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Re: The sad decline of copyleft software licenses? :(

From: Marinus Savoritias
Subject: Re: The sad decline of copyleft software licenses? :(
Date: Tue, 22 Sep 2020 18:04:18 +0200

Thank you for the links I am gonna check them out :)

I agree with the problems you said about the spread of permissive licenses and what it happens. I think its also part of FSF and GNU not being more open to contributors. In my opinion there is a reason that young developers are using github and gitlab instead of mailing lists. or slack instead of IRC. And we shouldn't reject them. We should embrace them.

In the sense that FOSS alternatives exist.

About the "copyfarleft" you mentioned.

1. GPL itself is too radical for most of the world. So I don't think its exactly going mainstream either.

2. The main argument for GPL is that it protects the freedom of the user by restricting the freedom of the developer a little bit. Same with a company that has to keep trade secrets. Having something like the Hipocratic license or CNVPL does the same thing. And on my personal opinion better.

I look forward to see where your project goes.

Marinus Savoritias

On 9/22/20 5:08 PM, Aaron Wolf wrote:
Important topic.

Some links:

see footnotes and links there too, such as

There's a lot of issues, but they include:

- lack of understanding about the *harms* of proprietary software
(anti-copyleft people *usually* think proprietary software is fine and
just Open Source is *preferred*, thus copyleft blocking proprietary
isn't a goal they understand

- enormous growth in permissive software used by proprietary companies
(they have a specific anti-copyleft interest)

- legitimate concerns about incompatibility

- active political undermining of copyleft by anti-software-freedom
malicious actors

None of this is simple, and the list could go on and on. This is all
nothing new, but the trend is for younger developers especially
JavaScript developers to really love Open Source development and rely on
it without any real pro-social long-term thinking about society or
anything. They care mainly about the obstacles or lack thereof in their
day-to-day programming experience.

Personally, I think the *primary* issue by far is to spread the
understanding of how proprietary software is the means by which unjust
power is gained today. It's one of the main tools of **monopoly** in our
ever-more consolidated and corrupt economy. And if people understand
that, then from that view, it's easier to emphasize the importance of

Tragically (but in some ways a good sign), there's a growing movement of
people who DO care about the harms of proprietary software — but they go
all the way to building unworkable misguided proposals around
"copyfarleft" and similar e.g. which is legal
and practical nonsense built on good intentions. These people do not
understand where, how, and why copyleft is not working, and they've come
up with no-go solutions. But we need to promote copyleft with the same
pro-social, ethical focus so people understand *why* it matters.

Keep up the fight! Talk to everyone in science and tech who you know.
Bring up why this concern is related to power and justice. Talk about
how Android phones everywhere are built with non-copyleft free software
but the thing the users get is among the most controlled, invasive, etc.
and advertises manipulatively to people based on where they are as they
walk through a store or based on the movement signals that tell
advertisers when the person is a little depressed and more vulnerable etc.

I want to see the really effective message of
tied to a statement that the solutions involve more copyleft!



P.S. I don't want to get written off as always focusing on my efforts,
but the vision for is about building the *economic*
foundations to support software freedom, and with that in place, we
could much better build competitive-quality copyleft **end-user**
software. We're still working to get launched and always could use help
(we're all volunteers). And we're 100% copyleft, AGPL and CC-BY-SA.

On 2020-09-22 3:02 a.m., Pen-Yuan Hsing wrote:
(whew, finally changed my registration on this list to my FSF member
alias address! :D)


I don't know if it's by chance, but recently I've read many an opinion
claiming that copyleft free software licenses such as the GNU GPLv3 are,
among other terrible qualities:

1. Viral
2. Cancerous (!!!)
3. Harmful to the "open source movement/principles/ethos"
4. Restrictive
5. Anti-social
6. Unfriendly
7. [other negative adjectives...]

Usually, the same people would advocate for the "permissive" set of free
software licenses like the increasingly popular MIT license, or BSD,
Apache, and so on. Some reasons I've seen are that these "permissive"
licenses are easy to use so "you don't need to think about it", are
highly compatible with other licenses, "truly open source", "truly free"
because they don't come with any restrictions like the "restrictive"
GPL, or that "history has clearly shown permissive licenses to be more
successful and welcomed." Once, I asked a self-identified open source
(not free software) advocate whether they're concerned "permissively"
licensed code would be incorporated into proprietary software, and they
said no: "If I create a piece of open source software, and it helps
others even if that means it being used in proprietary products, I'm
fine with that."

What prompted me to write this post is an academic paper I just saw:

Wilson, G., Bryan, J., Cranston, K., Kitzes, J., Nederbragt, L., & Teal,
T. K. (2017). Good enough practices in scientific computing. PLOS
Computational Biology, 13(6), e1005510.

This paper is licensed CC BY (which is commendable and sadly still rare
in peer-reviewed academic literature, though I'd prefer CC BY-SA even
more), and IMHO it's actually very good in recommending "good enough
practices" so that scientists who are not programmers can begin to
improve their scientific computing practices. Quick side-note: I have an
academic science background and I can write a thesis lamenting the
terrible state of software development in many academic disciplines.
Physics/mathematics/astronomy are better for sure, but scientists in
most fields are well-meaning but horrible programmers (if they can write
code at all, many still use proprietary GUI spreadsheets to wrestle with
huge datasets) who don't comment their own spaghetti code that manages
to just squeak by (usually just once, before a reboot) to produce an
analytical result just "worthy" enough of publication. And since they
don't really know much about programming, many genuinely think that's
adequate. So I can say with some confidence that the paper I just cited
is already huge progress.

To their credit, the authors of this paper emphasise the importance of
including a LICENSE with your code, which - believe it or not - most
other "recommendations" in the scientific literature don't mention at
all, effectively keeping tons of scientific code unintentionally

Sadly, those authors also state:

"We recommend permissive software licenses rather than the GNU General
Public License (GPL) because it is easier to integrate permissively
licensed software into other projects; see chapter 3 in [17]"

Where [17] is the book:
St Laurent AM. Understanding Open Source and Free Software Licensing.
O'Reilly Media; 2004.

The above was literally the only justification they gave for
recommending a "permissive" license. Now, many scientists will just read
this without critically considering its implications (somewhat ironic in
itself) and use MIT (or similar) licenses for their code. In my opinion,
that statement is misleading and gives the impression that the GNU GPL
is somehow bad for code.

In case it's not already clear, I'm deeply disappointed by the almost
complete lack of support I've seen for copyleft free software licenses.
Other than perhaps some people on this mailing list, I have *literally*
not interacted with any other human being who prefers copyleft licenses.

Also in case it's not clear, a value I hold deeply is to assume good
faith and by default I truly respect other opinions regardless of how
much I might disagree. Here the disagreement is regarding the nature of
free software licenses, and it troubles me deeply.

My personal reason for desiring copyleft licenses is, in my opinion,
simple: Software freedom is a value I hold dearly, and I want to ensure
that freedom is perpetuated. In my view, the only "restriction" of a
copyleft license is that it insists that freedoms are not infringed. On
a high level, isn't a crucial mechanism for freedom to work the rule
that "you are free to do anything as long as it doesn't infringe on
other people's freedom?" Unless I am grossly mistaken, this is what a
copyleft license does. Is that so bad, or "cancerous", as some might
say? If anything, licenses such as the GNU GPL *protects* freedom, yet
practically everyone I've ever talked to think it *limits* freedom. I
totally understand why the FSF lists permissive licenses as free
software-compliant, because they technically are free. But without
protection of those freedoms, we have seen time and again how derivative
works of free software have been locked up into proprietary products
(with Apple's Mac OS lineage of operating systems perhaps being a famous
example that derives much of its core from free software - some
technically cool features, yes, but tragically proprietary and
ultimately user-hostile).

At this point, if you also prefer copyleft licenses, I hope for your
constructive thoughts on two sets of questions:

(1) WHAT are some common well-intentioned arguments YOU encounter for
permissive licenses and against copyleft licenses? And what are your
constructive responses?

(2) WHY do copyleft licenses seem to be in steep decline? What are
positive, constructive solutions to encourage its adoption? Any big
success stories other than the Linux kernel?

Or, if you do prefer permissive licenses, are you concerned about
software using those licenses being used in, or made into, proprietary
software? Are there concrete ways to secure software freedom with
licenses such as MIT?

If there are lots of constructive responses to this post, I'd be happy
to compile them into a FAQ of sorts and put them somewhere like the
Libreplanet wiki or elsewhere. Ideally, I hope to foster some sort of
curated and well-reasoned set of constructive arguments to advocate for
copyleft licenses.

It goes without saying that I know this can be a contentious topic, but
I know we are much better than starting flame wars and making personal
attacks. So let's be excellent to each other. :)

Hope to learn from you!

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