My Stupid Mistake with Software Licensing

Never thought I would paint myself into a corner like this.

I work on open source project for a living. I like the idea that my code is generally useful. I care how my code is being used to a degree, but I'm definitely not a strong supporter of one particular franchise of open source camp. Instead, I carefully avoid arguments about different ideologies and / or definitions about open source / free software. Those are difficult questions. Though they are very important, I would rather spend my time somewhere else on more productive stuff.

My strategy has served me well. I sometimes read the license of the projects I contribute to. But all in all, I don't care that much. I believe most people are just like me, they want to do cool stuff. What's inside the license file isn't at all the critical to making a contribution. And to clarify my position, software, open source or not, it is a mean (however critical it is) to move forward human civilization, not an end in itself.

Things changed recently. I got involved with BSD family more often. That causes quite a bit of headache for me. Everyone knows a good software engineer should reuse as much code as possible. So when I try to contribute to BSD, I always think to import some code I write for Linux. But first and foremost, we need to get the license straight. Unfortunately there is quite a bit of ambiguity in the licensing of the code I want to pull in.

So I discussed with team members about potential issues, spent almost half an hour with a colleague figuring out what the actual license of some modules should be, and ventured to write several one-liner patches to fix them to reflect reality.

And that, of course, didn't end well. Everyone knew the current situation is not ideal, but as every other discussions regarding license, it quickly got derailed into several directions: discussion whether one particular license exists or not, suggestion that I should leave it as-is, suggestion I should copy all rights holders (for the record I didn't agree because I was merely fixing bugs). I drafted one reply or two, but in the end I deleted them because I just didn't think that's going to be productive in any way.

The cost of any license related patch is too high. Not that writing a one-liner patch is particularly hard labor. It is the ensuing endless discussion that makes it so tiresome. No wonder everybody seems to avoid such topic as hard as they can.

All in all, I think I made a stupid mistake to even dare writing such patches. There are a lot of more interesting and pressing problems to be solved. That's where I should divert my energy to.

Happy hacking, not happy arguing.