The Open Source Community 201: A Great Distrubance in the Source

Yin & Yang by John LinwoodIn my previous discussion of the Open Source Community – I described the fundamental dichotomy that exists in the two halves of the community. Generally, we all get along and drive towards similar goals… even if our motivations are a bit different and our goals don't completely align. Anyway, with the recent release of GPL3, it didn't take a rocket surgeon to see that things were going to get excited.

This is the key quote that summarizes the latest struggle:

"Only religious fanatics and totalitarian states equate 'morality' with 'legality,'" Torvalds wrote.

"There's tons of examples of that from human history. The ruler is not just a king, he's a God, so disagreeing with him is immoral, but it's also illegal, and you can get your head cut off," Torvalds continued, in a posting dated June 20.

Hat tip: Mitch Pirtle (aka Spacemonkey) of NYPHP

Legislating morality? Is he serious?

As I covered before, this is the fundamental place where the agreements break down. Eric Raymond, Linus Torvalds, and many others (myself include) believe that Open Source Software makes the most sense from a business perspective. If a piece of software doesn't meet your needs or has problems, as long as it is Open Source, you can contribute (time, money, etc) to improve the situation. This side leaves it up to the market to decide what aspects are important and which software is used.

It's entirely up to you and what your priorities are. Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation do see it as a moral fight. They come at software from the direction that "all code should be free"… and therefore I would say that they are legislating morality… their own morality. Moreso, with the creation of the GPL, it began the principle of putting this philosophy into law (well, licensing). For the GPL v2, some saw this as an issue but it always seemed relatively low-key and a secondary concern…. it seems that GPL3 is another story.

And here's the core of the problem – which Mitch lays out quite clearly:

For the purposes of discussion I decided to make a hypothetical project up. Say, a web application by Spacemonkey Labs, called the Mitchinator™. There, I don’t think anyone will spring to the defense of the Mitchinator. 🙂

Now, say I release the Mitchinator under the GPL. I also include the facility for other developers to write their own functionality without having to modify the Mitchinator. They are called Mitchoids™.

There’s one group of people that say those applications are derivative works, and must be released under a GPL-compatible license.

There are others who say that software isn’t part of Mitchinator, was written completely independent of it, and released separately. Therefore it is not a derivative work.

So which is it?

As someone who has released a number of modules for dotProject (as of this writing, GPL2) and is working on nearly a daily basis to integrate it with third party applications and API, this could have a fundamental impact on my business, planned development, and therefore the community around dotProject as a whole. If this is how any version of GPL is designed to work… we're in for a world of hurt. I can't begin to answer this question, but it needs to be answered… and answered quickly.

Therefore, regardless of how you work in technology – from VP of Development to IT Manager to the lowliest Junior Dev – or what your personal goals and agendas are, you must understand what you are and aren't allowed to do. It could save you and your organization stress, time, and money.

Whatever the case, do it right and do it now.