Open source software licenses matter

January 12, 2018

I gave in to the temptation of some bait from a co-worker on Twitter, and it turns out that the conversation has made me want to say a couple of things. Today's entry is about the more serious one.

There's a not uncommon attitude among (some) people that other people are too religiously attached to various open source licenses and should get over it. So what if you don't like the specific license some project opted for? It doesn't really matter; don't be picky and contribute to the project anyway, rather than pointlessly duplicating work under another license you like better.

(This attitude isn't unique to any particular cultural camp. You can find these people anywhere, including on both sides of the GPL/Linux vs BSD general split with each side saying that the other should give up its silly insistence on the GPL or the BSD license.)

This attitude is both entitled and quite wrong.

Open source licenses are different from each other, in both philosophies and communities. People who chose to work with one or another are deliberately choosing to do somewhat different types of work (generally in their free time). To tell these people that these things don't matter and that they should live with different ones is to dictate to them that they should be doing the type of work you want them to be doing, not the type of work they've chosen to do.

This is bogus and it's entitlement speaking. We are 'obviously correct' about what matters, our opinions are better, and other people should change to follow what we think is important, not what they've chosen. It's my considered opinion that the most appropriate reply to a serious expression of this attitude involves some fingers, because really, what other reply is there to someone who believes they get to tell you what sort of work you'll do in your free time and what should matter to you? This is not something you debate.

The choice of open source license matters because it changes what sort of work people are doing when they work on a project. Some people don't care exactly what sort of work they're doing, perhaps as long as it's open source enough (and that's fine). Other people do care, and these people are not wrong.

As a corollary, laughing at people who are 'so silly' as to care about which open source license they work with is, well, let me just call it not a good look and leave it at that.

(Note that this is not the same as the people who think all projects should obviously be using their favorite license and any projects that aren't have made a tragic mistake. These people are not right either, of course.)

Written on 12 January 2018.
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Last modified: Fri Jan 12 01:57:42 2018
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