Increasingly permissive or increasingly dismissive?

Speaker: John Sullivan

Track: Social context

Type: Talk (45 mins)


Room: Buzz

Time: Aug 06 (Sun), 17:00

Duration: 0:45

In free software circles, a disturbing number of conversations treat it as given that fewer new projects are choosing copyleft licenses, and more are going the route of lax permissive. Though this has been repeated in news articles and blog posts, when we look deeper for evidence of the claim, we find either anecdotes (often from the field of corporate-backed project license choices), or highly questionable and unscientific data sets.

Sometimes the claim is repeated by people just trying to set the table for other discussions about trends in free software or open source; sometimes it is promoted by people specifically arguing against copyleft (especially in business); sometimes it is raised as a concern by people defending copyleft. All three situations are worrisome in their own ways.

I’ll discuss:

1) recent “data” and articles published, including my own analysis;

2) whether the contexts in which permissive license use does appear to be increasing mean what they are purported to mean, and whether those contexts are actually relying purely on permissive licenses or on other sorts of supplementary legal structures;

3) prominent instances of copyleft usage, especially the AGPL and GPL; and

4) different ways to study and understand the trends people are trying to get at when they talk about licensing choices in quantitative terms.

In a community with so many computer scientists, lawyers, and talented researchers, it’s important that we habitually put popular assumptions up for critique. Assumptions and bits of conventional wisdom need to be audited just like code, to ensure that the business plans and movement-organizing decisions which flow from them aren’t based on rotten foundations.