It seems to us that enterprises have adopted “permissive” licenses because they see them as a way to “have their cake and eat it too.”
The GPL has many good points, as well as restrictions that make it unappealing to many commercial software producers and users. Plus, over the years, it has accumulated tons of political baggage only marginally related to its utility as a software license. So should we consider the Fair License as a possible replacement? And, whether we like it or not, are permissive licenses — like the Fair License, BSD License, and MIT License taking over anyway?
One good thing about the Fair License is its simplicity. Here’s the whole thing:
- Usage of the works is permitted provided that this instrument is retained with the works, so that any entity that uses the works is notified of this instrument.
DISCLAIMER: THE WORKS ARE WITHOUT WARRANTY.
The license has been explained like this:
Can, cannot & must
- You can use the software for commercial purposes.
- You can grant/extend a license to the software.
- You can distribute original or modified (derivative) works.
- You can modify the software and create derivatives.
- You can change the software’s name if modified/distributed.
- You cannot place a warranty on the software licensed.
- You must include the full text of the license in modified software.
The Fair License is considered compatible with the GPL. Fine. Since it has so many fewer restrictions, and is so much simpler, why not use it instead of the GPL?
A good question. But before we try to answer it, we need to point out that the Fair License is not the same as the Fair Source License, which is described as follows:
- Not open source. Not closed source. The Fair Source License allows everyone to see the source code and makes the software free to use for a limited number of users in your organization. It offers some of the benefits of open source while preserving the ability to charge for the software.
Read the full license, and if you find yourself thinking, “That sounds impossible to enforce,” you aren’t alone. To me, the Fair Source License looks like another one of the many attempts I’ve seen to come up with something that looks like a free or open source license, but really isn’t.
This is right up there with the “based on open source” marketing line some software purveyors like to use. (But we’re not fooled, are we?)
Now back to the question: Can the Fair License replace the GPL? Should it replace the GPL?
I have no good answer to this pair of questions. Do you have an answer?
Robin “Roblimo” Miller is a freelance writer and former editor-in-chief at Open Source Technology Group, the company that owned SourceForge, freshmeat, Linux.com, NewsForge, ThinkGeek and Slashdot, and until recently served as a video editor at Slashdot. Now he’s mostly retired, but still works part-time as an editorial consultant for Grid Dynamics, and (obviously) writes for FOSS Force.