Life at Eclipse

Musings on the Eclipse Foundation, the community and the ecosystem

EPL: The Business-Friendly Copyleft License

I’ve been watching the GPLv3 process since its inception, and I have to admit that I am getting rather disappointed with some of the dialogue surrounding it.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the FSF is completely within its rights to change the GPL, and they deserve high praise for the open process they’ve used in driving new revisions. The Eclipse Foundation has been involved in the process, with Janet Campbell participating on “Committee A”, since the beginning. We’ve had several open and cordial conversations about EPL and GPLv3 compatibility over the past year as well. All of the right conversations have happened with all of the right people. In the end, however, we had to agree to disagree and the EPL and GPLv3 will not be compatible.

So I was surprised to see the comment in the latest draft that the FSF “encourages” us to “revise the EPL to permit re-licensing under the GPL”. That’s never going to happen. Our contributors and ecosystem picked the EPL for solid business and community reasons, and there is zero interest in taking all of our community’s intellectual property and re-licensing it under the GPL.

Then I read comments from Matt Asay that basically says that anyone that doesn’t support the GPL and the narrow list of business models it supports is somehow “silly”. Although he only talks about Apache in his post, by extension I am assuming that he thinks that IBM’s support of Eclipse doesn’t count. They’ve certainly “given back” to this community. And I definitely do not understand how he could possibly interpret Mills’ comments as demanding that “…the open source world should capitulate to his whims…”.

Matt further points out that some have figured out how “…to monetize open source directly.” How that implies that every other company and community has to embrace the GPL is beyond me. Here’s a newsflash: many companies have also figured out how to directly monetize open source under the Eclipse and Apache licenses as well. Monetizing open source software is not unique to the GPL.

So here are some facts that I think people need to keep in mind:

  1. Free software != GPL. Free software is a principle, and the GPL is one expression of that principle. It is not and cannot be the only one. If we replace the monotony of proprietary software with the monotony of a single free software license, we are all losers. Diversity of licenses allows diversity of business models and diversity of competition. Which is a very good thing for the entire community and industry.
  2. GPL != copyleft. There are quite a few other copyleft licenses (both “strong” and “weak“), the EPL being one. Not everyone agrees with the specific copyleft approach of the GPL. “Giving back” to the community can be done without requiring strong copyleft. One of our community’s objections to the GPL is the position that it is reasonable to link 5 lines of GPL code to 1 million lines of EPL code and shazam! the result of this hypothetical combined work would need to be GPL’d.
  3. GPL != monetization. There are a great many successful companies built on top of the GPL. But in addition there are also some very successful business built on top of other licenses such as the EPL, Apache and MPL. The Eclipse community has built a very successful commercial ecosystem around the EPL, largely because its terms allow greater flexibility and a wider variety of business models. As the title of this post suggests, I would argue that the EPL is the business-friendly copyleft license.

So while the GPL community can be quite rightly pleased with itself on completing GPLv3, I hope that they keep the dialogue with other communities positive and respectful. The open source community is a big place, and there is room for many different viewpoints, licenses and business models.

P.S. I’ve already wasted 20 minutes fighting with Blogger’s random font and font color changes, so apologies if this post looks kinda goofy. This might be the last straw….Wordpress here I come!

Written by Mike Milinkovich

April 4, 2007 at 11:58 am

Posted in Foundation

3 Responses

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  1. C’mon, Mike, Blogger isn’t that bad. Didn’t your master’s cover how to overcome (or ignore) the limitations of obscure web-based software?

    Joel West

    April 5, 2007 at 5:34 pm

  2. Absolutely. EPL is the commercially friendly copyleft. GPl may be philosophically right, but the v2 to v3 transition, as open as it is, is still scary.


    April 5, 2007 at 10:00 pm

  3. Once you go with WordPress… you’ll never look back.Licensing in the open source world is a tough debate. No matter what your position or grounds, someone will argue a counter point. I trace the reason back to licenses being written largely by lawyers who are paid to take opposing sides 😉 Law school is nothing but training future lawyers about this very art. Add in the philosophical magnet commonly called “open source” and you have a never-ending debate. It’s the ‘perfect storm’ of debates.


    April 10, 2007 at 3:56 pm

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