Open Source Licenses and Community Growth

You may have been reading Matt Aslett’s analysis of the trend to permissive licensing as well Gordon Half’s discussion of this trend. I enjoyed reading them and agree with the overall trend. I don’t quite agree with the predicted downfall of Copyleft licenses, though, and I love the irony of it.

Strong copyleft licenses play an important role in dual-core licensing as in single-vendor open source software. Copyleft is a tool by which vendors ascertain their (effective) ownership over some piece of software. Thus, the invention of copyleft benefits a specific commercial go-to-market strategy.

If you are a student at FAU and would like to further analyse this trend, please talk to me. We have a large database on open source project data and we’ve been looking for a competent student for a while to correlate various factors and how they contribute to open source community growth.

4 thoughts on “Open Source Licenses and Community Growth

  1. Copyleft licenses are not just a tool used by certain vendors. They are also a tool used by communities to defend some kind of equality of members.

    Communities around Linux, Drupal and LibreOffice exist and continue to exist because of the use of copyleft licenses.

    We will see what happens between Apache OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice and within those communities.

  2. The irony, to me, is that to a significant degree the recent dominance of strong copyleft licenses has been achieved thanks to vendors attempting to control open source projects as you describe.

    Our research shows a shift back towards community, rather than control. That means a decreasing use of dual licensing strategies and (proportionately) strong copyleft licenses.

    It also shows that while many the so-called “open source vendors” relied on controlling projects, as we see more of the traditional proprietary vendors engaging in open source they do so via true collaborative projects and non-copyleft or weak copyleft licenses.

    As we noted in our original report on all this (available via http://blogs.the451group.com/opensource/2010/11/03/control-and-community/):

    “ISVs have realized that the greatest success comes from collaborating with direct competitors for non-differentiating code. Ironically, it is the incumbent closed source ISVs that have figured this out, not the so-called open source specialists.”

    Anyway, I hope you find a student interested in researching this further. There are so many different factors involved and it would be great to see the results of your data.

  3. @andreas: I don’t really follow. You can have healthy communities around reciprocal as well as permissive licenses. However, the use of a reciprocal license restricts the choice of business model and hence excludes some commercial players in participating. That’s why in the long run permissive licenses will win out.

    @matt: I think we are in agreement as to the impact of license. I’d also expect some fixed ratio of single-vendor open source projects to community-owned open source projects. So maybe the total percentage of copyleft for commercial products is going down, but I don’t think it will go away. I’ll make a short post on my blog as to that.

  4. Yes I absolutely agree it won’t go away. I think what we are seeing here is the market correcting after the vendor-led rush towards strong copyleft. I would imagine we’ll hit a natural balance at some point that will produce a fixed (or at least steady) ratio

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