Let me say this from the start, I think Open Source software is the way of the future. Let me also say that I am not a lawyer. On that point I find it incredibly ironic that the urban definition of the IANAL acronym disclaimer directly references the GPL. This is even taken one step further with another more ridiculous acronym created during a GPL discussion, which conclusively proves that giving acronym loving nerds a sniff of legal jargon is a recipe for disaster.

It also helps explain my point, the GPL isn’t the Open Source saviour some people think it is. I hate to list points, because the people feel they need to find a way to argue against each one rather than the logic as a whole, but I am going to do it anyway:

  1. Money = Evil – Any efforts to profit from Open Source development work is treated with scorn. Comments such as “To release a non-free program is always ethically tainted” frustrate me. Equally promoting an Open Source product does not give you licence to trash commercial software. They are your competitors, if you think you are on their level then treat them with respect.
  2. Discourages Integration – The GPL is brilliant for making utilities. Compilers, databases and graphics programs are all essentially utilities that you interface with in a certain way, but never extend or deeply customise for your own purposes. Deep integration is one of the biggest competitive advantages that Open Source has over commercial software packages, so why make it hard? For example SugarCRM allows web service integration; but even modules, templates and dashlets that integrate within the existing API’s are considered to be covered under the GPL. Is this really a deep extension of the core product?
  3. Patent Protection – Patents are either loved or hated, usually depending on whether your name is on one or not. Regardless, the fact is that they are not going away. Open Source products are just as vulnerable to patent infringements and litigation as commercial software is. As the lines between Open Source and commercial work continue to blur, it is emerging that corporate indemnification is almost becoming a quality assurance stamp. A community cannot offer indemnification, so they really need to focus on their competitive advantages. Stay away from heavy duty licences that just muddy the waters for smaller businesses and institutions, don’t forget a hatred of licences seeded your whole industry!

As with anything legal there is no ironclad solution. As far as I can see the solution is to make it as easy as possible for people to contribute maximum value with minimum overheads and receive value for whatever purpose they desire. Rely on the fact that producing a commercial product that is 99% Open Source is not a safe, competitor-free business model!