Gpl In Retrospect

EddyPronk wrote to tell me that there was an effort within Fitnesse to subvert the license under which I have released my work. He went on to say, "I hope FIT can remain GPL. The Fitnesse source tree contains modified FIT source files and is therefore a derived work. Removing dependency from FIT in my opinion still makes it a derived work. Fitnesse is bootstrapped using FIT and distributed as such."

Eddy's comments led me to reflect on my choice of GPL. Here is my reply which I encouraged him to distribute.

One benefit of being the copyright holder of Fit is that I have the opportunity to discuss licensing with product teams and their legal council. In each case, I have shown to product management that they are getting bad advice from their council with respect to risks. This takes about 45 minutes and is best done on a conference call with all stakeholders present. The lawyers will bill for this, a fact not lost on the payer, especially considering my more relevant analysis is pro bono.

I will admit that choosing GPL was an experiment which I undertook after a careful read of all of the popular open source licenses. I'm happy with the results. I've learned a lot about IP lawyers by paying attention to these details and learning to articulate useful scenarios in an executive setting. Heck, just last month I was on a call with six lawyers representing three offices. My CFO said afterward that my performance was excellent.

The key to these conversations is to understand that each person has an interest, including the lawyers, and including you. As engineers we are quick to put our own interests aside and try to solve whatever problem seems to be at hand by the most expeditious way. This is not a good path forward for those of us who create intellectual property for a living.

The law involved is no more complicated than a typical API, and the executives involved no harder to understand than pair-programming partners. I've learned that the GPL is a sophisticated device. I do not regret the time I've put into it. I encourage others to do likewise. -- WardCunningham


Last edited December 15, 2008
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