Amusing article about busybox

Bradley M. Kuhn bkuhn at
Wed Feb 1 16:30:32 UTC 2012

Laurent Bercot wrote at 06:46 (EST):
> I am afraid that the uncompromising, unforgiving nature of the GPL
> will turn against it in the future, and harm more than promote
> widespread distribution of GPL'ed software - something that GPL
> zealots generally refuse to see.

It's entirely possible this could be the case.  I don't really believe
it is, but all we have is some second-hand, anecdotal evidence on either
side of the debate, so it's tough to know for sure.

But that's not a new debate: it's the fundamental debate
that goes back 20 years between those that prefer permissive licenses
and those that prefer copyleft.  There are reasonable arguments on both
sides, of course.

> The "return something to the community" idea just does not work with
> them.

I think you're right about this point, but only with respect to GPL
violators.  Specifically, it's certainly difficult (although not
impossible) to convince a company to become a community contributor,
when that company saw the GPL and just decided to "see if they could get
away with ignoring it".  While the job of changing their minds is tough, it
does happen sometimes.  A classic example is Broadcom, which has been a
frequent source of GPL violation problems as an upstream for more than
a decade.  Yet, some divisions of Broadcom now actively contribute to Linux
development upstream.  Their culture has changed just a little bit, and I hope
that it will continue to get better.  I firmly believe that without BusyBox's
enforcement efforts, even this little bit of change wouldn't have happened.

Nevertheless, I can agree that such change is rare.  But it's important
to also consider the many companies that virtually always do the right
thing with regard to GPL compliance -- the Red Hat's, the HP's, the
Google's, the SuSE's, the Canonical's (just to name a few).  Some of
those companies do quite a bit of proprietary software development, but
they *don't* violate the GPL (to my knowledge) when they do it.
Sometimes, those companies do favor permissively-licensed projects
because they want to make something proprietary.  It's unfortunate when
that happens, but it's of course their right to do so.

In this context, the question we should ask ourselves is: do we want the
license to require software sharing?  Again, that's the classic
"copyleft vs. permissive license" debate, and there's important points
on both sides.

My view is that, given that some projects are indeed copylefted, we in
some sense owe it to those who participate and comply to make sure the
license is respected.  In essence, companies that comply regularly put in
more effort to make sure they do so -- which they do willingly.  IMO,
it's unfair to them that other companies get away with cutting costs by
ignoring GPL.  Of course, compliance isn't *that* expensive, but it does
require that engineering teams pay attention to the fact that source
needs to go along with the binaries, etc.  Companies that go cut-rate
and ignore that are able to undercut compliant company's products.

I think for that, and are plenty of reasons, it's good to uphold a
copyleft license; I've talked about these reasons extensively for years
in talks (See if you want to hear
one).  I know that some people disagree, and I respect those who prefer
to contribute to permissively-licensed projects because they disagree
with copyleft.

But, I also think it's a contradiction to say: "I prefer a
copylefted license but don't want it to be enforced."  I don't think anyone
on this thread has said that, but it has been said in some of the public
debates in other fora in the last 24 hours.
Bradley M. Kuhn, Executive Director, Software Freedom Conservancy

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