Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Why we need the GPL more than ever

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It's been a while since someone came along, arguing that the GNU General Public Licence isn't needed any more and clearly stating their motivation for doing so.

If people were to come out openly and say, this damn thing is getting in the way of making money and we want a free-for-all, then their reason for disliking the GPL would be easily understood. It would also be more intellectually honest.

But the reasoning that is advanced is rarely as forthright. It is always couched in devious language but the arguments are generally as mendacious as they ever were.

The latest "why we don't need the GPL" argument comes from one Donnie Berkholz of an analyst firm called RedMonk. It begins with a falsehood: "In the early days of the GPL and copyleft software, it played an important role in forcibly training companies how free/open-source development worked." No, it did not. The GPL, being a free software licence, had nothing to do with open source at all; it was about ensuring freedom for users, freedom of the political kind.

The man who wrote the licence, Richard Matthew Stallman, was keenly aware of the one human factor that nobody could control - greed. Hence he put in the requirement of share and share alike to ensure that nobody could profit from another's efforts without contributing back something themselves.

The concept of open source was born in the late '90s, an initiative by Bruce Perens and Eric Raymond to make what was called free software acceptable to businesses. It is a development method. It has nothing to do with ideology or freedom. There are numerous open source licences that do not even qualify as free software licences.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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