Rejecting Software Licenses

Martin Sustrik has written an article about the number of Github repos that have licenses and apparently that number has been declining. Github now lets newly created repositories to insert a license file that has the text of licenses such as the MIT, Apache 2.0 and GPL.

His theory is that more developers just don’t care about licenses anymore and are completely rejecting them and the copyright system that goes along with them.

So, the other possibility is that authors deliberately reject the legal system per se. The reasoning can go as follows: I do care about my peers using my software. I don’t give a damn about whether the lawyers and mega-corporations they work for use it. So, if you are like me and you don’t care about all the intellectual property antics, here’s my project, feel free to use it. If you are the kind of moron who wants to have their legal ass covered, go screw yourself.

Where I think he goes wrong is in stating that this is a more radical position than the Free Software movement’s statement:

Put this way, publishing without license is a much more radical statement than GPL is. Where RMS says: “You can use my stuff if you buy into the idea of free software,” people publishing without license say: “You can use my stuff if you are willing to ignore the law.” It’s a bit like when you want to join mafia and they ask you to beat an innocent bystander to prove your contempt for the rule of law.

This is missing the point. Yes the GPL relies on the existing copyright system of enforcement, but if you aren’t using GPL that’s absolutely fine and is in fact the point of the GPL; that we are creating new free/open source software that can exist *outside* of the realm of our antiquated copyright system. Richard Stallman was keenly aware of this and why he worked on creating a license that can use existing system against itself.

One day we’ll reach a tipping point where it would be stupid to try and copyright a piece of software, absolutely ridiculous, something that’s only done by someone selfish and anti-social. Until that day, however, we have the GPL to protect us from companies that want to lower their costs and take advantage of our labour. The GPL’s point is to use the copyright system against itself.

At this point you can opt out of the copyright system, but it won’t opt of you. The governments of the world, despite our protestations, want to enforce copyright on software. By neglecting to include a license, you’re actually preventing others from using your software and developing it further because your users/developers and the rest of society have bought into copyright law.

This is precisely why it’s important to talk about the GPL and copyleft. One day, all software will be free/open source and we’re getting closer. This is why I’m forking node-oauth, which was under the MIT license and changing it to the GPL3 license. Because I can’t opt out of the copyright system yet, but when we get to that day where we no longer have any copyright laws and enforcement in place, that’s when I’ll remove all the licenses from my code.

Update: The Anti-GPL Crowd

(written on 2 June 2016)

There’s a disturbing trend in any threads on reddit/r/programming that mention the GPL or any of the related licenses or that mention the Free Software Foundation to have lots of anti-GPL and anti-FSF propaganda in them. And it truly is propaganda because in 2016 you can’t feign such ignorance about software licenses, it’s propaganda because it spreads FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt).

What really disappoints me is that there’s no brigade on reddit to dispel all the falsehoods that the anti-GPL crowd is writing.

Click here for the whole thread, but I’ve selected some choice quotes from the anti-GPL crowd.

In reply to someone who uses the GPLv3+ and LGPLv3+:

In reply to the fact that the GPL subversively relies on current copyright law:

Apparently the GPL and LGPL are too complex for ordinary developers and users:

Why corporations will also choose the anti-GPL route and why you’re a bad person for not allowing the corporations to incorporate your libre code into their proprietary product:

The typical corporate environment doesn’t allow GPL so that’s why you should use other licenses apparently:

Confusion about being able to charge people for licenses/seats when using GPL:

The worst propaganda of all, that the GPL splits developer communities which is completely untrue:

Vendor lock-in and rent-seeking are apparently the only ways for a developer to make money (very untrue, most developers typically make their money by getting paid for their services):


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