the GPL and “development” versus “distribution”

The following paraphrased argument is extremely common:

I’m not against Open Source, I’m against the GPL. I’m against the GPL because it doesn’t give the developer the freedom that the MIT or BSD licenses offer. Copyleft restricts the right of developers.

To develop software means to make changes to your software and expect those changes to run as expected. The GPL, MIT, and BSD license all allow this to happen. All Free Software and Open Source licenses allow this to happen. What the proponents of the above view want to make-believe is that to be a “developer” can simply mean to re-license and distribute code – a task any semi-determined dimwit can accomplish. The mistake (whether through ignorance or an effort to confuse others) made is to make synonymous the act of licensing/distributing with developing.

So when a developer complains that his “freedom” (they like to use this word in an attempt to manufacture a copyleft “hypocrisy”) is obstructed by the GPL, point out to him that it is not his freedom to develop that is obstructed but rather, his privilege to distribute in a way that restricts others. A subtle but enormous difference.


6 Responses to “the GPL and “development” versus “distribution””

  1. Tom Hoffman Says:

    What does it mean to be “against” the GPL? You choose not to use it to license your software? You choose to use software with a more permissive open source license when possible? Fine. That’s OK. Who cares? This isn’t an argument that anyone needs to lose sleep over. Large, successful swathes of the free software ecosystem don’t use copyleft, and everything is working out just fine.

  2. Peter Says:

    What does it mean to be “against” the GPL? You choose not to use it to license your software?

    No, it means to misrepresent the GPL. The claim that the GPL restricts developers is a claim I’ve heard all too often. The point is, it does not restrict development at all. Development is not synonymous with distribution.

  3. AVG free Says:

    Well its pretty common that GPL licenses are confusing, for example this AVG Free which is commonly a free software, yet it has to be bought, I mean where is the justice here?

  4. AVG free Says:

    Yeah, it is pretty common that distribution is mixed with development, but again I dont really follow what GPL license means in terms of distribution and rights?

  5. Peter Says:


    I’m not familiar with AVG licensing (and your link doesn’t work) but even if a piece of software is under the GPL, a distributor can demand payment for copies (i.e. “has to be bought”). The point of the GPL is to provide for the users’ freedom, not force any software to be gratis or non-commercial.

    While it is common that developers are often distributors, it is important to distinguish between the two.

  6. Tom Hoffman Says:

    The AVG license is just a “free as in beer” license.

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