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Non-Commercial Licenses Are Non-Free Licenses (susam.in)
105 points by susam 4 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 158 comments



This is true in a technical sense. Restrictions on commercial use are incompatible with a very specific interpretation of what "free" means. I could also invent a definition of freedom that was contrived to be incompatible with copy-left licenses and then write a post about how those aren't "truly free" either.

I'm not terribly convinced this legalistic nitpicking is really the right discussion though. I think the real questions here are normative. If I want to share my code freely with hobbyists and individuals, while ensuring that Amazon can't just steal it, pervert it into something I hate, and then borrow my own reputation to help them sell it, is it morally bad to add a license that stops this behavior?

From a developer's perspective: Why should code be 100% Certified Free™ instead of 95%, or even 50%? Is it a moral imperative to make code truly free, or an aesthetic ideal? What harms come from a CC-BY-NC license relative to MIT and why do those harms matter? I think answers to these questions are much harder and more interesting to come by than splitting hairs over the semantics of freedom.


The end goal is to enrich the commons. While the copy-left aspect of many of these licenses are forcing people to obey the golden rule, the intent is clearly to curtail bad corporate actors to make sure if it is used, it remains in the commons.

My concern with non-commercial and non-derivative licensed works is having someone now gate keep access to the work. This has a chilling effect on use as anyone using it now clearly knows the author didn't want their work used for anything outside of "showing to your friends".

Did I use the work when talking about it in a blog post? Am I in violation because there's advertising on it? Did I use the work to help make a video that gets a million views? Am I now in violation because I get a small income stream off of some other piece of work that used your non-commercial work on its periphery?

You say you want to target hobbyists. Say I'm spending my time investing in learning your library and I want to use it in my job because I think it's cool and I've gained familiarity with it. Now I'm in the position of asking you for permission of whether I can use it or not. My time would have been better spent investing in something that told me from the outset I had permission to use it.

You don't want people using your explicit approval, that's your prerogative and NC and ND are for you. If you want people to have control over the tools they learn, use and deploy, then it needs to be under a libre/free license.

It's more than aesthetics. Putting a non-commercial license on works, especially software, is a death knell.


>If you want people to have control over the tools they learn, use and deploy, then it needs to be under a libre/free license.

I'm old enough to remember having this exact argument on dial up bbs's on why the BSD and MIT licenses were the only true free software licenses and the GPL wasn't. After all the GPL limits my freedom as a developer to not have to share all the source code I write as part of a program.

The argument is as wrong then as it is now: the freedom isn't for you, it's for everyone.

It doesn't help that that a bunch of squatters came into the commons and stole the words for free software and open source, those words were used long before the FSF and OSI stole them from the rest of us and they didn't mean at all what they were redefined to mean.

At least the FSF had the self awareness to realize that they needed a new word and tried for libre.


> The argument is as wrong then as it is now

No, it’s not wrong. The GPL does restrict what a developer can do with code. It’s not an invalid argument. But like most/all arguments, how you interpret it depends on your point of view. Like you said, if you view freedom from the developer’s POV, you choose BSD/MIT. If you view it from the POV of the commons, you choose GPL.

It’s not wrong, but it is a choice.


I think FSF/OSI did a stellar job of infusing the intent of free/libre back into non-technical societies beyond their reach. Their concepts are clearly laid out and easy to grasp, and we are definitely seeing interesting results now from that infusion.

But I also feel like we’re simply rediscovering why societies have laws, which are incompatible with perfect freedom. For example, is the GPL’s restriction sufficiently beneficial that we can overlook its abrogation of personal freedom? I’m not sure that’s widely agreed-upon even today, but clearly it is considered worth it to its author(s), as any good constitution ought to be.

We’ve discovered this week why France has a decades-old parasitism law, that allows you to recoup damages when someone else tries to build their fortune using your work and reputation. It serves the same intent as the AGPL attempts to - you can’t resell my work as if it’s yours without paying me - but it is written far more precisely, in a way that does not default-prohibit all commercial uses, but merely those uses that try to feed on someone else’s reputation. A licensing argument would say “then isn’t all commercial use parasitic?”, and the answer in nation-law terms is essentially “a technical analysis of the law might allow for that, but a reasonable analysis would not”. This is the crux where licensing and nation-law diverge: in licensing, to date, we have generally acted as if we must close every possible loophole because there are no judges in our system to evaluate ‘reasonable interpretation’.

So, to tie this back to the main point of the post above, if the GPL and AGPL (which appears to be longer than the French parasitism constitutional law!) are trading freedom for benefit, then they are not free, but they’re still trying to be beneficial to society. Have they made the correct tradeoffs in their currency swap of freedom for benefit? Well, I’m not sure. Similar restrictions in nation law would be intolerable to extreme libertarians, who would contest that all nation laws are unacceptable, but the rest of society seems comfortable with a reasonable set of restrictions.

Is the AGPL reasonable?

This is where the software licensing as legal constitutions model falls down, because we simply are not equipped to judge. We have one or two institutions that offer commentary and blessing, but our laws as written are evidence that we have no judge or jury able to provide reasonable evaluations and judgments. So the AGPL restricts people from building small ISPs just as much as it restricts people from building a multinational ISP. That wasn’t reasonable in a pre-software world, where you had to purchase objects to build things with them, but now that digital work can be reproduced and reused effortlessly, creators of source code no longer get paid for their source code (not that they did very often before!), and so the AGPL tries to fill that void.

Is getting paid reasonable?

Sometimes I think that we would have been better off tapping into music lyrics copyright and licensing, rather than trying to invent our own field of licensing from base metal principles. Lyrics writers get paid, though of course as with all things megacorps pay them poorly. Cover songs are allowed, but blatant knock-offs are not. Performances require permission, which may entail payment, and certainly does if not granted.

Music lyrics aren’t free for all commercial reuse, but they are free for reasonable commercial reuse. So if we try to bridge the gap between existing nation laws, and the ideals of the GPL/AGPL, a simple solution presents itself. One that provides the desired benefit of the AGPL without needing to create new restrictions on freedom. One that has a long and storied history of court judgements to provide human reasonable outcomes when the laws could never be precise enough anyways.

Source code is just lyrics to a song played on a computer instrument, and deserves the same protections and freedoms and limited reusability as any other song.

(I am not your lawyer, internet forum posts are not legal advice.)


>> Did I use the work when talking about it in a blog post? Am I in violation because there's advertising on it? Did I use the work to help make a video that gets a million views? Am I now in violation because I get a small income stream off of some other piece of work that used your non-commercial work on its periphery?

This is where the GPL shines. It doesn't prevent commercial use in the text, it even IIRC explicitly allows it. You don't even have to think too hard to know if you're in violation (did I distribute and did I include source code?). OTOH the requirement to include full source code of derivative works under the same license clearly goes against a lot of commercial use cases.

I think the distinction between software and "content" is the utility of software. With content, distribution or viewing/listening is the primary purpose of it. I suppose showing GPLed source code in a video might raise questions of weather the video needs to be GPLed, but that seems like strange edge case (can we brush it off with "fair use"?) even most authors wouldn't care too much about.


How does that compare to closed source software? Are you allowed to talk about Windows or C# in a blog post? /s

This reads as "I don't like it, so how much hand wringing can I do?"

If the project doesn't provide a clear road to commercial use like MySQL did or SQLite(Public domain but sells licenses for places that don't recognize public domain) does, then it is hobby only. Don't bother picking it up if you are looking for something that you could use in the day job. Why? Because even if they will sell you a license they aren't setup to support a business.


> It's more than aesthetics. Putting a non-commercial license on works, especially software, is a death knell.

I disagree. If you don't do that and Amazon kills your business model as a result, you now have to fire all your developers and abandon the software. Now that's a death knell!

I'm happy to use open source licenses for hobby software that I may or may not continue maintaining. For anything I hope to build a business around, I would never consider an OSI license anymore in this new cloud world. Amazon basically killed that open source business model.


>> I'm happy to use open source licenses for hobby software that I may or may not continue maintaining. For anything I hope to build a business around, I would never consider an OSI license anymore in this new cloud world. Amazon basically killed that open source business model.

There is the AGPL, but that isn't compatible with the majority of Free Software out there.


The AGPL is also insufficient to protect your business from cloud providers (although it does grant more protection than the others.)


> is it morally bad to add a license that stops this behavior?

Maybe not, but such a license will stop me from including it into Debian or other distros that provide Free Software only, and I won't be able to use your code in or mix with projects under a copyleft license such as GPL. If that's what your intention is, then go for it. If not, maybe rethink.


So? Sure, using a non-commercial license means you can’t ship with Debian, but that doesn’t mean the project can’t be successful in the eyes of the person who put all the labor in. Perhaps they value being non-commercial above being included in Debian, and that’s their right to make that decision.

Sure, it might not be useful to you, but you’re not the one putting in the labor in this hypothetical scenario.


So what? The whole purpose of licensing is to make your software useful for others. Let me just repeat the important part of my comment above:

> If that's what your intention is, then go for it. If not, maybe rethink.


That’s presuming that your definition of “useful” is more correct than the author’s definition, which strikes me as more than a bit odd.


That does not presume any definition of "useful", it's just a straight fact. It seems like you're trying to read between the lines when there's nothing there.


I’m not trying to “read between the lines”, I’m saying that the author of a piece of software gets to decide what they consider to be the point and success criteria for their work, not you. If they don’t want their work being used commercially and that means you can’t use it, that’s a you problem and not a them problem.


> I’m not trying to “read between the lines”, I’m saying that the author of a piece of software gets to decide what they consider to be the point and success criteria for their work, not you.

Which is pretty much what I said as well, read more carefully.


And a GPL license will stop it from being included in OpenBSD.

So what?


But is that a problem with that license, or is it a problem with Debian?

This is a discussion worth having, instead of sweeping it under the rug with "well that's how we've always done it".


It's clearly a problem with license incompatibility.


Debian has a "non-free" repository. Perhaps it needs a tag for source-available licenses that are not unencumbered enough for core Debian.


...which isn't an official part of Debian and isn't enabled by default, and some derivatives don't include it at all.

Also, it seems to me that "non-free" is already a good and descriptive tag for non-free source available software.


I think the second part of this post makes a more compelling argument against NC licensing.

https://blog.wolftune.com/2011/07/brain-parts-song-video.htm...

The core point:

> The Creative Commons Non-Commercial (CC BY-NC) license (and also the BY-NC-SA license) substantially hampers the creation of non-commercial derivative works!

In short, it's because BY-NC is incompatible with BY-SA, and the latter is probably enough to discourage exploitative commercial use, anyway.


Yes! It's a huge peeve of mine when two well-meaning free software projects can't share code because of unintentional licence incompatibility. Throwing non-commercial licences into the mix would worsen things a lot.


Non-commercial clauses seem to be a good fit for software that is someone's "day job" where they charge for licenses. It's not common, but I've run across the following projects:

Duplicacy by Gilbert Chen https://github.com/gilbertchen/duplicacy

Dome by Federico Milano http://faraday1.ucd.ie/dome.html

Fman by Michael Herrmann https://fman.io

From what I've gathered, success has been mixed. Duplicacy seems to be doing well based on forum activity and release history. Fman never made much money. If I recall correctly the Fman author was turned off by the number of people who criticized it for being fully open-source and wished he'd stuck with a closed-source full commercial model. I'd like for the open-source community to be more accepting of this model as there is potential value in it. As an example, Mathematica still refuses to let anyone not employed by the company see the source code, which creates a reproducibility/validation problem for math researchers. While Steven Wolfram understandably rejects pleas to make the software FOSS, there is real benefit in letting people see the code.

Edit: Fixed names


Michael Herrmann. Thank you for the mention ;-)

The post you mentioned about being criticized for not being open source: https://fman.io/blog/dear-comrade/


It's effectively what you had in the Freeware for personal use only and Shareware (supposed to pay after a trial period) worlds. In practice, it was mostly companies that paid. When I had a small shareware business about half my revenues came from site licensing and the rest were split between individuals and companies.

The software wasn't open source but, as a practical matter, for solo developer projects it worked pretty much the same way.


> Duplicacy by Raymond Chen

Gilbert Chen is a different person to Raymond Chen, unless I'm missing something?


Beyond the specific arguments for why commercial use is important (which the likes of the FSF do make), I think it's also important to draw a line in the sand and say what is and isn't permissible, or our freedoms will be nibbled away one bite at a time. The free software definition might not be perfect, but it's a coordination point that the community can stand behind and say: this far, but no further.


The argument we're making is that it's a line that made sense in 1980s academia when you wanted printer drivers.

Less so in 2020s real life where we are a hair width away from smart dust total surveillance.


Ok but you have to actually make the argument for what specifically has changed, not just gesture vaguely at the idea that the present is different from the past.


The vast majority of users never access the computers they use. Every open source license, apart from the AGPL, is for personal computing first and mainframe never. Which is why you don't have the source code for google even though you should.


The AGPL and related licenses have been around for decades and they address that problem in a very direct way (getting the community to adopt those licenses is a bigger issue). Where's the argument for a no commercial use rule being a better way of achieving the desired goal?


This has nothing to do with what you asked in your last post.


Yes it does. The AGPL is based on the same free software definition that's stood for many decades, so where do you get the notion that the shift from personal to cloud computing means we should change or replace the free software definition.


> The vast majority of users never access the computers they use. Every open source license, apart from the AGPL, is for personal computing first and mainframe never. Which is why you don't have the source code for google even though you should.


Right, so you explicitly acknowledge that the AGPL (based on the same free software definition) doesn't have this problem. So how is it a problem with the free software definition?


> This has nothing to do with what you asked in your last post.


> This is true in a technical sense. Restrictions on commercial use are incompatible with a very specific interpretation of what "free" means.

I agree with this. I'll go further: any software license, other than "do whatever you like with this work", imposes some restrictions on what you can do with it, and therefore is, in some sense restricting freedom.

However, the sense that it is restricting freedom is not a particularly useful one.


Not every restriction restricts freedom. For example, a license being copyleft only restricts power: https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/freedom-or-power.en.html


That's exactly the kind of semantics shenanigans the grandparent is talking about. The article you linked to uses a very specific definition of freedom that may or may not be shared by others intuitively, and uses that specific definition to argue that restricting certain uses are not actually restricting freedom but restricting another concept that they excluded from their definition of freedom in the first place.


I don't think the point is entirely semantic. Saying that freedom means doing whatever you want is a very juvenile understanding of the concept. If you generalized that to laws that aren't just about software, but say, about violence, you'd wind up at the conclusion that laws that prevent theft and violence restrict freedom, when in the bigger picture it couldn't be further from the truth.

Restricting other people's freedom to violence means I'm free to walk the streets without fear of harm, likewise, restricting your freedom to close source and sell my software means your end user is free to know what's running on his/her computer.


Or it might lead to the conclusion that there are conflicting freedoms and reducing freedom may be unavoidable due to their conflicting nature instead of being inherently wrong. Making these kinds of decisions a balancing act based on which freedoms we value more or seem more apropriate.

That would reduce the usefulness of the word "freedom" as absolute good though.


The GNU GPL and similar copy-left licenses are freedom-preserving.

They ensure that software licensed under the GPL (or similar license) grants users the four fundamental freedoms (https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html.en) and that those freedoms cannot be taken away by copies, forks, or derivative works.

If you want your software completely unrestricted, then the GPL is not what you want, but don't be surprised if someone creates a proprietary work using the completely unrestricted software.

The choice is yours.


> They ensure that software licensed under the GPL (or similar license) grants users the four fundamental freedoms (https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html.en) and that those freedoms cannot be taken away by copies, forks, or derivative works.

Yes, the F.S.F. has decided that those four freedoms are the only fundamental ones to care about and calls it some absolute semantic of freedom.

Anyone can decree that one of those is not important, or add a fifth.

And even within the F.S.F.'s framework there are problems. The G.C.C. had to be given a licence exception for the runtime it links against, otherwise arguably anything compiled with it would become a derivative product of it, and thus subject to the G.P.L.. The argument is that that prohibits the freedom to run the software for any purpose; the F.S.F. has always said that writing a clause in a licence to stop software from being used to make proprietary software would make it nonfree.

So even there, the G.P.L. without such exceptions would create nonfree software if applied to compilers with a runtime.


>> Yes, the F.S.F. has decided that those four freedoms are the only fundamental ones to care about and calls it some absolute semantic of freedom.

>> Anyone can decree that one of those is not important, or add a fifth.

Freedom 0: The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose

Freedom 1: The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish. (Access to the source code is a precondition for this.)

Freedom 2: The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help others.

Freedom 3: The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. (Access to the source code is a precondition for this.)

Which freedoms do you disagree with and why?

What freedoms are missing that you would like to see added?

>> The G.C.C. had to be given a licence exception for the runtime it links against, otherwise arguably anything compiled with it would become a derivative product of it, and thus subject to the G.P.L.

You are conflating GCC as free software with software created using GCC as a compiler.

The runtime exception has been in place for quite a while and is part of the reason why GCC is very widely used.

I would argue that the four freedoms are also part of the reason why GCC has been so successful.


> Which freedoms do you disagree with and why?

> What freedoms are missing that you would like to see added?

I am not so small a mind to be concerned with semantics debates and the definition of “freedom”.

Purely in the sense of what I personally desire, as in rational egotism, I would wish for all software to exist for me free of charge, with all source code available, with a copious options system, and that it be written in a programming language I am competent in and follows the style guides I find easiest to reaed.

That is a wish, not a moral dogma; moral dogmata are Stallman's domain and I consider any man who would seriously believe that things can be morally right or wrong to be of quæstionable rationality.

> You are conflating GCC as free software with software created using GCC as a compiler.

I'm doing no such thing; I'm simply pointing out that the G.C.C. would probably not be free software without the exception.

> The runtime exception has been in place for quite a while and is part of the reason why GCC is very widely used.

> I would argue that the four freedoms are also part of the reason why GCC has been so successful.

I'm fairly certain it's the biggest reason is simply that it's a very good and gratis compiler.


How to change it to be more free? Modify 3. So that access to source code is not a pre-condition. I will never make anything from modified GPL because of the way it chooses to restrict my freedom.


GPL is interesting in that it has wildly varying degrees of influence depending on what kind of software is licensed.

Lots of companies, for example, extract value out of Linux without thinking much about the GPL. Because the "linking" bit never comes into play. On a smaller scale, GnuPG is similar, because the default interface is pipes and not a linked api.


But even with this definition:

>Copyright law today grants software developers that power, so they and only they choose the rules to impose on everyone else—a relatively small number of people make the basic software decisions for all users, typically by denying their freedom. When users lack the freedoms that define free software, they can't tell what the software is doing, can't check for back doors, can't monitor possible viruses and worms, can't find out what personal information is being reported (or stop the reports, even if they do find out). If it breaks, they can't fix it; they have to wait for the developer to exercise its power to do so. If it simply isn't quite what they need, they are stuck with it. They can't help each other improve it.

A non-commercial license still covers all of these "freedoms." The only caveat is that you can't sell it or derivatives thereof.


That list wasn't meant to be exhaustive.


It's not about exhaustion or enumeration, it's about justification. Almost all of the justification (quoth GNU) for using a completely permissive copyleft license also applies to a NC license.


> a completely permissive copyleft license

What do you mean by that? Aren't "permissive" and "copyleft" opposites?


I agree with your point on semantics. "Free Software" means whatever you define it to mean.

That said, sharing your code to be used in certain ways, not others, or for purposes you hate is maintaining control. That is relevant to "is it free?" I don't think it's morally bad, unless you take an absolutist stance that all software must be free.

To the normative point... As more of the software industry is concentrated in monopolies, the benefits of Free Software tend to concentrate there too. At that point, it's harder to feel good about it and sharing your code selectively often feels better. I also think that server side software breaks some of the Free Software logic. Users of the software aren't technically users, and they don't inherit Free Software's rights. Again, this makes the normative point bland and unattractive.


> If I want to share my code freely with hobbyists and individuals, while ensuring that Amazon can't just steal it, pervert it into something I hate, and then borrow my own reputation to help them sell it, is it morally bad to add a license that stops this behavior?

It isn't morally bankrupt but it is in contradiction to "share my code freely". Libre sharing of code with others invites contributions, which may or may not take the form of commercial enterprise around the fringes and/or of the code in-question itself. Think WordPress and Linux/RedHat; and not Redis and ElasticSearch. I agree that companies like Docker that created real value couldn't capture it all for themselves, but that's down to the rest of the ecosystem catching up to them and eventually overhauling them (some would argue, this is how it is supposed to work). If it is any consolation, they did end up creating an enormous amount of value with an industry changing innovation, but that happened on back of permissive licensing.

You cite Amazon as an example, but as one counter, AWS now employs the RTOS lead developer and continue to fund the effort. Something similar happened when Rust-lang engineers were let go by Mozilla. So, it isn't all bed of nails.

I hack on FOSS full-time, and in my view, favouring permissive licenses over restrictive ones is how the FOSS ecosystem flourished in the first place. Besides, unlike other forms of work, digital work inherently wants to be free. There's no caging it. And in letting it be is how we let it grow.


> And in letting it be is how we let it grow.

Is it? Can you truly support this argument?

I can't work on open-source code full time without getting paid. I have bills to pay. If I release a project, try to make some money on the side, and Amazon swoops in, takes all my code, and offers it for less than I can afford, I will have to stop working on it.

Does the software still grow now?


The economics of FOSS and its sociology can reinforce each other, and that's where the true benefit lies. Throwing the code at the wall to see if its sticks and if it does, then expecting it pay one's bills isn't what FOSS is about, unfortunately.

On economics of software, these posts make for a good reading:

https://www.joelonsoftware.com/2002/06/12/strategy-letter-v/

http://dtrace.org/blogs/bmc/2004/12/16/the-economics-of-soft...

On FOSS and permissive licensing, see these:

https://blogs.apache.org/foundation/entry/the-apache-way-to-...

http://dtrace.org/blogs/bmc/2018/12/14/open-source-confronts...

> Is it? Can you truly support this argument?

https://kk.org/thetechnium/technology-want/


> The economics of FOSS and its sociology can reinforce each other,

The word "can" is doing a lot of heavy lifting in this sentence.

Does it do that, in practice?


It has been done? For ex, citus-data (mysql), redhat (linux), 2ndQuadrant (postgres), github/gitlab (git).


Yes. But are those the minority exceptions?


This is true. Period. Controlling the use of software is always not free. If I made a project with a license that said that anyone can use the software except for those who control the use of their software, I wouldn't be able to use my own software. As far as the developer goes, you can license your code however you like. But don't claim the moral high ground. These non commercial licenses are no different than proprietary software.


By that argument the GPL is not free because it prevents me from (legally) stripping all the copyrights off and incorporating all the code into a commercial product.


That's not limiting use, it's limiting distribution, different things.


Assuming, of course, that use and distribution are entirely independent which is dubious at best. Regardless, controlling distribution still makes it not free.


No, you just don't understand the argument. Copyright is not a EULA.


> If I made a project with a license that said that anyone can use the software except for those who control the use of their software, I wouldn't be able to use my own software.

That scenario is clearly wrong and absurd. You don't need a license to use your own intellectual property, and thus cannot be bound by that license in any way.


I don't think it's the semantics that matter. It's the use case. If you rely on a library with a non-permissive license (ala, something tighter than MIT), then you are restricted (aka, not free) to use it in those cases, like commercialization in the case of the mentioned licenses.

This is a Very Bad Thing because it keeps really good software from making it into commercial use over fear of the restrictions in the license. (APGL bans are great example.)


> Restrictions on [...] use are incompatible with [...] what "free" means

Yes.


> If I want to share my code freely with hobbyists and individuals, while ensuring that Amazon can't just steal it, pervert it into something I hate, and then borrow my own reputation to help them sell it, is it morally bad to add a license that stops this behavior?

This is where the AGPL (at least for code) comes into play, which mostly is enough to prohibit Amazon from taking your code and hosting (a modification of it) on their servers.


Maybe we should talk about ethical licenses instead of free ones then. Then the purpose would be clearer.


Quite recently, a different group already adopted the term "ethical license". Ironically for licenses that attempt to discriminate against certain groups of people, thus also violating both the OSI and FSF definitions.

So yes, that is apparently already thing now and distinct from "free" or "open source".

[1] https://perens.com/2019/10/12/invasion-of-the-ethical-licens...

[2] https://perens.com/2019/09/23/sorry-ms-ehmke-the-hippocratic...


> This is true in a technical sense. Restrictions on commercial use are incompatible with a very specific interpretation of what "free" means. I could also invent a definition of freedom that was contrived to be incompatible with copy-left licenses and then write a post about how those aren't "truly free" either.

Look, don't pretend that you don't know that the FSF doesn't exist, or that that is what is conventionally meant by Free Software.

Yes, English does have plain meanings for the word "free". However, you're not really doing yourself any favors here. You just sound like you're being willful or stubborn about the term Free Software. I agree that it's a poor term, but it's the term that has been selected. Complaining now in 2021 about computer terms devised in the mid 1980s is fruitless at best.

> From a developer's perspective: Why should code be 100% Certified Free™ instead of 95%, or even 50%? Is it a moral imperative to make code truly free, or an aesthetic ideal? What harms come from a CC-BY-NC license relative to MIT and why do those harms matter? I think answers to these questions are much harder and more interesting to come by than splitting hairs over the semantics of freedom.

Okay, so, if you look at the FSD link in the article [0], the very first thing is the four software freedoms:

> - The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).

> - The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

> - The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help others (freedom 2).

> - The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

The second thing in the FSD article explains why NC isn't Free:

> “Free software” does not mean “noncommercial”. On the contrary, a free program must be available for commercial use, commercial development, and commercial distribution. This policy is of fundamental importance—without this, free software could not achieve its aims.

> We want to invite everyone to use the GNU system, including businesses and their workers. That requires allowing commercial use. We hope that free replacement programs will supplant comparable proprietary programs, but they can't do that if businesses are forbidden to use them. We want commercial products that contain software to include the GNU system, and that would constitute commercial distribution for a price. Commercial development of free software is no longer unusual; such free commercial software is very important. Paid, professional support for free software fills an important need.

> Thus, to exclude commercial use, commercial development or commercial distribution would hobble the free software community and obstruct its path to success. We must conclude that a program licensed with such restrictions does not qualify as free software.

In other words, your open source, NC software will never achieve success because it's chosen to exclude one of the major causes for software success and distribution: commercial adoption. By extension, you've told all commercial systems to go build their own proprietary system and sell that instead. You've forced commercial systems to compete with your software. You've created a monster, because commercial enterprise is always going to have more resources than you do. You've ensured that if your software's purpose is necessary and important, your software will fail.

[0]: https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.en.html


Yes, it's morally bad to restrict the freedoms of others when not doing so causes no harm to yourself.

Amazon can't "steal" something that is given freely. That's the whole point of free software: it's no longer up to you how others get to use it.

The core idea of copyrights and ownership of sequences of bytes is the problem. We need to stop thinking of information as something that it is possible to own.


If an entity makes profit off the back of my labour without compensation a reasonable case could be made that harm has been done to me.

Or at least a labourer may legitimately claim they wish to share "freely" only to some. And they can also choose to change their mind on any subsequent work.

This is especially the case when the entities involved are corporate, not individual humans.


I think this is where I disagree. I'm all for identifying corporate exploitation of free software, but this isn't it. If I work to enrich the commons, and as a result someone profits, I don't think harm has been done to me. Sure, it might feel bad to know that someone is profiting because of my work and they couldn't spare anything for me, but ultimately, I didn't expect to make any money when I did the work. I would have done it anyway. It's really hard to see how I've been harmed here.


You can make that case, and you're entitled to distribute your software under terms that prevent this.

But this is the deal you sign up for when you make free and open source software. If you want to make another kind of software, that's quite fine, but it's not free software nor open source.


Especially if your complaint is "We got lots of growth because people adopted our open source software but then Amazon published a hosted version and now we can't claim as much of the commercial opportunity, so we need a more restrictive license."

Would the software have attained the userbase it did if they were the terms from the outset? A lot of these companies just assume that it would have been the exact same except for the absence of an amazon competitor if these licenses were used.


No, using information or tools (or tool designs) that you have released to make profit does not do harm to you.


Information should definitely be something you can own, and you seem to understand this perfectly, because yesterday you wrote:

"I would feel a lot more comfortable with this if it didn't collect any data of mine"


Having knowledge/access to data does not mean you own it.

I have pirated movies on my hard drive. Do I own them?


I hacked your Facebook account and posted hate speech on it. Your employer fired you. Am I innocent?


Depends on what you mean by "hacked".


> We need to stop thinking of information as something that it is possible to own.

Sure. But until we reach that world, software licenses have a place.


This is a fair point, although not in great alignment with many of the norms that keep society working outside of tech.

However, don't all (or nearly all) licenses imply restrictions of some sort? Do you think code should just be released CC0/Public Domain or are certain restrictions (like copy-left) worth the cost?


I personally think that the concept of copyright (that is, using state-sponsored violence (or threat of same) to enforce property rights over the reproduction of certain sequences of bytes) is insane. I understand why it exists and the economic incentives it creates, however I feel that the fundamental idea that someone can “own” a certain sequence of bytes is as absurd as someone owning the number 2.


Overall the concept of property has similar absurdity if you think deeply about it, especially with the concept of land ownership, or ownership in general. Property, title, money and ownership are organization structures for human activity, congruent with human social instincts, enforced ultimately by violence too. It's otherwise a fiction.


I think there are some natural rights to personal property.

As far as land goes, you're right. The same rules for objects probably shouldn't be used for land.


Certain restrictions are indeed worth it, sure. But the FSF, OSI, and DFSG unanimously agree that a restriction on commercial use is not.


The bigger practical problem is: What is commercial? Here's something I wrote almost 15 years ago. [0]

Sure, we can agree that certain things like a grade school project are not commercial. They're also trivial and pretty much uninteresting from a license perspective.

Though see this case. [1] It was dismissed but basically Federal Express was sued because it made a profit off making copies of non-commercially CC licensed educational materials.

CC spent years trying to come up with an NC definition and as far as I know nothing ever came out of it and the closest they got was pretty much tied to US tax code not-for-profit status.

So even if you dismiss the philosophical concerns, while I've personally made peace with using non-commercial licensed (photographs mostly) for certain uses that you could argue both ways on, I'm not sure how legally defensible it would be if push came to shove.

[0] https://www.cnet.com/news/does-the-noncommercial-creative-co...

[1] https://creativecommons.org/2017/02/24/update-great-minds-v-...


Just because there are grey areas doesn't mean there aren't also clear cut cases that are ruled out.

If I publish a book as CC-BY-NC you can't turn around and offer it verbatim on Amazon for some fee.

This is useful, and the use of NC in the context of text and media strikes me as quite different to the case for software.


You are correct that there are also cases where use is clearly commercial. Simply selling the licensed work is one although I expect the sort of person who does that doesn't really care much about the license.

Another is probably things like advertising but if the organization has any sort of legal department, they're probably going to want to confirm that you have rights to the work in question.

And then, as I say, there's a vast middle ground about which different people have differing strong opinions.


It looks like your example [1] was actually rather clear cut based on the actual use of the work and case law quoted in the court decision.

I think in most cases it is actually clear what "non-commercial use" looks like.


It did spend four years going through the legal system even if, as a layperson, it seems clear cut and a dumb case.

My primary interest is using photographs and I can pretty much guarantee that almost any use I might have beyond something like wallpaper on my personal computer, some number of people would argue is commercial because it has some connection, even if tenuous, to either my day job or other businesses.


The time the legal system takes to settle a case is another issue as is the reality that anyone can argue anything.

What is commercial and non-commercial has to be judged on each specific case's merit, which obviously makes general discussions difficult beyond broad definitions, but in general it is not a big grey area.


The grey area is massive. Take using photos. What if I run ads or have affiliate links on my blog? What if I'm a US not-for-profit that has $10s of millions in revenue? What if I'm giving a presentation at an industry event that I'm not being directly paid for but it's essentially part of my job?

I could go on but I guarantee that if you surveyed the readers of this site many people would answer those questions differently.

Effectively, if a lawyer were making the call of whether a particular use was OK, they'd tell you just not to use it because no use that you'd be asking a lawyer about is clearly OK.


> What if I run ads or have affiliate links on my blog?

FWIW, in Germany that would indeed make it a commercial endeavor.

It gets even weirder with copyright, being part of a torrent swarm as uploading part has regularly been ruled as "commercial distribution".


These are specific examples, and as mentioned there are an infinity of cases.

I am not sure they are grey areas. For example, in general anything you do as part of your job at a commercial enterprise has a commercial purpose.


Well, see, I'm reasonably comfortable with using NC so long as I'm not selling or being directly paid for something. Otherwise, pretty much everything I have in public is associated with my job at a commercial enterprise or other business in some manner and I effectively can't use NC for anything non-trivial. So, without surveying the rest of HN, we already disagree on a wide swath of use and probably wouldn't change each other's minds.


The big problem with "Non-Commercial" licenses is that they don't come with a strict definition of what's "Commercial". A non-profit charging to cover some costs (event at a loss) might be considered commercial... but what if a corporation uses or distributes the NC content completely for free? It should be considered commercial, because they're getting value out of it.

... And then you realize that most of the time everybody gets value, in some way, out of their work. So even if there are clear whites and blacks the gray area is insurmountable.


> A non-profit charging to cover some costs (event at a loss) might be considered commercial.

I would default to considering anything attracting funds through charging as commercial. The fact they are choosing not to try make a profit is not significant in itself. I'd prefer such cases to ask, and I'll hand out a perpetual (but non-transferable) free licence if I consider their cause, and how they are running it, to be a good one.


And this raises the other point. If I license my software under a non-free license such as CC-BY-NC-SA, there is absolutely nothing stopping me from licensing it additionally under a different license. I can do that if I'm the copyright owner.

It becomes more difficult when there are multiple contributors to the software, and therefore multiple copyright owners. You would have to obtain the permission of all of the copyright holders before you can do that.

There are ways around this. For example, people submitting contributions to a project can be asked to agree to hand over copyright of their contributions, though this might not fly in all jurisdictions. Alternatively, all contributors could be asked to agree to delegate licensing decisions to the project lead team.


Yep. I don't currently have anything published (I did in the past, may do again soon), but if/when I do I'll probably err on the side of “its mine, if you want to update it fork it (but respect the license)”, initially at least, to avoid any issues of ownership should I decide to change terms general or agree specific terms with specific parties.


If “free” must include the right for massive corporations to take your unpaid labor and extract profits from it, then I’m not sure the author and I have the same definition of freedom. Or, perhaps, I have zero interest in a setup that seems to benefit only a small number of parties, regardless of how you may argue that it’s actually “freedom”.


I think the Debian example is a useful one here. If you release your software under a NC license, then it can't be integrated into Debian. The reason for this is that Debian is freely available for anyone to download and install. Someone in a large commercial company who installs Debian onto a random computer must be able to press the "install everything" button, and not be exposed to the hazard of accidentally installing something that (due it its commercial use inside a company) is in violation of its license. Even if it were a little CPU usage status widget in the bottom corner of the screen, that would be a violation. If Debian didn't enforce this set of rules on acceptable licenses, then the freedom to install the OS would not be there. I don't think anyone could really argue with a straight face that Debian shouldn't be free to install in commercial situations.


Obviously, the Debian project is free to do whatever it wants. There are a variety of choices I can make that would make my projects incompatible with Debian’s requirements, and that’s fine.

What gets my hackles up is when developers are accused of not supporting “freedom” when they don’t allow the fruits of their labor to be used for someone else’s profits.


Do you accept patches? Do you profit off of said patches?


> I have zero interest in a setup that seems to benefit only a small number of parties

Heads up, it's not only giant companies that are restricted by Non-Commercial licenses. Also, Non-Commercial licenses apply regardless of whether or not the finished product is made available in a way that respects user freedoms. CC BY-NC can't be used for commercial products even if they're made available under CC licenses.

It's totally fine for you to like those licenses, I've used them in the past, I've used straight-up proprietary licenses in the past that gave my users zero freedom. But "freedom" is a completely orthogonal concept to whether or not you as a creative have the ability to monetize your work.

When you look at restrictive licenses that are actually free (like the GPL), you see that they're not interested in restricting what the software is used for, just what terms derivative products can be made available under. Note that the article does not say that Share-Alike licenses are non-free. But Non-Commercial licenses are a world away from that, they restrict actual usage for everyone big and small, which yeah, that's less free. Of course it's less free, you have to have a really weird definition of freedom to disagree with that.

And what's weird about this conversation is nobody's even arguing about whether Non-Commercial licenses are good, or even if they're good for preserving freedom in the long run. The article itself says:

> Isn't prohibiting the usage of some artefacts for commercial purpose good for free artefacts? Maybe it is. May be it is not. That is irrelevant while deciding whether a license is considered free or not.

It would be totally fine to say, "sometimes NC licenses are more appropriate for some projects than Free (as in speech) licenses." It would be totally fine to say, "sometimes Free (as in speech) licenses make it easy to take advantage of creators." Both of those statements are true. They're just apparently not enough.

It feels weirdly appropriative for proprietary devs to step in and champion themselves as the real defenders of freedom because they're solely focused on economics instead of what ordinary users can actually do with their content/software. Next up we'll be hearing people claim that Copyright itself is the real freedom-preserving system because Copyright-abolition just makes it easy for Disney to steal things. If we got rid of Copyright, then indie artists wouldn't be able to monetize their work, and if you think that world is "free" then you have a different definition than me of "freedom". /s


> It feels weirdly appropriative for proprietary devs to step in and champion themselves as the real defenders of freedom

A proprietary developer offering something that gives the user full control of their data and full privacy is championing freedom more than an open source developer who uses FOSS as a lever to herd people into a surveillance capitalist we-own-your-data ecosystem.

Cloud is the new closed.


What does this have to do with whether Non-Commercial licenses are Open Source?

The FOSS movement has been incredibly clear about the threat of cloud software for years now, they were warning about this before it was a mainstream argument. And to be clear, Non-Free licenses like Mongo's that often come up during these debates do nothing to prevent people from being herded towards the cloud, and Non-Commercial licenses have nothing to do with how Non-Commercial content is distributed. There is no provision in a Non-Commercial license that says that I have to make the media I build with it available for download.

If your chief objection is SAAS, then it seems more than licenses, you would be arguing that software like Mongo is inherently Non-Free simply by virtue of being a database designed for use in the cloud. Mongo's existence is funneling more users into the cloud than any license it uses.

There are licenses (like AGPL, and CC SA) that can be classified as Free licenses and that do contain provisions to prevent companies from locking software and content up in a way that users can't distribute, modify, or consume in privacy-respecting ways. Those licenses preserve ownership without being Non-Free.

A Non-Commercial license doesn't do any of that stuff.


> And to be clear, Non-Free licenses like Mongo's that often come up during these debates do nothing to prevent people from being herded towards the cloud

Yes they do, but to understand why you have to look at the software economy from a whole-system point of view and pay particular attention to incentives. It's that if the only way to make money in software is cloud SaaS, that's where all the incentives flow and that's where the center of gravity goes.

This is a whole-system incentives problem. Right now virtually all the incentives in software are tilted toward SaaS, cloud lock-in, and surveillance, because the other competing business model of pay-for-software has been destroyed.

Mongo is also a bad example since as you point out it's software designed almost exclusively for use by cloud services. Things have gone so far down the road it's hard for me to think of good examples. The best I can do is Steam, but that's not really a great example either. It's closer than MongoDB.


> Right now virtually all the incentives in software are tilted toward SaaS, cloud lock-in, and surveillance, because the other competing business model of pay-for-software has been destroyed.

The problem is that Non-Commercial licenses also do nothing to help with this situation either, because they explicitly ban traditional funding sources like pay-for-software.

I agree with you that current funding incentives push people towards the cloud. I don't see how Non-Commercial licenses help with that at all -- Non-Commercial licenses make it harder to just sell downloadable software that you run locally and privately on your computer. If the current incentive problem around funding is pushing people to adopt SaaS models and treat their software as a funnel into unrelated services, why champion a license makes that incentive problem even worse?


My issue here is that the entire conversation is presupposed on the notion that freedom and non-commercial are diametrically opposed. I reject that framing.


> is presupposed on the notion that freedom and non-commercial are diametrically opposed

I don't think that freedom is diametrically opposed to non-commercial work, but while the specific lines that we've drawn around Free/Libre content are arguably arbitrary, they do provide a meaningful distinction between blocking future restrictions to other people, and blocking direct usage of future content regardless of what restrictions that content has. The difference between the GPL and Non-Commercial clauses are not merely matters of degree or economics, they are meaningful, philosophical differences about what user freedoms are afforded.

Where non-commercial content is concerned, the FOSS (and Creative Commons) world is wildly underfunded, and yet it still manages to chug along reasonably well. Many communities both in and out of FOSS produce freedom-respecting content with very little funding or reward to show for it. It's very difficult, but they make it work. So it's definitely not that non-commercial work is antithetical to freedom, in many ways non-commercial work has formed (and continues to form) the backbone of freedom.

However, given that we are aware of the fact that the FOSS (and Creative Commons) world is so underfunded, it seems particularly weird to be championing licenses that make it harder for small developers and small communities to fund Creative-Commons content or to sustainably build on Copyleft work.

There is not much point in building a commons if it's impossible for anyone to sustainably build anything on top of it. At that point, at the point where licenses restrict anyone from actually using that content for anything except charity, then you don't really have a commons so much as a demo reel that funnels people into traditional proprietary licensing agreements.


> However, given that we are aware of the fact that the FOSS (and Creative Commons) world is so underfunded, it seems particularly weird to be championing licenses that make it harder for small developers and small communities to fund Creative-Commons content or to sustainably build on Copyleft work.

This presumes that commercially friendly licenses help provide funding for FOSS development. While there might be a handful of high profile cases where this happens (Blender comes to mind), more often than not the relationship between FOSS and commercial enterprises is a fundamentally extractive process. If you run an open source project the best case scenario is that someone else uses your project to make their business more successful (and give nothing back), the worst case is having AWS straight up sell your product, making millions off your work and cutting you out from any hope of making money.


> This presumes that commercially friendly licenses help provide funding for FOSS development.

Yes, definitely, when compared against a license that bans funding your project. I'm not here to argue that the current state of funding in FOSS is great, I'm here to argue that banning funding is not going to help it.

Blender can't use an NC licensed asset in the program, because their software is a commercial product that they are making money off of. What an NC licensed commons does is it guarantees that anyone building on top of the commons can not do so in a sustainable way, regardless of whether or not they're building FOSS software.

I think what people miss when they talk about the commons is that FOSS projects are built on top of FOSS projects, and questions about funding necessarily affect not just the immediate developer that releases a project, but the ability of every single downstream CC/FOSS project that is trying to build on top of a shared commons.

Philosophically, the idea of a shared commons is that having an open collection of software/content that everyone both contributes to and that everyone builds on top of will be better for society. It is reasonable for people to disagree with that philosophy and to argue that closing down and forcing people to get permission to build anything large on top of the commons is a better model -- that is the model of proprietary software. But people should be aware what they're arguing for.

Non-Commercial licenses are an assertion that any other commons material built on top of that content must be unfunded. Future creative commons works can not include content under proprietary dual-licenses to your stuff while remaining FOSS/CC themselves. So they have choice. Either have no funding at all, or reject the Creative Commons and build proprietary stuff using assets that are licensed under Non-Free agreements. In the current world, an assertion that the Creative Commons should require Non-Commercial usage is an assertion that Creative Commons content should not be funded.


> Yes, when compared against a license that bans funding your project. I'm not here to argue that the current state of funding in FOSS is great, I'm here to argue that banning funding is not going to help it.

Banning funding that doesn’t exist for most projects isn’t harmful. 50% less than $0 is still $0. Most open source projects get nothing from companies, and count on the free labor of the founder and those “buy me a coffee” buttons (which would still be fine for a non-commercial project).

In fact, it’s extremely common to have open source library writers complain that their product is used by unicorns and Fortune 500 companies, yet they’re forced to support development of a product that helps others profit. This is part of why we see such public burnout and ragequits here from time to time.

It’s fine to say “well banning commercial funding won’t help”, but let’s be honest; for profit companies aren’t going to give anything back without being forced to do so. We’re covering huge chunks of their labor cost for free, without some mechanism to force them to pay, they never will.

> Blender can't use an NC licensed asset in the program, because their software is a commercial product that they are making money off of. What an NC licensed commons does is it guarantees that anyone building on top of the commons can not do so in a sustainable way.

Blender is in extremely rarified territory for a FOSS program; it gets direct cash subsidies from for profit companies who see benefit in its development. While it’s obviously true that Blender going NC would ruin them, looking at such outliers to judge the median is like looking at a lottery winner when planning out your finances; you’re going to get a skewed sense of reality.

Also, Blender isn’t getting funded by Epic out of the goodness of their hearts or a concern for the commons. Epic sees profit in making it easier for other people to make video games for their platform. Very, very few open source projects will ever end up in this position.


> Banning funding that doesn’t exist for most projects isn’t harmful.

Yes it is, if you ever want to get funding. Right now, we are trying to figure out ways to fund FOSS/CC software/content. It's very hard. But at least we don't have legal restrictions stopping us from doing so.

> for profit companies aren’t going to give anything back without being forced to do so

We also have licenses for this. CC Share Alike.

The entire point of the GPL and Share Alike licenses are to force companies to contribute back to the commons and to operate on the same terms as the people making software/commons content. There are some issues that those licenses don't plug, like SaaS software. Those issues will be better solved by targeted licenses like AGPL than they will be by rejecting FOSS concepts entirely.

> Also, Blender isn’t getting funded by Epic out of the goodness of their hearts.

Who the heck cares? "Very, very few" is better than zero.

> We’re covering huge chunks of their labor cost for free

And I want to push back on this as well. How much of your software are you actually writing from scratch? The entirety of Open Source today is built on existing Open Source projects. Some of them were developed by exploited developers, some of those developers were compensated. But in every single one of those cases, your ability to even look for funding today is only possible because those developers in the past gave you permission to do so.

The fact that we're even talking about funding in any form indicates to me that you don't really want to live in the world you're describing. How would you feel if you went to put your current Open Source project on Patreon and found out you can't because the libraries it's built on restrict you from trying to fund its development?

It is difficult to solve the current funding problems in Open Source. But it is impossible to build a sustainable FOSS ecosystem on NC-licensed content. Not unless your idea is that every single FOSS project will reinvent the entire computing stack from scratch for everything they release.

What Non-Commercial license advocates are actually saying (whether they realize it or not) is that software built on top of the commons should not be funded. If people want a proprietary world and they want everyone to license every library they use, and they want copyright licenses to propagate down the tech stack like they currently do in the proprietary world of software, then they should just say that.


> The fact that we're even talking about funding in any form indicates to me that you don't really want to live in the world you're describing.

> What Non-Commercial license advocates are actually saying (whether they realize it or not)

I’d appreciate it if you didn’t accuse me of being delusional or duplicitous, it’s not nice.

Also, what world do you think I’m describing? Because it sure doesn’t seem to match the world I think I’m describing. Here, I’ll make it more clear for you with bullet points:

1. Tying “freedom” to commercialization is a framing that I think is misleading at best, manipulative at worst. It implies that open source creators are less moral people if they don’t want someone else making a profit off their work, which I think is nonsense.

2. A lot (but not all!) of open source contributors would be happier if they chose NC licenses even if it means fewer people use them. The proposed costs of doing so (no Debian, no commercial funding) is a non-factor for the vast majority of projects, while the lower adoption of NC projects might make the overall process more enjoyable and less stressful.

3. The exact definition of success for a project is up to the people creating and running it, not us. You might find it inconvenient if you can’t use someone else’s work because of a license incompatibility, but that doesn’t mean that that project is a failure or bad, it just means it’s not right (or even meant) for you.

None of this comes anywhere close to all software being NC, although I think more people should make NC software for the joy of making things that other people will use (point 2). Plenty of open source founders will set high levels of adoption as their goal (point 3), and therefore adopt a commercial friendly license[0]. That’s fine, and I think it’s their right to pick the license that they think best meets their needs. What’s not fine is haranguing those who want their work to remain non-commercial for picking a “non-free” license (point 1). It’s their work, they can do with it as they see fit[0] without the unnecessary moralizing about “freedom”.

0 - Limited of course by the licenses of any libraries they bring in, since those creators have rights too.


In order:

1. Tying "freedom" to the freedom to pursue commercialization is necessary if you want to fund your own projects, and it is necessary if you want your projects to be usable in a real commons. It is not necessary if you want to just release something that can't be used commercially -- that's fine, you can do that. I release proprietary software all the time, I'm employed by proprietary software. But don't say that you're contributing to a commons, you're not. A sustainable commons needs funding.

2. A lot (not all, but a lot) of Open Source contributors could not fund their own work if it was built on top of NC licensed software. I'm not talking about companies appropriating things, I'm talking about your ability to accept donations or to dual license or sell support for your own work that is already built on top of Open Source licensed code. None of what you're doing exists in a vacuum, I can almost guarantee that every single piece of software you've ever built was built on top of an Open base. So whether or not you intend it, if those developers had followed your model of licensing, it would be impossible for you today to even look for compensation for any of your software, FOSS or not.

3. I didn't say that the project was a failure or that it was bad, I said it was following a proprietary model of compensation, where software can not be used without the permission of the people building that software, and where those licenses trickle down into derivative works creating a chain of permissions. And that's fine, I have respect for people who follow proprietary models for their software. I just think we should be clear about what we're talking about here.

I regularly find proprietary software inconvenient. I'm not calling that software a failure, or bad. But I'm also not obligated to call it Free/Libre, and I'm not obligated to pretend that rejecting the philosophy of Open Source is the solution to Open Source funding.

----

I don't think you're duplicitous or "delusional", but I think that you're missing that each individual Open Source project doesn't exist in a vaccuum, Open Source has always been built on top of other Open Source projects. I don't think you understand the implications of the world you are describing when you suggest that those derivative Open Source projects and those individuals should not be able to seek funding for their contributes to the world of FOSS.

The entire point of a commons is that it is built on; that everyone contributes to it and everyone uses different pieces of it. What NC licenses do is they restrict future works within those commons so they can not be funded. That doesn't mean NC work is evil, but it's not a commons, it is explicitly rejecting the idea that future works within that commons should have the ability to fund themselves. It is saying that anyone contributing to the commons in the future and building on top of it must do so for free.

That's not a moral judgement, in my experience most NC content is not intended to be part of a commons. The closest thing I have to a moral judgement here is that it feels a little weird to me that people are complaining about companies stealing their work at the same time that they build freely on top of an existing Open Source base while explicitly denying future Open Source developers the opportunity to fund the FOSS/CC software/content that they make. You stand on the shoulders of giants, and if you have been able to fund any of your projects, it is only because those giants didn't take your advice about licensing.

But beyond that, I have no moral judgement at all. People are free to choose whatever license they want. It's just not a commons, and it's not sustainable, and it's not Free/Libre. The conversation that we're having now is an exact mirror of the conversations that we had back in the Microsoft days, where proprietary advocates argued that only proprietary software could guarantee funding for smaller devs. It's still a reasonable argument to make today. There are many software devs who believe that the FOSS movement is misguided and that an Open Source/Creative Commons approach is inherently the wrong way to develop content/software.

If you view it as some kind of insult for me to say that what you're advocating for is a proprietary license, I'm not sure what to say, that's on you. Proprietary is not an insult, it's a different philosophy about how software should be built.

> What’s not fine is haranguing those who want their work to remain non-commercial for picking a “non-free” license (point 1).

Nobody is saying that people should be harangued for choosing a proprietary license. On the contrary, whenever these threads appear, it is always proprietary developers jumping in to say things like "A lot [...] of open source contributors would be happier if they chose NC licenses even if it means fewer people use them." Who exactly is evangelizing in this situation? Far from "haranguing" developers, the original article says:

> The non-commercial licenses are good at doing what they are meant to do, that is, prevent commercial exploitation of your work. If that is what you want, the non-commercial licenses are perfect for you.

I'm not sure how else to tell you that accurately defining Open Source/Libre software isn't an insult to your character.


The entire FOSS movement is stuck in the 1980s-1990s and has not adapted to the new business and computing environment of the 21st century.

Source code is far less relevant to freedom today. The new closed is closed runtimes and closed data. I can run a service based on 100% open source software that I either use from others or produce myself, and if the runtime and user data are behind a paywall the result is something that is more closed than closed-source software.

At least with closed-source software you can still run it. I can take a file produced by a 1980s DOS program and load it up under that program in DOSBox on a computer today. I also have all the data I ever made, and if I want to put in the effort to reverse engineer the format could extract it or port it to some other format. My data is my data. None of this can be done with hosted SaaS. Cloud is the new closed and is far more closed than the old closed.

We confuse free "as in beer" with free "as in freedom." These two are actually at odds. If all software is free "as in beer," it becomes impossible to field any business model that prioritizes the user. The only available business models are closed-data/closed-runtime SaaS, usually with a healthy dose of lock-in and surveillance capitalism, or closed super-locked-down hardware like Apple's iOS that effectively achieves SaaS levels of lock-down but at the edge.

A model in which the user pays directly for the software is necessary (but not sufficient) to enable software that actually prioritizes the user. (The other necessary condition is at least some users exercising discernment and purchasing software that doesn't treat them like shit.) If you can't sell software, you either have to sell the user (surveillance capitalism), exploit/con the user (gambling-based models like loot boxes), or find some other way to erect a paywall (SaaS, locked-down hardware).

Free "as in beer" means honest straightforward business models are impossible.

Finally the idea that all software even can be free "as in beer" is a fantasy, especially when you go beyond bare bones open source code that requires a lot of expert setup or "geek tools." Software that non-geeks can actually use requires exponentially more effort to produce and maintain than open source projects that are made for programmers by programmers.

Getting a program to work is often maybe 5-10% of the effort, with the other 90-95% being UI/UX. Worse, UI/UX is the sort of work that most programmers do not find fun. As a result they have to be paid to do it, which is why few if any truly free "as in beer" open source products have broken out beyond hacker subcultures and IT/developer audiences (unless they are used as a hidden platform or component in providing something else, like Google's massive surveillance capitalist empire running on Linux).

IMHO we need to re-think the entire open source social contract from the perspective of how to maximize freedom (and privacy) in today's world. Dogmatism is the largest impediment to this, but I also have the sense that the institutional side of open source (e.g. OSI) is completely captured and in the pocket of FAANG companies that do not want anything to change. I recall a FOSDEM lecture a while ago on "threats to open source" that read a bit like this article, and the presenter was a lawyer for Facebook. If organizations like OSI won't help, we need new organizations. We may also need new terminology.

Edit: AFAIK Richard Stallman would probably agree with at least some of the things I say above. He argued on several occasions that open source did not always have to imply free as in no payment or no economic model. The GPL has issues that hamstring its adoption and is not the right answer to this, but it's still one of the better licenses for open source ventures that want to dual-license or prevent SaaSification.


> Getting a program to work is often maybe 5-10% of the effort, with the other 90-95% being UI/UX

Just because you can spend 90+% of effort on UX doesn't mean that it is necessary or even beneficial.


It's necessary if you want anyone other than programmers and IT people who have a lot of time on their hands to use it. Not only is good UI/UX required for end users, it's also required for expert users who are busy and don't have time for your 25-step installation procedure or constantly dinking around with something until it works.

Actual percentages vary by type of software and user base, but I'd say it's almost never less than 25% of the effort for developer tools, enterprise, backend, etc. software and is probably closer to my 90-95% number for most software designed for end users.

If you want a world where freedom is only for software developers and IT professionals and everyone else lives in a locked-down surveillance panopticon where they don't even control their own data, then maintain the status quo. Personally I did not get into this industry to be a mercenary knight for a bunch of neo-feudal lords.


> Finally the idea that all software even can be free "as in beer" is a fantasy, especially when you go beyond bare bones open source code that requires a lot of expert setup or "geek tools."

You don't see any irony at all in saying this as an argument against calling Non-Commercial licenses Non-Free?

This is the content that by law can't be used to fund anything, at all, including freedom-preserving software. Ironically, the best legal chance you have at getting away with funding a product that includes Non-Commercial licensed content is probably ads/donations, which you seem to dislike.

> If all software is free "as in beer," it becomes impossible to field any business model that prioritizes the user

So how exactly are licenses that literally require you to make everything built on top of them free (as in beer) helping with this? If you don't believe that free (as in beer) software/content is worthwhile or feasible to make in the long term, than these Non-Commercial licenses aren't contributing anything worthwhile to the commons, because they can't be used to fund anything. Anything built on top of them will always be the kind of low-effort unsustainable software that you decry here.

If what you're saying is true, then producers of Non-Commercial licensed content might as well just license that stuff as straight proprietary in the first place and stop pretending to be occupying a middle ground.


I recognize about 4 levels of software freedom: MIT, LGPL, GPL, APGL. Other licenses can also fall into these level categories.

Special licenses like 'everyone except Amazon' seems 'for the people', but really it isn't, AGPL is. The reason people want these special licenses is because they want their cake (popularity like MIT) and eat it too (make it not free in personally selected ways).


> Special licenses like 'everyone except Amazon' seems 'for the people', but really it isn't, AGPL is. The reason people want these special licenses is because they want their cake (popularity like MIT) and eat it too (make it not free in personally selected ways).

Another common reason is that they want to be able to profit off of the code, sometimes even taking in other people's contributions, without allowing anyone else (sometimes even contributors) to profit from it.


OSI, FSF, GNU, et al. do not have a trademark on the term "free". The OSI once applied to the USPTO for a trademark on "open source" and was denied: https://opensource.org/pressreleases/certified-open-source.p...


Words don't need to be trademarked to have a meaningful definition.


Who gets to decide the definition? The blog uses the definition "Note that when we say 'free' here, we mean free as in speech, not free as in beer," but I would argue "free for non-commercial use" licenses _are_ inherently free as in speech, but not beer.


> Who gets to decide the definition?

The FSF. Their definition of Free Software is the accepted one. The blog post links to it.

> I would argue "free for non-commercial use" licenses _are_ inherently free as in speech, but not beer

No, when software is free as in beer, that's used to mean that it can be obtained free of charge.

Software whose licence prohibits commercial use is by definition not Free Software, following the FSF definition, as this violates Freedom 0.


> The FSF. Their definition of Free Software is the accepted one.

Anyone can create their own organization with their own list of violations.

I happen to be in agreement with the FSF on most points, but not with regards to non-commercial licenses.


But the freedom of speech applies even to commercial speech.


Right. The terms power and force are not trademarked, but anyone who tries to argue that physicists are using these terms incorrectly can expect to be laughed out of the room. That's as it should be.


You have a right to distribute the software you right under any terms you wish. If you are sick of tech giants using free software without giving back, then you're entitled to use some other licensing model. But you cannot change the meaning of free software.

The terms "free software" and "open source" have a specific meaning in the software ecosystem. The former is defined by the Free Software Definition and the latter by the Open Source Definition, respectively published by the FSF and OSI. These definitions both require that the software is available for commercial use without restriction, among other things.

These terms do not need to be trademarked to make their misuse wrong, in the same way that advertising cakes when you actually sell pizzas is wrong. Making cakes is fine, and making pizzas is fine, but a pizza store misleading its customers because they want to get in on the cake market is not fine.

The success of free and open source software attracts those who wish to reap its benefits without agreeing to its terms. This is wrong, and needs to stop. You cannot have a commercial monopoly over your FOSS projects; if you insist on one, then your projects are not FOSS.

https://drewdevault.com/2021/01/20/FOSS-is-to-surrender-your...


>The terms "free software" and "open source" have a specific meaning in the software ecosystem. The former is defined by the Free Software Definition and the latter by the Open Source Definition, respectively published by the FSF and OSI. These definitions both require that the software is available for commercial use without restriction, among other things.

Problem: The OSI did not coin the term 'open source'. OSI partisans claim that Christine Peterson coined the term at a strategy meeting in Palo Alto on 3 February 1998. However, the term and the concept was well known prior to that. Martin Tournoij does a decent enough job of collecting prior citations [1] that go all the way back to 1990. All the OSI did was take an existing philosophy, scribble some new restrictions in crayon, and called it Open Source(tm)(c)(pat. pending).

Honestly, though, I do love it when this comes up. It gives me the opportunity to irk new guys telling them that Lyle Ball, head of public relations at Caldera, has an earlier citation than the OSI in the form of a press-release announcing Caldera OpenDOS[2][3]. :D

[1] https://www.arp242.net/open-source.html

[2] http://www.xent.com/FoRK-archive/fall96/0269.html

[3] http://ftp.uni-bayreuth.de/pc/caldera/OpenDOS.701/license.tx...

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26504021


True, but the term has evolved nonetheless, and its present meaning is related to the OSI. Language evolves. I would argue that this definition has settled upon a useful, objective meaning, and that its utility ought to be preserved by using new terms (or other, existing terms, like "source available") rather than trying to force its further "evolution" in whatever direction happens to be convenient for your project and/or commercial interest.


The problem with "open source" is that it has a fairly obvious meaning: it uses the noun "source", which is what everyone uses to describe source code, and combines it with the very common adjective "open" that's used for all sorts of things and generally means "has access to".

You can educate millions and millions of people to steer them away from the obvious meaning to the specific meaning, but "Free Software" has been trying to do that for a lot longer with extremely limited success. Overall, it seems like a distraction to me, and if you want to promote Free Software/Open Source then there are more effective ways to do that than argueing semantics.

Also, IMHO "source available" is probably a necessary stepping stone to open source in the grand scheme of things. If all software would be source available tomorrow then this would be a huge win: election machines can be audited, we will know how good (or bad) government software is, I can judge software from Company X before deciding to do business with them, I can fix bugs that are a huge issue for me myself instead of just asking "please fix this bug that's a huge deal for me", etc. etc. After this we can move on further.


> If all software would be source available tomorrow then this would be a huge win: election machines can be audited, we will know how good (or bad) government software is, I can judge software from Company X before deciding to do business with them, I can fix bugs that are a huge issue for me myself instead of just asking "please fix this bug that's a huge deal for me", etc. etc. After this we can move on further.

Note: "Source available" does not mean "source buildable". In fact, "source available" provides nearly nothing except the ability to "see" some source code. Not modify, not use with modifications, not distribute.

TBF, "Open Source" also does not directly or always imply those freedoms (see TiVo and its GPLv2 source code you cannot run on TiVo devices); but it and "Free Software" are more commonly associated with these freedoms. "Source available", historically, less so.


>and its present meaning is related to the OSI

Not unless you work for the OSI, least you forget they actually tried to get it patented and got rejected: https://opensource.org/pressreleases/certified-open-source.p...

I'm happy for OSI proponents to use the legally approved version of licenses that support their ideology as OSI approved licenses.

I will keep using open source to means software where the source code is open, as has been the case since the 80s and 90s, the latter of which I was around to use before OSI popped up and tried to privatize language for their own benefit.


I would and do argue that the vast majority of people, and even the majority of software developers, have never heard of the OSI's pet definition of the words "open source" and use the naive (and incidentally pre-existing) definition of "source is open for public viewing".


Maybe we should say 'OSI Certified' instead of 'open source'.


Free for non-commercial use sounds good until you think about it. Basically everything is commercial in some way.

An artist? Commercial if they ever want to sell their art. A writer? Same.

A hobbyist with a blog? Probably commercial, if they are using the blog to promote themselves. A friendly neighborhood IT guy? Probably commercial given that they are competing with others and that they probably get some form of compensation (e.g. free beer) from time to time.

It’s really hard to think of safely non-commercial uses.


> A hobbyist with a blog? Probably commercial, if they are using the blog to promote themselves.

Or if the blog carries advertising. In that case they are making something off carrying the adverts (or why else would they?) and the content is becoming part of the advertisers' (and the people in the middle's) business plan.

For some content there is another distinction too: are they using the content or referring to it? Copying a large chunk of an article into their blog (or book or whatever) and quoting part of it (with attribution) are quite different things (the latter usually covered by "fair use" concepts).


> It’s really hard to think of safely non-commercial uses.

Schools, politicians, militaries (and a lot of other parts of the government) people doing stuff just for fun (and not for beer).

It's easy to think of them, I'm just not sure they're the use cases you actually want to be free. Did you really intend to subsidize the <country you don't like here>'s military and <politician you don't like here>'s campaign but not your local maker space that charges a bit of money for entrance to support itself?


I’m not sure if I’d categorize all military, political, and government uses of copyrighted media as “non-commercial.” For example, if they use your photo or video in an advertisement that they pay to have played on TV, is that still non-commercial? That’s sounds pretty commercial to me.


I'm no lawyer, there might be some exceptions, but I don't believe TV-commercials would be one. Compare to the Fedex case linked elsewhere in this thread:

https://creativecommons.org/2017/02/24/update-great-minds-v-...

To quote from the ruling (internal quotations, which all of this is, and citations omitted)

> A licensee to make and use is not (in the absence of specific language in his license) limited to making with his own hands, in his own shop, or by his own employes. He may employ, procure, or contract with as many persons as he chooses to supply him with that which he may lawfully use, provided such conduct does not change his relation to the licensor.”

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0HBOY8b2doEdmpkMU4ya2dKM28...

Displaying the picture to recruit new soldiers seems to me to be a non-commercial use, assuming you accept that (which I admit I am asserting without support) paying to have it be displayed on TV doesn't make it commercial.


So you have the ludicrous situation where the US Army or Harvard University can probably use your photo on their website (with attribution) whereas the hobbyist blogger with some affiliate links arguably can't.


Having seen a lot of CC-BY-NC licenses in my 3d printing days, most of the creators who chose this license don't want big companies to rip off the idea and make a lot of money with it. But the problem is that If I make any money on it (say I want to play a song on twitch where I do like 5$ a month) in my perception this is commercial use, so I can't use it.

Or back then I had a small company any wouldn't make much money but avoid CC-BY-NC licenses because they are all vague and I know of at least one case of a creator actually going against small shops via legal action.


I get the arguments and the point of this, I suppose. But I keep asking myself: what does it mean? What conclusion do you draw from it? You're differentiating between free and non-free licenses, but what for?


Exactly. They're trying to phrase it like a philosophical non-judgemental distinction. But if it contains no judgement, then what's the point?

In my view, the whole thing is a fallacy. Freedom is always in degrees. I can't take existing GPL software and claim that I wrote it. It is limiting my speech. So is it not free?

The thing is, "free" is a word with positive connotations. And "non-free" sounds bad. So what we're seeing is people with different ideologies, each trying to draw the border at what "free" should mean in that context, in order to fit their perspective and agenda.

The sooner we admit this, the sooner we can drop this hair-splitting and ask the actual question behind it -- which approach to licensing is better for the world?


> But if it contains no judgement, then what's the point?

I would flip the question around. We've seen a number of companies like Mongo put real effort into claiming that they should be considered Free (as in speech) software. They didn't have to do that, but they thought it was worthwhile to do so.

My feeling is that the philosophical distinction does matter, or else people and companies wouldn't get so bent out of shape when it's pointed out that their licenses are philosophically different. There is a lot of reputation and public perception rolled up into words like "Free/Libre content", and into words like "Open Source".

I am, to a certain degree, genuinely sorry that "Free" as it is used here has an inherent positive connotation. But also, it's not our fault that society standardized around a word that had a positive connotation. And it is not true at all that the entirety of the positive connotation around Free/Libre software came from the word "Free", Open Source advocates have fought hard to distinguish between Freedom and commercial cost.

You're right that this is a fight over connotations, that's all it is. But you're wrong in saying that there's not a fundamental difference between GPL and Non-Commercial licenses. Being able to accurately and quickly describe, label, and search for a category of software/content is important, and it is valid to be upset about putting a ton of activism and time into building a category of software/content, and then having a bunch of other people come in who fundamentally do not understand why those distinctions exist or why they matter -- and then for those people to argue that they get to use those connotations now, and Free Software advocates need to go away and start over from scratch if they want new terms that describe what they mean by "freedom".

You're also right that Freedom is a continuum, but you're wrong that this means we should stop trying to define the word. Right now we're fighting over whether Non-Commercial licenses are "Free". There are licenses that do not even meet the minimum CC definitions that want to label themselves as Free. There are music licenses that openly label themselves as Copyright Free that have restrictions on whether they can be shared or where they can be embedded or streamed, even for Non-Commercial products. They want (and in fact are) also participating in this debate.

So because this a continuum, and because there really is no clear, universal cutoff point where we can say something isn't Free, there is thus a large benefit in setting up a clear standard to prevent the continual erosion of the word "Free". There is a large benefit in being able to search for terms like "Open Source" or "Free/Libre" being confident that you'll get back a category of content/software that will meet at least a minimum standard threshold for what rights they'll guarantee.

See also words like Vegan. Reducing animal harm is a continuum as well. There are different standards of Veganism, and grey areas where different people disagree on what does and doesn't count. Different parts of the Vegan world are more strict about wax coatings and micro-ingredients. But broadly, we still have a cutoff point where almost across the board we don't consider stuff like beeswax to be Vegan. And if someone comes and argues that animal harm is a continuum and we're just arguing over connotations and definitions, and a piece of food that's vegan but has honey is still better than a steak, my response is going to be, "yeah, so? What's your point?" We want a category that makes it easy to find stuff in the grocery store, and we want a well-defined standard so we can narrow down where people are on that continuum of reducing harm. The same is true of Open Source and Libre software.


> having a bunch of other people come in who fundamentally do not understand why those distinctions exist or why they matter

The "fields on endeavor" clause is a disputed clause. It wasn't a widely-accepted tenet when the term "free software" started out. It was added later when "open-source" started to gain popularity.

It's true that the main proponents of "fields of endeavor", namely the OSI, have a much stronger voice than the rest of us. Does it mean they get to define what is free software? They would like to think so, but I'm not sure that being the mainstream, or having a budget due to corporate backing, means they have a monopoly over a movement that started by individuals long before the OSI started.

There are also plenty of voices, right now, within the OSI, talking about removing the "fields of endeavor" clause. There was a big internal "controversy" over it only a few months ago.

Having a discussion about the term "free software" and about the "fields of endeavor" clause, without mentioning any of these facts, is more propaganda, than an attempt to argue in good faith.

If they want to push their own brand of "free software", that's fine. But they should at least be honest about what they're doing. Not argue that they don't care about the "fields of endeavor" clause, but just trying to correct some philosophical/technical inaccuracy.

FTA:

> Isn't prohibiting the usage of some artefacts for commercial purpose good for free artefacts? Maybe it is. May be it is not. That is irrelevant while deciding whether a license is considered free or not.

No, it's not irrelevant. The better philosophy should win, not the one with the most corporate backing.


> have a much stronger voice than the rest of us. Does it mean they get to define what is free software?

Well, when we're talking about culture, word definitions are descriptive of current usage, not prescriptive. So yes, absent rigorous technical definitions, the people with the strongest and most mainstream voices do get to define what words mean, because definitions describe usage.

When we're talking about Open Source, both the rigorous technical definitions and the mainstream common understandings of the words reject NC licenses as Free/Libre. Is it possible that might change in the future? Sure. But it hasn't changed yet.

> is more propaganda, than an attempt to argue in good faith.

Let's be honest about what's happening here, both of us are making propaganda, because that's the only thing we can talk about. There is no natural law of the world that defines what any word should mean, when we have these conversations we are necessarily making moral/value arguments about what the definition of Free/Libre should be.

Nevertheless, the "controversy" about Fields of Endeavor that you're highlighting is not as big of a deal or as big of a controversy as you're making it out to be -- in general the support for keeping Fields of Endeavor is a lot larger than the movement to remove it. Not that it would matter anyway, because NC licenses also violate clauses 1 (Free Redistribution) and 9 (License Must Not Restrict Other Software). So even if clause 6 did go away, it's still going to be a while before NC licenses can be considered valid under the OSI definitions.

> The better philosophy should win

What if we find out that the best way to fund Open Source is by restricting source access to approved people and by restricting people's ability to distribute modifications? Does that mean we should consider software that restricts that stuff to be Free/Libre?

Saying the better philosophy should win is in some ways exactly what I mean by not understanding what the philosophies are -- it's predicated on this idea that the real definition of Free/Libre is "whatever works", rather than treating Free/Libre as a theory about what might work.

"The better philosophy should win" is the kind of thing we properly say when discussing Free/Libre vs Proprietary software, or Communism vs Capitalism, or Veganism vs Vegetarianism, or any number of competing ideologies about the world. The effects of those philosophies in the real world are what we're trying to determine, not the definition of what those philosophies are. It may well be that the best way to guarantee free artefacts is by distributing Non-Free software. If that's the case, it doesn't make that software Free/Libre, it means that the proprietary model is better. It may well be that eating honey is better for the environment than abstaining from honey. That doesn't make honey Vegan.

Free/Libre is a philosophy that (among other things) states that having a shared, collective commons of software that everyone uses and contributes to will be better than having a proprietary model in which people are forced to get permission before they're allowed to inspect/modify or distribute modifications to the programs that they build.

That philosophy might be wrong, or it might be right. That's a different conversation than what the philosophy is.

The idea that clauses like 1, 6, and 9 are just corporate quirks of the OSI definition of Free/Libre, rather than serious philosophical statements about what Free means -- that is what I mean by people not understanding the philosophy behind what they're critiquing. "Fields of Endeavor" doesn't exist just for corporate interests, it's intended to be a general prohibition against license restrictions like "don't be evil", "don't use for any cause I dislike", and "don't make money." People who argue against that clause ought to have better philosophical arguments than "corporations like it, so it must be evil."

There's a very real effort to portray clause 6 as merely a quirk of history, and to avoid putting in the effort to dissect what the implications of clause 6 actually are, what purpose it serves, and what the implications of removing it actually would be and what removing it would change about the nature of Free/Libre software.

But... again, clause 6 is not the only part of the OSI definition that NC licenses violate. NC licenses would have violated even most early definitions of Free/Libre before clause 6 had been added and before Open Source had become popular.


Thanks for the stimulating conversation. I'm almost out of juice, so I'll just reply to a few things --

> both of us are making propaganda

That may be. As long as we're being honest about it, I think that's fine. I feel like the article wasn't being honest about being propaganda.

> It may well be that the best way to guarantee free artefacts is by distributing Non-Free software

I don't really follow. If charging 1$ from everyone ends up being the best outcome for free software (we're talking about free as in speech, right?), then yeah, I think that makes it free. Just not as in beer. I don't see how it can be otherwise.

> The idea that clauses like 1, 6, and 9 are just corporate quirks

I'm not saying any of them are quirks. I'm saying that they are not axioms. If you write an article trying to defend them, you should try to actually defend them, rather than say "this is how it's always been" or "this is the mainstream, just accept it."

It's very likely that if we argued about the actual free/open-source licenses, I would end up agreeing with most of what you say.

But I still believe the article in question was written in bad faith, and you didn't convince me otherwise.


I have been considering relicensing my Creative Commons No Modifications and No Commercial Use books that I have written in the last ten years.

It would make more sense to allow derivatives with attribution, translations to other languages, and using parts in other works. I don't write for profit although when people optionally choose to pay me instead of getting a free copy, that is fun and gives me a good feeling. I write because it is a lot of fun, I meet people through my books, and I would like to be helpful.

For software, my favorite license is the AGPL although I almost never use it because, once again, when I work on something I want it to be useful and I get more usage when I use the Apache 2 license. I feel conflicted about this.

Sorry to be really off topic: I wonder what the state of software will be like in 500 years. I would guess that software will be ancient, relatively unchanging, and effectively bug free. I expect operating systems to be very static and very secure. Except for radically better AI, I question why in the distant future software has to change much in time except for brand new application categories. I also suspect that almost all software will either be Free Software of tightly controlled commercial software - I think there will be a winner.


I mostly here care about the outcomes. On the one hand we have a huge wealth of libraries that can be easily installed, easily debugged (as you have access to the source), one can understand the inner working and be inspired, one can easily fix the bugs that bother him, and so on. These are clear benefits of the open source ecosystem.

On the other hand we have burnt out understaffed teams of maintainers supporting huge swaths of our digital infrastructure who do it essentially for free and who find it somewhat unfair that companies raking in the billions can't spare a $10/mo donation.

So we want to have our cake and eat it too. And realistically the main lever of power individual developers have (and traditionally had) are licenses and copyright law. So that's where the most likely fix to the situation is likely to be.

Without acknowledging a providing realistic solutions to the above problem this principled purism of some OSS advocates seems counterproductive to me.


It looks like there are too many CC-XX licenses and they talk about incompatibility. This is the same issue I have with OSI and their "open source" licenses.

For software there are IMHO a very small set of relevant licenses: MIT/BSD (IMHO we don't need both), GPL/LGPL, and regular commercial licenses. It bothers me that there are other free software licenses like Apache and MPL (probably bothers me because I don't yet understand the differences) but it is still a relatively small set. I suppose AGPL is also a reasonable desire for some people given the rise of SaaS, but even throwing that in the mix results in incompatibility with a lot of code.


Basically Apache is a more "modern" license in the MIT/BSD vein that has language related to patents and perhaps other things that make lawyers more comfortable. I believe the Cloud Native Computing Foundation now requires Apache for new projects under the foundation. (The Apache Software Foundation also has a lot of projects associated with it as well of course.) And MIT's probably more common for individuals and small projects that just want a basic license without a lot of legal language they don't really understand.


Anything but dedicating to public domain is non-free.

Or we can just not kid ourselves and agree that there are various definitions for free and none of them are better than the other.




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