OSI compliance requiring software to be "free beer"?

William Abernathy william at olliance.com
Thu Jan 18 17:55:55 UTC 2001

> We know, that up to now Open Source Software has been free both in the
> meaning of "free speech" and "free beer". We want to introduce a model
> that guarantees free speech but takes the free beer aspect away.
> Under certain conditions, IPL requires you to pay the prices according
> to our price list, if you want to use IPLed software.
> Within the discussion it turned out, that most participants argued, Open
> Source Software has to be free in the sense of "free beer", i.e.
> requiring the user to pay license fees will be a no-go for OSI approval.
> We have not found any such restriction being officially published.

There is no such published restriction, because A) there's no sentiment out
there that you shouldn't be able to make money; B) there's a general enmity
to making money by shutting people out of your code.

The reason you can't have "free speech" without "free beer" is simple: you
can't license free speech. Licensing is an assertion of a superior grantor's
right, which is in the main inimical to the free software movement. If the
state gives you a driver's license, it asserts its ownership of the road,
and permits you a revocable privilege (not a right) to drive on its roads.
If you can only speak at the pleasure of the state, or if you can only code
at the pleasure of the copyright holder, neither your speech nor your coding
is free.

Putting aside the loaded question of "freedom" for a moment and getting into
open source territory, you again run into the same difficulty. The Open
Source Definition is designed on pragmatic, rather than idealistic grounds.
Your licensing model, as has been pointed out here, fails numeorus pragmatic
tests, not least among them the requirement that developers work at your
pleasure, and on your financial terms. Because of this, your code's
open-source life cycle is intimately and inseparably linked to the
well-being of your company. Open source coders will not pay for a key to
program, only to watch their investment evaporate when your company is
bought by some megacorporation or goes out of business. Failure to comply
with your terms means denial of access to the source code. This is not open

Any license that empowers the grantor to deny a developer further code
access based on financial consideration carries with it a freight of
impracticality and moral repugnance that makes it untenable as open source
and unpalatable as free software. It is clear that someone in your company
has cooked up the notion that it can get something for nothing (i.e., free
development, free publicity, free goodwill) by calling its products "open
source." This is not going to happen. Adjust your license or adjust your

--William Abernathy

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