Can your GPL software use license keys?

Back in 2007, Joomla.org decided to stop listing any software that used license keys. They did this because they believed that license keys were incompatible with the GPL license.

Fast forward to 2015 and many (most?) commercial WordPress plugins now use license keys. Some of these license keys just provide access to updates and support – those aren’t the issue here.

However, some license keys lock down the software to a single domain, disabling the plugin even on test sites and localhost installs.

Does this use of license keys violate the GPL?

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The World’s Best Podcast: From Our Own Correspondent

Over the last 5 years, I’ve not missed a single episode of From Our Own Correspondent from the BBC.

The brilliance of From Our Own Correspondent is its discipline:

  • Each episode is 30 minutes long.
  • Each episode has 5 segments from different countries.
  • Each segment is about 5 1/2 minutes long.
  • Each segment only ever has one person talking.
  • There are never any sound effects.
  • There’s never any news. The show is all about stories and personal anecdotes.

Oh, and the show is going to be 60 years old this year. It’s an incredibly successful example of creativity coming from a strong restrictions.

The only flexibility in the show comes from the breadth of the stories told and how they often swing from tragedy to comedy within a single episode.

You can get the From Our Own Correspondent podcasts here.

This show gets me thinking about how I could improve by putting tighter restrictions on my work.

It’s the user’s responsibility, not ours

I keep hearing statements like this from open source developers:

  • “This is complex software. If you don’t understand it, you shouldn’t be using it.”
  • “Why not use the terminal to do this? If you’re building a website, it’s your responsibility to learn a few shell commands.”
  • “There’s no way we’ll provide automatic updates. That’s the user’s responsibility not ours.”
  • “If you don’t have a large budget and IT staff, you shouldn’t be using this.”

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Almost no developers understand the GPL. We need boilerplate GPL terms.

Richard Best has a really interesting post about how few WordPress developers understand the GPL:

Theme and plugin shops deploy a range of approaches as to how they describe the GPL-licensing of their products, from good to not-so-good to bad. I’m not suggesting that all theme and plugin shops whose terms fall in the not-so-good or bad camps are deliberately misleading customers. I suspect the reality is that some are doing this, for economic reasons, while others or their lawyers have either misunderstood the GPL or used language which just isn’t quite right, if not quite wrong.

This is true. I’ve seen multiple plugin and theme developers add so many restrictions to their “GPL” software that any freedom of use is lost.

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Ecosystems vs Platforms

Stratechery does a good job of distinguishing between a platform (often very closed) and an ecosystem (open source software):

I think there is an important distinction between platforms and ecosystems. While these words are often used interchangeably, I think of a platform as, well, a platform: something that is built upon. In the case of the iPhone, iOS is the platform on which apps are built. An ecosystem, on the other hand, suggests a more equitable relationship: different pieces that work together to mutual benefits.

This is why I love working with open source software, rather than app stores.

Blues documentary: You See Me Laughin’

From England originally, I’ve lived in the Deep South for the last 10 years.

The South has forced me to change my mind about a lot of things, blues music being one of them.

I couldn’t have cared less for the blues before arriving here. It took a while, but the music has turned my mind around 180 degrees.

Here’s a brilliant documentary called “You See Me Laughin’”, filmed in 2002, just before I arrived here. It’s about the blues players on Fat Possum Records in Mississippi. All four parts are on YouTube:

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