This was supposed to be survival guide to open source and free software world but I realized I’m not that good citizen of open source world that I can give any advises to others. What I’m giving are hint’s what I have learn along the years. So why I’m not very good open source citizen? I read several projects mail lists but only topics that I like and make contributions but not with rage but when I feel like it. I answer few mails that I receive about open source in limited time frame that I have (which sometimes can be too long) and use many projects with out giving anything back. I prefer license to steal and freedom as value not as in beer.
What is license for?
Wear your tin-hats and make securing spells because here we go. In modern world everything is for sale and everything you can image will be stolen and in-incorporated in nuclear bomb or used in mass destruction of human beings. This ain’t new feature in human society. For example fire have been probably one man thing for long time (and I can just imagine how many jokes you can make about that poor fellow and that even poorer soul that first roasted something) after a while it widespread all over the world and same goes with wheel. They were invented somewhere and someone took them in use without giving a dime to the inventor. Is it fair? No it’s not. Bit harsh and unfair to this original guy but again this is how ball is played.
What this is related to licensing and what is the big deal of open source and free software anyway if this the Status Quo? What are the licenses for? Believe or not they are important agreements! It’s not secret that most of the Github repositories are still without proper license. That is why they launch: http://choosealicense.com/. Take time and study a bit or if you don’t have a time I’ll tell how I see things.
There is Free Software movement which is constructed around GNU project and FSF (Free Software Foundation). Most significant person in Free software is Richard Stallman (Yes that hansom guy with a beard) . If you want more history please read it from FSF site they know it more better than me. Main principals in Free software are Freedom, Freedom to share and make sure that everyone else have that freedom also.
Free Software licenses are commonly known as Copyleft licenses and most know is Gnu Public license (Actually version 3.0 ain’t that popular). All these licenses share a same thing. You will always have 4 freedoms:
- Freedom 0 – the freedom to use the work
- Freedom 1 – the freedom to study the work
- Freedom 2 – the freedom to copy and share the work with others
- Freedom 3 – the freedom to modify the work, and the freedom to distribute modified and therefore derivative works.
What this means (and I’m not a lawyer so don’t blame me if you get sued) is that you can make your changes to code, used it in nuclear bomb but if you release your bomb to big public (or make it available only in machine readable form) you must release also the code changes you have made to original code. There is eternal fight do these changes have to be delivered to upstream project and do they have to be suitable to attach into original code base.
This why every distribution is releasing their source packages (which ain’t bad thing at all) because GPL demands it. Copyleft tries to make sure you will get source code of binary if you demand it but it can be made available only for those who demand it and even in printed out form as A4 papers.
Copyleft there different opinions how these license articles really apply and there is plenty of violations like Allwinner. Still most of them a settled out of the court. One of the biggest GPL (which wasn’t about GPL license at all) that get in the court was (or is it still?) Linux kernel vs SCO. It was only possible because code was freely available and everyone could study it.
Because you didn’t read the anything above. Remember one thing Copyleft is VERY restrictive license. If you are using some library which is using Copyleft license of any form and you doing in-house development make sure you apply license demands before releasing your work or it could get real nasty. Main thing is: you have the right to use the source but same time you have to provide everyone else the same rights and no this doesn’t mean you have to have version control or bug tracker.
Open Source licenses are widespread and there is plenty more of them than there is Copyleft licenses. How they compare Copyleft? Open Soure licenses tend to give you all rights so they are more liberal. Most popular licenses are MIT, Apache License 2.0 and BSD license. Why they are popular? It’s because they are simple and all these three gives you right to do what ever you want with these files and choose you want to contribute back. If you choose some not popular license you have to make sure you are compatible with GPL without that there is no game.
Why even have license then if you don’t care what people do with your stuff? Choosing liberate Open Source license is not letting everyone ‘steal’ your work it’s about making sure that they know what they can do with it and you are the owner of the rights. Project without any license or release as Public domain is most dangerous ever because you don’t know is this some kind of bomb project that author is waiting to spread and then he or she is making demand on court with statement ‘hey I have this code on Internet and this my new EULA! GIVE ME YOU €€€ (or $$$ sometimes £££) YOU FEALTY ROBBERS!’. These licenses most cases tell what kind of warranty you have and every time it’s next to nothing.
Why then choose Open Source license and not the Free Software? It’s about the attitude: Freedom makes freedom happen. With Free Software you are forced to be free and with Open Source you can choose what is your freedom level and of course you need something to fight about.
What about something else that is not code
Back in days creative works was a weak spot of licensing. Free Software and Open Source license are very fitting to code but they are not very well fitting to creative work. This is why Creative Commons (commonly known as CC) was created. There is suitable licenses for sharing you images, writings or what ever. They have Copyleft style licenses and then more liberal ones. Take you time and find what fits to your project.
Lengthy post but nothing much to said
I think I’ll rest my case here. Next time I think I’ll post about contributing code and remember these are my OWN observations. If they are incorrect please let me know or if you hate me because I like Systemd and liberal licenses you can tell that too. Remember it’s your project and you can choose any license in the world you like.
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