Free Culture

Open Source Befuddlement

Talking about “Open Source” rather than Free Software can lead people to concentrate on availability of source code rather than protecting freedom. And to concentrate on the developers who write that source code rather than all the users of the software that it represents.

There were two particularly clear examples of this today.

Columnist Matt Assay argues –

“Because Web developers don’t necessarily need to protect their
software, we’re seeing more adopt licenses like BSD, Apache, and other
permissive licenses in order to foster community, rather than
protection, around their software.”

Developers protecting their software source code isn’t the point of free software. The freedom of the users of that software is. And using “permissive” licenses for web applications doesn’t protect that freedom when you encounter the software online as a user.

Developer Steve Streeting argues at length that copyleft doesn’t get more code back for his project than community spirit does –

“So, after much thought I concluded that the most useful pay-backs to
an open source project, and thus its community, from a user (in my
opinion) were:

  1. Code & documentation contributions – which based on my experience come from voluntary sources
  2. Community participation – forum support, bug reports etc
  3. Publicity.

The ‘restrictive’ elements of the LGPL (and GPL), to which so much
confusing license text is dedicated, didn’t seem to contribute to any
of those except number 3, and then really just as a side-effect.”

Projects getting back source code from the developers of derivative works isn’t the point of Free Software. The freedom of the users of that software is. And, again, using “permissive” licences for libraries doesn’t protect that freedom when you encounter the compiled software as a user.

These are just two examples of how thinking about “Open Source” can lead people to concentrate on the wrong issues and pursue the wrong objectives. It is a marketing term that was explicitly created to obfuscate the ethical issues that Free Software makes clear. It is doing its job far too well. 

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