📆 April 11, 2022 | ⏱️ 2 minute read | 🏷️ computing

GPL vs Permissive Licenses

When it comes to the debate between using the GNU General Public License (GPL) or permissive licenses, I choose the GPL and I encourage others to do the same.

The reason I choose the GPL is I don’t believe in the freedom to restrict others’ freedom. The GPL says “you are free to use this software for any purpose except to restrict others’ freedoms”. Permissive licenses say “you are free to use this software for any purpose including restricting others’ freedoms”.

Some people go with permissive licenses just because they want to avoid politics. They’re software developers and most developers don’t develop software for political crusading. They just like the technical challenge or they have a need for some tool. I understand and sympathize with that, but almost everything is political. Permissive licenses are a political statement, just like the GPL. Although you’re trying to be as neutral as possible and with the best of intentions, unfortunately you’re still picking sides. It’s unavoidable.

But I don’t think this should be anxiety-inducing. Just ask yourself a very simple question. What are you okay with people using your software for? That’s what the license is for. Are you okay with people using your software to gain power over others and restrict them, or not? If more people using your software is more important than user freedom to you, go with a permissive license. Otherwise go with the GPL.

Even if you won’t sue when someone violates the license, it’s still good to have the license that best aligns with your intentions because it lets everyone know where you stand. If you don’t put a license, developers will avoid using your software, because they don’t know what your intentions were in releasing it and they don’t want to get sued. So take a few minutes to decide what’s important to you, and exemplify that through your license.