Open-source licensing: GPL is a better model

Matt Asay

No one open source license is ideal in every circumstance. Different licenses serve different ends. Berkeley Software Distribution-style licenses have been used to govern the development of exceptional open source projects such as Apache. Clearly, BSD has its strengths.

However, all things being equal, I prefer the General Public License (GPL ). The GPL is one of the most exciting, innovative capitalist tools ever created. The GPL breaks down walls between vendors and customers while enabling strong competitive differentiation. Unlike the BSD, which strikes me as serving an ever-narrowing slice of the development community that shares code simply for the sake of sharing, the GPL takes a hardheaded look at software development (and human nature) and works to maximize choice, control and a free market.

From its inception, the IT business has depended on intellectual property. This dependence is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, Section I, Article 8, which establishes copyright/patent to "secur[e] for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." This limited monopoly grant has enabled software companies to create exceptional, customer-focused products without inordinate fear that competitors will freely clone their innovations for sale as their own.

In the open source world, copyright continues to play a role, but it's a different kind of copyright. Dubbed "copyleft," it means I freely share the source code to my software, with the requirement that those who benefit from my software by modifying and distributing it also must share their modifications.

Is BSD a better open source licensing model than the GPL?Read what they have to say, then add your own thoughts.

Executives from Novell and Covalent debate both sides of the issue.

This benefits end users who gain access to source code, giving them visibility into their vendors' products and allowing them to customize these products to meet specific requirements. As long as end users do not distribute the modified code, they can keep their modifications private. The GPL makes co-creators of vendors and buyers, lessening the sometimes-adversarial relationship between the two.

No other open source license has done more than the GPL to make open source commercially viable. By emulating the traditional copyright format, the GPL facilitates commercial involvement in open source communities, which is important for expediting the spread and depth of open source software. Free market open source, thanks to the GPL.

Asay is director of Novell's Linux Business Office. He can be reached at

The opposing view by Mark Brewer of Covalent Technologies

Forum: Open-source licensing - What do you think? Jump in.

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