- Two Licenses for Two Philosophies
- How the Licenses Arose
- Effects of Licensing on the Commercial Software World
How the Licenses Arose
To understand the differences between these licenses, it’s important to look at their backgrounds. The BSD license was originally created as a license under which some researchers at the University of California, Berkeley could release some changes to the original UNIX source code. When the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) grew, it was easier to continue using the original license than to try to get the university’s IP department to approve a new license.
The BSDL is very much an academic license. In academic circles, reputation is very important; it’s no coincidence that the only constraints placed by the BSDL are on attribution. The BSD license is designed to allow the code to be used by as many people as possible, and it works. Pieces of BSD code have ended up in a large number of commercial products, including Windows. A large part of the success of TCP/IP, the protocol used by the Internet, is due to the fact that the original TCP/IP implementation was BSD licensed. This allowed any software vendor to easily add TCP/IP support.
But this approach wasn’t good enough for the Free Software Foundation. The four freedoms are central to their beliefs—creating software that doesn’t respect the four freedoms is considered antisocial, and shouldn’t be encouraged or aided.
If someone creates BSD-licensed software, nothing stops anyone else from making improvements to that software and releasing it as non-libre software. While this setup may increase the amount of "good" software available (according to the end user’s definition), it doesn’t hold from the perspective of the FSF, because their definition of good software doesn’t include non-libre applications.
The GPL forbids using GPL’d code to create software that doesn’t respect the four freedoms. You can sometimes do so indirectly, however; for example, you can compile software under any license with the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC), but you can’t include GCC source code in your non-libre product.
The open source philosophy is slightly different. Eric S. Raymond, one of the movement’s founders, recently stated that he believed that the GPL was obsolete and should be replaced by the BSD license. The open source movement believes that the development process arising from access to the source code, rather than the four freedoms, is important. The BSD license doesn’t hinder this; a company can create a closed fork of a BSD project, but then they lose the advantage of being part of the open source community—and open source advocates argue that the resulting product will be inferior.
The free software community also believes that a closed fork of an open project will be inferior. The difference is that they believe this to be a property intrinsic to non-free software, a viewpoint examined in some detail in a previous article. To a free software advocate, no closed software can ever be superior to its open counterpart.