GPL vs. ASL (Apache License)

Last Updated on December 18th 2011

Edited mail exchange with my “GPL friend” is given below.

GPL friend wrote: I followed the link to the Apache discussion:

ASL (Apache License) friend wrote: As for gpl, I don’t like it. When I work on open source, I want everyone to use it. Software is not zero sum, and If a proprietary version exists, it doesn’t take anything away from the world. Proprietary guys bring their own advantages, like the ability to focus on the user experience and develop usable software.

Ravi: I entirely agree. Money is the great motivator 🙂 . And many software shops are able to make money only through proprietary/closed software. Making money is not bad 🙂 – so long as you contribute something worth the money to society.

GPL friend wrote: Disclosure: You and your (ASL/Apache License) friend have the right to choose the license that you find most agreeable for your work. I am definitely biased, in favor of GPL.  So, with that out of the way, let me comment on the above.  You can discount for my bias, as appropriate.

Ravi responded: 🙂

GPL friend wrote: Making money is not bad and neither is proprietary software.  I just happen to be not in favor of a commercial enterprise being allowed to use an open source implementation to start with, make proprietary changes and not being required to disclose them.  BSD/ASL (Apache License) licenses allow that, so the practice is not unlawful.  People who contribute under BSD/ASL licenses know this could happen, and consciously choose that license, so nothing underhanded is going on with not publishing mods.  It’s just not for me.  If I were to contribute to a FOSS  project, I don’t want to allow somebody downstream to be able to restrict the rights and privileges I have chosen to grant to my original work, and any derivatives.  The GPLv3 ensures that, and therefore suits my needs best.

Ravi responded: I think I fully understand your view and your choice. Perhaps it really is a “FOSS philosophy” kind of choice. And from that point of view I can’t find fault with your thinking.

GPL friend wrote: Note that the GPLv3 does not prohibit anyone from making money off any GPL’ed work or otherwise commercializing the production.  It only prohibits compromising those 4 rights I had mentioned in the earlier email.

Ravi responded: To ensure no misunderstanding I have updated the Apache discussion post that you referred to with the following line: [Update: Note that GPL is not against commercialization (making money); it is only against proprietary/closed software.]

GPL friend wrote: Some of the ideas of GPLv3 that appeal to me are:

I hate the idea that when I pay money and buy a gadget, I don’t get to do *whatever* I want with it, including run a modified firmware.  I didn’t rent it, mind you, I bought it.  It is mine, materially.  I can step on it and break it up, but I can only run manufacturer authorized firmware?  Especially, when the manufacturer used FOSS software to make their firmware in the first place!  GPLv3 prevents such tivoization (named after a Tivo, the DVR company which did that!)

Ravi responded: I can get some idea of your “customer rights” pain. However I am quite permissive towards companies that provide me useful products [like Apple].

GPL friend wrote: GPLv3 has strong protections against patent threats;  more importantly, it has mechanisms to prevent a licensee A from being able to sue a downstream peer B for patent violations.  If A benefited from the work of everybody that came before and built further on it, A should not be able to prevent B and others from being able to do the same.

GPLv3 also has protections against restrictive DRM.

Ravi responded: I could not squeeze out the time (nor the inclination to be honest) to read the details of GPLv3. But in the quick-reading that I did I too got the impression that GPLv3 is a far more robust & protective of “freedom” license. You clearly are far more knowledgeable than me on this. So I will take your word on it; the learning for me from this para. is that GPLv3 is stronger/better on patent threat protection &  protection from restrictive DRM. Thanks for this crisp input.

GPL friend wrote: Just my 2c.  ASL and BSD are good licenses, if that is what you want.

Ravi responded: As of now, ASL (Apache License) being a more permissive license, seems to suit my permissive needs well.

GPL friend wrote: Check out this interview (audio/pdf) with Jeremy Alison, the guy behind Samba, one of the earliest FOSS projects to switch to GPLv3, discussing the switch:

Ravi responded: Read the pdf/slides. Found it to be too involved for me, at this point of time, at least. I mean,  has no software to show as of now. And being a part-time effort I really don’t know what it will produce.

If things click and’s software gets used by significant number of people that’s when I think it will be appropriate for me to delve into greater license details.

To conclude, my plan is to right now go with permissive ASL (Apache License) but with the awareness that GPLv3 is more robust in protecting “freedom”. If significant software is produced by and it is popular then, if required, review licensing options.

Thanks for the input. Plan to put this exchange as a post as others may be in a similar boat.

Additional exchange after the above:

GPL friend responded that changing licenses mid-stream can be very difficult as the software is no longer one single person’s software. All contributors and contributors to contributors (or something like that) become part owners of the software. And all these persons have to agree to change the license.

Ravi’s response: I did not realize that! Thank you so much for letting me know. I need to do some thinking on this one. But if, at the initial stages, there is only one contributor (me) and perhaps one or two others who are fully willing to possibly change the license in future, then we will be on safe ground. So before opens up to any contributor I should perhaps review more carefully the GPL vs. ASL (or others) license issue and take a final call. I have breathing room till comes to that stage.

And Oh! A troubling thought just struck me. If goes with ASL (Apache License) then if committed GPL guys who are not comfortable with ASL like you, brother, want to contribute software to the cause, their GPL philosophical view on FOSS will not allow them to do so!

And will not be able to use GPL software contributions!

I think I need to really think this through. Thanks so much for raising all these issues. This is some learning for me. And I thought going the FOSS way is simple!

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