A magazine about programmers, code, and society. Written by humans since 2018.

Issue 041: Licensing

Issue 041: Licensing

Welcome to the forty-first issue of De Programmatica Ipsum, dedicated to the subject of Licensing. In this edition, Graham analyzes the consequences for a society where software is distributed "AS IS"; Adrian enumerates the historical and hysterical roots of software intellectual property; and in the Library section, Graham reviews the work of Richard M. Stallman.

Fitness For Purpose

Licensing has become the major battleground of the software industry. I do not mean the petty in-fighting between the advocates for copyleft and non-copyleft free software licences, nor the Humpty-dumptyism of the debate over "free software" versus "open source software". I do not even mean the blood-stained hills where stand the encampments of the open source and the proprietary software warriors. The battle I refer to is the decades-long combat between programmers on the one side, and their sponsors and clients on the other. The war the software industry wages against its own user.

The Conquest Of Code

In June 1976, Li-Chen Wang published a new version of Tiny BASIC, making it free to copy for all hobbyists in the Homebrew Computer Club, including Bill Gates. The license text of that Tiny BASIC for the Altair was "©Copyleft–All Wrongs Reserved", one of the earliest examples of the real struggle felt by early practicioners trying to understand how to distribute software properly, legally, and maybe even, profitably.

Richard Matthew Stallman

It would be inappropriate to have an issue on software licensing without including one of the people whose work has done most to shape the topic. Somehow we managed not to mention him by name in the issue on Free, Libre, and Open Source Software. Well, today we correct that.

Back to top