In search of Freeware licences that are NOT open source.

February 11, 2012

Warning, this is going to be a very geeky and somewhat rantish post.

As I vowed a little while ago, I’ve been making progress on some programming to-do items, including fixing up some programs for the Alphasmart Dana that I want to post for free download. I’ve got the manual for one program done and the other nearly ready, and I wanted to include a very brief legal licence that laid out the requirements I had for people who downloaded the package, mostly:

  • If you distribute the program anywhere, keep my name attached to it as the author
  • If you distribute the program anywhere, keep the manual and this licence with it.
  • Don’t sell it or charge anybody anything for the download.

I looked for examples of this kind of thing, but didn’t have that much luck. I found some licence examples that were evidently designed to represent a deal between two established parties, as opposed to a somewhat open-ended contract between me and whoever ends up downloading it. And I found an awful lot of template licences for ‘free software’ or ‘open source’.

Now, those are not the same thing as freeware. Freeware means that the program is free to use, but implies nothing about being able to see how the mechanics of it work, or being able to improve it yourself. I like a lot of things about the free software/open source concept, but I’m not a huge fan of it; I guess I’d want to make the decision on whether to release something as open source or not on a case by case basis, unless I was building off something else that was open source, in which case the deal is usually ‘if you improve this, then what you make with it is open source too’, and that seems fair.

For these Alphasmart programs, I just don’t want to deal with open source right now, especially because I used a software development environment that isn’t free, so if I did release it as open source I could just picture some open source fanatic telling me off for the fact that he can’t use my free source code without paying somebody for the development environment. I don’t really have a problem with sharing my source code, but I’d rather talk to the people who are interested in seeing it, and if there’s some really good reason that it HAS to be open source to merge with an existing open source project, then I can always re-release it on that basis later.

So, I eventually found out about Creative Commons, which sounded like what I wanted – they have a tool where you can enter what kind of content licence you want, and they provide a licence to match it. So I set up an ‘Attribution No-Derivs Non-Commercial’ licence, and that seemed good.

Until I found out that Creative Commons doesn’t recommend using their licence for software, on the grounds that they’re not compatible with most open source licence standards, and instead suggests a couple of prominent open source/free software licences.

There seems to be this kind of preconception there that ‘Of course you want to be open source – that’s the point, isn’t it?’ and it really pisses me off. I even found it stated outright in this blog post from last year:

“f you use a Creative Commons License your software probably won’t be free software/ open source software, and therefore won’t be re-usable by others including developers (which is what you want right?)

No, that’s not what I want!

I don’t want other developers to necessarily be free to study it or evolve other programs for it. I just want people to be free to use the program as it currently stands.

There are certain elements of the Open Source community who seem to be single-minded to the point of bullying when it comes to this point, and that annoys me. So the plan, at this point, is to go ahead with Creative Commons.

It’s a bit funny – most authors would never stand for it, if there were people telling them that they should release their work for free, and allow anybody who wanted to the chance to edit their words, cut one storyline, change which lover a character ended up with, and then republish it. Why is the situation so different with software? 🙂


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