The argument against copyleft, or for BSD

Daniel Pocock daniel at
Mon Jul 13 10:31:07 UTC 2015

On 13/07/15 11:01, Ben Finney wrote:
> Daniel Pocock <daniel at> writes:
>> On 13/07/15 00:39, Darryl Plank wrote:
>>> The first [argument from the article] 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.)
>> However, choosing the BSD license is not the only way out of this
>> problem.  An alternative is to set up some entity to own the
>> intellectual property and all the developers then sign a CLA giving
>> the entity the right to decide on licensing changes in the future.
> Yes. An argument against CLAs is precisely that it sends a strong signal
> to potential contributors: this organisation exerts significant effort
> to, at some unknown future time, take your contributions and make them
> proprietary.

That is an exaggeration.  There are good CLAs and bad CLAs.

A bad CLA is basically an employment contract without a salary.  You
make some contribution and you give up all rights and you get nothing in
return (except the hope the project remains open source).

A better CLA may put the intellectual property in the hands of a
non-profit with a suitably democratic committee and maybe a strongly
worded constitution setting limits on just how far the committee can go.

> That makes it another reason for the GPL, in my view. Choosing the GPL
> (or some other strong copyleft) sends a clear signal that the
> organisation actively intends to *always* have the software freely
> licensed to all recipients. That signal will encourage contributors who
> want to promote software freedom.

I agree there are cases where this is the simpler or more desirable
approach.  Choosing a license is a strategic decision that should not be
made without also considering other issues like a CLA.

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