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Open source’s existential dilemma: the meaning of ‘free'

Open source has never been more popular, but it’s unclear that this has as much to do with its licensing as with its price tag. Years ago, we were quick to distinguish open source as “free as in freedom, not free as in beer.” Two decades on, developers are demanding the beer but are somewhat nonchalant about the freedom. Just ask GitHub.

The GitHub generation and the rise permissive licensing

Years ago, Donnie Berkholz documented the rise of permissive licensing: a shift from restrictive, GPL-style licensing to laissez-faire, Apache-style licensing. Ever the canny observer, Glyn Moody reviewed the data and lamented, “The logical conclusion of the move to more ‘permissive’ licenses [is] one that permits everything.”

Which is exactly what happened.

As of 2013, less than 15 percent of all repositories on GitHub came with a license, open source or otherwise. After years of efforts to change this, a rising percentage of GitHub repositories now carry a license, but it’s still a puny minority of all projects.

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