On License Compliance For Users

Of the many attributes of software freedom that could move to front-of-mind, it strikes me that the minimal license compliance burdens for open source software users are actually a comparative strength. Having them presented as a dangerous weakness by commercial interests in various contexts (what has been called “the compliance-industrial complex”) applies a “frame” that serves only the detractors of software freedom. No wonder proprietary vendors want to divert our attention! Open source is so much easier!

A woman sits strapped to the top of a bi-plane painted in US patriotic decor and about to take off

License compliance is a major and costly issue for proprietary software users, who must keep track of every use of the proprietary software they are licensing in order to avoid severe consequences should their supplier choose to conduct an audit. The license involved in that case is an End User License Agreement (EULA), not a source license delivering extensive liberties. When we compare like-for-like, we discover open source software has negligible issues by comparison. End-users do not need to have a license management server, do not need to hold audits, do not need to fear contract enforcement raids.

Open Source License Compliance Is A Marginal Issue

Do we need to worry about license compliance? Obviously respecting authors, following license terms and obeying the law are important, but for most of us the answer is probably that there are bigger things to worry about. Open source software comes with a set of liberties commonly called “the four freedoms“. Any software under an open source license may be used, studied, adapted, shared (both in the origonal and modified form) and monetised for any purpose, as long as the license is obeyed.

Software Freedom Is Not About Licenses

The result of making it seem otherwise is that the more subtle opponents of open source are able to raise Fears about compliance, attaching Uncertainties soluble only via extra costs that aren’t really applicable to the majority of uses and thus seeding Doubts that the bother is really worth it. This has all the classic hallmarks of FUD, projecting the weakness of proprietary software and license enforcement “audits” and by implication tarring open source with them. We should reject the frame.

Ultimately, software freedom is not about licenses; they are a fundamental and essential part of the mechanics, but not the goal. The goal is for every software user to be self-sovereign in their software. It is about the liberty to enjoy software unhindered, and we are free to use that liberty as little or as much as we want without interference. Allowing ourselves to be distracted from the liberty which is the source of all of the benefits individuals and business gain from open source is a mistake. Don’t let the forces of proprietary software do it to you.  Reject the frame and revel in your liberty!

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