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Considering the Future of Copyleft: How Will The Next Generation Perceive GPL?

Copyleft licenses, particularly the GPL and LGPL, are widely used throughout the Free Software community. However, recent for-profit corporate interest in Free Software development has led to a renewed preference toward non-copyleft licensing. Meanwhile, many for-profit entities that do use copyleft for their own software now do so in a manner that most copyleft aficionados find, at best, distasteful and at worst, abusive.

A long-standing truce once existed in our community between fans of non-copyleft licensing and copyleft, but as the community has grown, that truce has mostly disintegrated. While no one in the copyleft communities disputes that non-copylefted Free Software is an important part of our community, copyleft faces new challenges that make past debates about the appropriateness of copyleft seem minor by comparison.

This talk discusses all aspects of the complicated situation that copyleft now faces, including younger developers apparent preference for non-copyleft licensing (as expressed, in part, in the so-called “post-open source” debates), the widespread and common failures in GPL compliance, and how licensing choices are today — unlike in the past — rarely in the hands of individual developers, but instead their corporate employers.

Bradley Kuhn

Bradley M. Kuhn is the President and Distinguished Technologist at Software Freedom Conservancy, on the Board of Directors of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), and editor-in-chief of copyleft.org. Kuhn began his work in the software freedom movement as a volunteer in 1992, when he became an early adopter of the GNU/Linux operating system, and began contributing to various Free Software projects. He worked during the 1990s as a system administrator and software developer for various companies, and taught AP Computer Science at Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati. Kuhn's non-profit career began in 2000, when he was hired by the FSF. As FSF's Executive Director from 2001–2005, Kuhn led FSF's GPL enforcement, launched its Associate Member program, and invented the Affero GPL. Kuhn was appointed President of Software Freedom Conservancy in April 2006, was Conservancy's primary volunteer from 2006–2010, and has been a full-time staffer since early 2011. Kuhn holds a summa cum laude B.S. in Computer Science from Loyola University in Maryland, and an M.S. in Computer Science from the University of Cincinnati. Kuhn's Master's thesis discussed methods for dynamic interoperability of Free Software programming languages. Kuhn received the O'Reilly Open Source Award in 2012, in recognition for his lifelong policy work on copyleft licensing. Kuhn has a blog, is on pump.io and co-hosts the audcast, Free as in Freedom.