To GPL or not to GPL

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Zed Shaw of, well, internet fame (or infamy?) recently posted about the GPL, and why he uses it as the license for his software. I understand his reasoning, and I think I even agree that the GPL is the best way to achieve his goals; however, for my own work, I strongly feel that other issues take priority over the ones he raises.

For starters, there are practical issues with the GPL. The biggest of these is simply the fact that it is a copyleft license; by their very nature, any two copyleft licenses are either legally equivalent, or incompatible, and so this just doesn't scale. Even the GPL v2 is mutually incompatible with the GPL v3, which has presented some people with some unexpected nasty surprises. This kind of compatibility barrier causes non-trivial damage to the Free Software ecosystem.

Another main benefit of Free Software projects is that the community is not isolated into silos; everyone can freely mingle as they choose, collaborating on changes and so on., and this even extends to developers working on proprietary software projects. The GPL + proprietary model breaks this; the companies that have to purchase a proprietary license are effectively isolated from everyone else due to the nature of those licenses, and so they're likely to just stay locked behind closed doors, rather than supporting the project through interaction and contribution.

So, my motivations and reasoning are quite different from Zed's. I don't want to build a shrine to my awesomeness that all passers by can see; I don't have any objection to that goal at all, it's just not something that motivates me. I don't want recognition or credit for the work I do on my projects; I won't object to any kudos I receive, of course, but ultimately I just want those projects to succeed, even if it's at the cost of my own ego or fame. On the flip side, making use of GPLed code, even in my own Free Software projects, presents such a significant burden that I'm likely to think very hard about whether the dependency is worth it, rather than just recreating what I need on my own. I'm not sure that Zed's model of Free Software or "open source" projects is actually something that can survive in the long run; we need to play to our strengths, not our weaknesses…

Oh, in passing, I'd like to add that I'm very happy to tell people about how awesome the other projects I rely on are, and in fact I do so quite often; not all of us are "plagiarists", even if it looks that way to Zed. Then again, I don't (yet?) use any software he's created, so I guess that doesn't help him, although I still have a lot of respect for what he's accomplished.

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