoption?
The release of Qt under LGPL is a great real-world use case for this topic. Some excellent arguments and counter-arguments are being made by Bradley Kuhn ("LGPL'ing of Qt Will Encourage More Software Freedom") and Richard Stallman ("Why you shouldn't use the Lesser GPL for your next library"). The discussion goes straight to the heart of the open source movement and free software philosophy.
I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts.
PS: Many thanks to Andrew Haley from RedHat and Mark Wielarrd from Classpath for an insightful ongoing discussion on the topic!