GPL vs EPL

23. November, 2010

A lot has been said about GPL and EPL and various other OSS licenses and how much they do harm.

Miles Parker summarizes it very well in his blog post “Is GPL damaging to your ecosystem’s health?

My stance: It’s not really the GPL as such. The big problem is that we have incompatible licenses. The goal is the same: Software wants to be free. But we can’t agree on how to make sure it is.

Single developers don’t want companies to steal their work (read: get rich) while companies want to make sure they and their customers can’t be sued.

But the root cause of the problem is that we have a legal system which just doesn’t allow for “in good faith.” Or at least so we believe.

We simply can’t say: “Oh, I don’t bother as long as you don’t steal the code — and a judge will have to decide what I mean by ‘steal’ on a case-by-case basis.”

A few days ago, a member of the Tycho team asked me to sign some legal contract so they could use my patches. That took a huge bite out of my motivation to submit something. Why do I have to sign a legal contract to do something that is legal? Why are the good guys treated worse than the bad guys?

You say that there is no other option?

I’m not with you. Carl Sagan put it best in his movie Contact:

David Drumlin: I know you must think this is all very unfair. Maybe that’s an understatement. What you don’t know is I agree. I wish the world was a place where fair was the bottom line, where the kind of idealism you showed at the hearing was rewarded, not taken advantage of. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world.

Ellie Arroway: Funny, I’ve always believed that the world is what we make of it.


The OSS dilemma

7. April, 2010

Disclaimer: IANAL

In his post about EPL, GPL and Eclipse plugins (“EPL/GPL Commentary“), Mike Milinkovich says:

What is clear, however, is that it is not possible to link a GPL-licensed plug-in to an EPL-licensed code and distribute the result. Any GPL-licensed plug-in would have to be distributed independently and combined with the Eclipse platform by an end user.

Which is probably true because of the incompatible goals of the two licenses: The EPL was designed by companies, which make a lot of money with software, to protect the investments in the source code they contribute to an OSS project. Notice “a lot of money.”

The GPL was designed to make sure companies can’t steal from poor OSS developers and sell a product as their own or take some source code, add a few lines of code and then sell it as their own, etc. The GPL, unlike the EPL, is made as a sword to keep people away who don’t want to share their word under the GPL.

As such, both licenses work as designed and they are incompatible because their goals are incompatible. We as OSS developers can whine and complain that there is no legal way to build an Eclipse plugin for Subversion without first creating an Subversion client which is EPL licensed but that doesn’t change the fact that it is illegal. It’s the price we pay for the freedom we have. If the licenses were different, there would be legal loopholes.

Yes, it sucks.