It is time I mentioned a couple of my issues with the GPL.I’m prompted to do this because of an ArsTechnica article about it and the awesome VLC player in Apple’s AppStore and the FSF blog entry that predated it mentioning the mail-list posting of a VLC developer.

Source availability

The GPL has provision from its 1992 edition for people/organizations that distribute binaries licensed with it, to make available source code either a) as part of the binary distribution, or b) by old-fashioned snail-mail.It seems to me that a modernization could occur to allow sources that were fully buildable (and provably so) to be made available in some escrow way. SourceForge is 12 years old and would be a classic place for such a build-from-source option, but most folks would choose GitHub these days as it makes things so easy.By not doing so, it seems to me that the FSF is more interested in the fight with big bad companies wanting to use (in multiple ways) the GPL than any thing else.Choices (a) and (b) above make no sense in the modern age. Please, nobody email me about the Affero GPL , as that is not what I’m talking about.

Jan 2011 update: Of course the above issue is out of date. GPL3 allows for electronic availability and has deprecated the GPL2’s requirement for snail-mail. Sorry!

Not reciprocal

The GPL also irks me because its not reciprocal with other open source licenses.Here’s what I mean by that: GPL software can link to LGPL , BSD ( and similar licenses ), Apache 2.0, older GPL variants than the version your dealing with.Link is subjective of course given this age of dynamic languages, but lets forget that.The issue is that someone making BSD licensed software (truly the lowest common denominator of OSS licenses) cannot link to a GPL library to deliver part of their goal.At least they can’t stay BSD for their piece if they do.

“Reciprocal” is overloaded

Note the word reciprocal is classically used in conjunction with the GPL is other ways.Some folks claim the GPL is a reciprocal license.I’m a lot happier saying it is not a reciprocal license for the reasons I outline.

Note - much of the VLC/AppStore issue is about the click-thru agreement, but I’m less interested in that.


November 2nd, 2010