There is Peace in the GPL World

I was watching the U.S. healthcare debate play out yesterday and it got me thinking.

I thought back to when our own industry was dominated by legal arguments, most of them half-digested and poorly-sourced. Including my own.

The GPL debates in open source were not a fun time and they dragged on for years.

So, I did some looking back and unless I’m missing something, the last real argument about the GPL was in July 2010, two years in the past.

Not only have we had GPL peace throughout that time, but it seems to me that our software communities have settled on a common set of standards.

That last WordPress dispute from 2010 was decided decisively in favor of those common standards:

  • PHP must be licensed under the GPL if it is distributed.
  • Images and CSS don’t need to be GPL.
  • GPL software can be sold commercially.

Even better, no-one ever settled these GPL disputes in court. There’s probably a few reasons for that, including:

  1. Very few people in the GPL community really have the money it would take to go to court.
  2. The stakes weren’t all that high. People realised the financial benefits of encryption were greatly exaggerated.
  3. Our software communities learned to resolve these issues, with the help of groups like the Software Foundation Law Center.

Did open source win? Not entirely:

  • Images and CSS ended up not being included.
  • Plenty of legal debates continue in other areas of open source.

But in the larger sense, open source won big in the GPL world:

  • Open source beat encryption. It simply proved itself to be the better and more popular solution.
  • Legal peace and a common set of standards has made a big contribution to open source’s record growth in the last two years.

That’s a good thought to end the week on, I hope.

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