Free vs proprietary licenses

The GPL is frequently seen as a “complicated” license, and thus less desirable than the “simpler” BSD-like family of licenses. I have stumbled upon a description of the situation that really bears repeating (I believe the kids nowadays call this “retweeting”).

To summarize, the apparent complexity of free licenses only exists because free licenses are actually simple enough to be understood by developers, who typically otherwise ignore legal matters. By comparison, proprietary EULAs are a tangled complicated mess, probably deliberately. In this vein, ayers writes,

The proprietary model as I see it, is about creating an unsurmountable confused mess of interdependent obligations, instating a direct or indirect revenue stream and ignoring the convoluted obligations as long as that revenue stream is satisfactory. Once that satisfaction falls below a threshold you start looking for violations, which are bound to exist, to increase that revenue be it by negotiation or litigation.

I think this is a very accurate description of the situation. Almost everyone violates EULAs, but this is acceptable to companies because this violation doesn’t reduce their revenue (indeed, frequently it even increases it). When the cash flow ebbs, it’s time to call the lawyers who will be guaranteed to have fresh blood to feed on.

3 thoughts on “Free vs proprietary licenses

  1. GPL isn’t complicated. But it does impose more restrictions on developers than BSD. Lots of people want a license which is agnostic in terms of philosophy. Its just realpolitik.

    1. I don’t really want to get into all of the BSD vs GPL debate, but only specifically the part where people prefer BSD because it’s “simpler”. I just wanted to argue that GPL is also simple, but not as simple as the BSD, only far more simple than almost any EULA.

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