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Intellectual Property and Open Source by Van Lindberg

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Chapter 12. Working with the GPL

A lot of the most difficult questions in free and open source software revolve around the GPL. The GPL has a lot of things going for it: it is the single most common open source software license, it has brought together a large and vibrant community of developers, and it is a brilliant hack, socially and legally.

At the same time, there is no single license that is more mistrusted or reviled than the GPL. Many open source developers refuse to accept or release code under the GPL because it imposes restrictions at the same time that it grants freedoms. I know from personal experience that the GPL gives most lawyers fits.

In short, very few people have a balanced or nuanced view of the GPL—they either love it or hate it. Speaking in broad generalizations, though, I think that these strong emotional reactions arise from two core issues.

The first issue is the philosophy of free software. More than any other single document, the GPL has come to embody the free software movement, so people’s reactions to the GPL mirror their opinions of free software as a moral imperative. Supporters see the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and the GPL as an ethical vanguard, paving the way for a better society. Detractors feel imposed upon because they see the FSF mixing its morality with its code. Many companies don’t like the GPL because they have a hard time seeing the business models that accompany free software. They only see that their business models are threatened. ...

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