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What the rise of permissive open source licenses means

Paul Rubens | Sept. 16, 2016
Why restrictive licenses such as the GNU GPL are steadily falling out of favor.

Soper points out that restrictive licenses are designed to help an open source project succeed by stopping developers from taking other people's code, working on it, and then not sharing the results back with the community. "The Affero license is critical to the health of our product because if people could make a fork that was better than ours and not give the code back that would kill our product," he says. "For Rocket.Chat it's different because if it used Affero then it would pollute companies' IP and so it wouldn't get used. Different licenses have different use cases."

Michael Meeks, an open source developer who has worked on Gnome, OpenOffice and now LibreOffice, agrees with Jim Farmer that many companies do choose to use software with permissive licenses for fear of legal action. "There are risks with copyleft licenses, but there are also huge benefits. Unfortunately people listen to lawyers, and lawyers talk about risk but they never tell you that something is safe."

Fifteen years after Ballmer made his inaccurate statement it seems that the FUD it generated it is still having an effect — even if the move from restrictive licenses to permissive ones is not quite the effect he intended.


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