More about software and copyright¶
Note that the AGPL –unlike some urban legends propagate– does not force you to disclose your derived source code. You may write your own Lino application and use it just for yourself, without ever sharing a single line of your code to anybody. The AGPL’s protective character starts only when you ask others to pay for your developer service or hosting service. In this case, and only then, you will be legally obliged to also share back to our community your source code.
Sustainably Free Software¶
The whole Lino project can be seen as an attempt to verify the theory that professional software development leads to better results when governed by a business model that fosters sharing.
We believe that proprietary software is not a sustainable option for a modern human civilization. This belief is neither new nor naive. There is a growing list of organizations devoted to Free Software 1. Many developers feel that free software is fundamentally better than proprietary software 2. Public administrations are increasingly aware of the important strategic advantages that only Free Software can give. See Free Software in public administrations below.
But while Free Software gains popularity because of its technical advantages, its administrative challenges become more visible. A software product is more than its source code, it also needs a clear governance, a product carrier. And a product carrier, like every organization, needs a business model.
As long as that business model is based on the old idea of selling usage rights on intellectual property, we will remain in the vicious circle that leads to vendor lock-in.
The fundamental difference between proprietary and free software is that the software product becomes a common good instead of being considered private property. The product carrier of a free software product has no possibility to tie the product’s source code to their invested capital.
Free software belongs to nobody because it belongs to everybody. Everybody may use it as a base for derived work.
So who is going to care for a product that belongs to everybody? The answer is clear: software development is a res publica, a common issue, and as such needs to be governed in a transparent and democratic way. It belongs to the competence of public authorities. It becomes a public infrastructure, similar to roads, railways, water distribution systems, school buildings.
If we want Free Software to be sustainably free, we must consider the whole product as a common good. Including documentation, training material, configuration files, installation tools, promotional literature and business documents. And we must govern the product as such.
We believe that the future belongs to Sustainably Free Software. We want Lino to be available to everybody forever.
- Sustainably Free Software¶
Software that is developed and maintained using a business model that fosters sharing and refuses limiting any usage right for their derived work.
- business model¶
A description of how you plan to make money.[#lewis1]_
- vendor lock-in¶
The economical situation of a customer who has become dependent on a vendor for products and services, unable to use another vendor without substantial switching costs.
A legally free software product cannot be sustainable when one of its components is non-free. Documentation is an important part of a software product. An otherwise free product is not sustainable when documentation and expert knowledge about it is controlled by a single entity.
What seems obvious to many developers is obviously less clear to investors. Many business models in software industry still rely on some proprietary part for generating revenue. Some carriers of free software products gain control over the usage rights on some part of the product like an installer or a front end. Such attempts are quickly disclosed and lead to a free (but weakened) fork in the best case, or to the death of the product in the worst case.
Free Software in public administrations¶
The Public money public code campaign explains why Free Software is important for public administrations: “Software created using taxpayers’ money should be released as Free Software. We want legislation requiring that publicly financed software developed for the public sector be made publicly available under a Free and Open Source Software licence. If it is public money, it should be public code as well. Code paid by the people should be available to the people!”
The European Union is more diplomatic regarding proprietary software by using the neutral term Open-source software (OSS). The term Free Software can indeed cause allergic reactions if you don’t fully agree with the Free Software Foundation and their chairman Richard Stallman. But their Guidelines for creating sustainable open source communities show the importance of Free Software after removing the polemic parts. Some excerpts:
Public administrations should not merely reuse OSS (i.e. be consumers) but rather be active members and contributors to the communities that exist around this software.
The sustainability of OSS communities is not a one-off investment. Once you either successfully join or launch an OSS community, it is important for your public administration and your steering committee to keep nurturing and growing the community behind your software.
In the long run, your community’s sustainability will rely on the following key factors: a clear governance structure, the vibrancy and health of the community, continuous commitment of the public administration’s political hierarchy to the project, sustainable funding, and the maturity of your software.
Transparency is at the heart of successful open source communities. For this reason, as your community evolves and grows over time, its governance should remain clear and transparent. This will help you to attract new members, make it easier to promote your software, and ensure the commitment of key community contributors.
How can Lino help me to avoid vendor lock-in?¶
It is true that this advantage is less visible as long as Lino hasn’t become a standard part of every IT education programme. You might despair when you observe how far certain proprietary software giants have invaded and undercut our public education systems.
- copyright holder¶
The legal or natural person who wrote the source files of a software product and published them. Modified or unmodified copies of the source files may be used only with permission of the copyright holder who usually specifies a license that regulates how his work may be used.
- software product¶
An intellectual work consisting of a set of source files that may, after having been compiled, run on a computer to make it provide a given set of functionalities.
- proprietary software¶
Software that is published under a license that reserves to its copyright holder the right of sharing the software or derivative work.
- Free Software¶
Software that is published by its copyright holder under a license that permits and encourages sharing of the software or derivative work.
Free Software licenses can be grouped into two types: permissive and protective.
- Open-source software¶
Software for which the customer is given permission to consult the source code. This does not necessarily mean Free Software.
- permissive Free Software license¶
A Free Software license that sets minimal requirements about how the software or derivative work may be redistributed.
An example is the BSD License.
- protective Free Software license¶
A Free Software license that requires redistribution of derivative work to be licensed under the same license.
An example is the GNU General Public License..
- proprietary license¶
A license where the copyright holder reserves all usage rights to themselves.
When using a proprietary license, the copyright holder of a software product is automatically the product carrier.
- free software license¶
A licence where the copyright holder explicitly gives away all usage rights under certain conditions.
Inspired by The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story Paperback by Michael Lewis (January 2014), via What Is a Business Model?.