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07 June 2011, 10:37

Analyst: Copyleft in decline

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FOSS icon In a posting on the 451 Group's blog, Matthew Aslett presents an analysis that says there is a trend towards permissive, non-copyleft licensing. The topic has come to the fore since Oracle announced it was donating the source code to the Apache Software Foundation and relicensing it under the permissive Apache Software Licence 2.0. In the ensuing debate, the merits of permissive non-copyleft licences like the ASL 2.0 versus reciprocal copyleft licences like the GPL and LGPL came up. Aslett took the opportunity to gather some data.

The first data set he refers to is Black Duck Software's often contentious statistics. The numbers show that as a share of open source projects, GPLv2 has fallen from 58% in 2008 to 45%, while the GPL family of licences has fallen from 70% in 2008 to 61%. Aslett notes though that the number of projects using GPL licences is still increasing and shows a 29% growth over the same period. But on the same basis, Apache licensed projects grew by 46% and MIT licensed projects grew by 152%.

Using the 451 Group's own data on vendors, Aslett looked at open source companies and, charting the year of their creation and licensing, he found that, in 2010, for the first time vendors who engaged with open source projects were more likely to engage with non-copylefted projects. Further filtering of the data shows that where the projects were community led, significantly more companies have formed around them, and that even when vendor-led projects – a traditional stronghold of strong-copyleft – were analysed, non-copylefted projects were on the rise there too, although not yet dominant.

Aslett believes that companies are now trying to balance collaborative development through open source and the ability to create closed source derivatives and "That is why, in my opinion, the decline of the copyleft licenses has only just begun".


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