The argument against copyleft, or for BSD

Darryl Plank darryl at
Sun Jul 12 22:39:24 UTC 2015

Hi Nico,

Le dimanche 12 juillet 2015, 12:04:32 Nico Rikken a écrit :
> Dear discussion readers,
> Today I stumbled on an argument for the use of the BSD-license, as
> hosted on the FreeBSD website, originating from 2013. [1]
> [1]

The article seems to make essentially three arguments:

The first is that if a group of developers think they might later wish to 
make a proprietary version of their software, the BSD license will allow
them to do so without facing legal obstacles while the GPL license can
sometimes impose such obstacles. (The main problem with making a 
proprietary for theGPL license is when one or more contributors disagrees 
to such a move.) 

The second is that if a group of developers want to impose a software 
standard and see it become ubiquitous, the BSD license (or a similar 
license), which allows proprietary software companies and developers to 
use the code might be more efficient than the GPL license in spreading and 
imposing the standard.

The third is that if a free software project is abandoned by its developers
and no new developers want to take on the project, a BSD license allows a
proprietary software company to take on the project.  This allows new 
versions of the software to remain available, even if they're no longer free.  

The article also makes the point that the GPL license might not stand up in
the courts (at least in some countries), but this doesn't seem to me to be 
much of an argument, more of an observation made in passing.

> As has been stated by the FSF many times over, there are cases where the
> GPL might not be the right license, and even copyleft might be
> undesirable. [2] 

To my knowledge, the FSF has only ever stated three reasons why copyleft 
might not be desirable:

1) For very short programs, where a simpler and much shorter license might
be more appropriate from a practical point of view. The FSF web site gives a 
very short and simple license for such purposes.

2) When extending free software that already exists, to avoid using a license
different from that used by the original developers. 

3) As a more or less short term tactic, as a way of making free software more 
well known and better appreciated when it was not. For such cases, the LGPL 
was developed.   

> Do you consider that there are still valid arguments to be made for the
> use of the BSD license in software projects other than license
> compatibility with existing projects?

For software projects that have no desire to become proprietary in the 
future, I think the 3 reasons stated by the FSF cover most of the bases. 
It's possible there might be a very few exceptions where a BSD license
might be a better choice than the GPL for such a project, such as in 
promoting a new software norm or standard. This would seem to be more
of a short term tactic than a long term strategy, however.


Darryl Plank
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