Free World Licence

Other Free Software Licences

There is now a wide variety of free software licences to choose from. This page contains a brief description of some of the more popular ones. This is not intended to be a comprehensive description or analysis. It's really just a brief list to jog your memory.

Apache Licence: The Apache licence is a very simple open-ended licence that contains a few protective mechanisms for the Apache developers (e.g. protecting the name Apache, no-warranty clause), but otherwise allows the software to be used, forked and sold at will.

Artistic Licence: The Artistic Licence was created by Larry Wall for the release of PERL. It is designed to allow variations of the released software flourish while protecting the integrity of the official version. Unfortunately, this licence has significant well-known defects (that I can't remember right now :-)

BSD Licence: This famous licence is similar to the Apache licence. It essentially says that the original copyright notices on the software must be retained, but otherwise lets the user do what they like with the software, including creating proprietary commercial versions.

GNU GPL: This is the gold standard of free software licences and apparently has over 60% of "market share" (i.e. 60% of programs released under free software licences were released under the GNU GPL). This licence provides strong protection against the proprietarization of the software and addresses issues such as patents and commercial distribution for a copying fee. If you want your software to be free, you should start with this licence and see if you can come up with a reason for changing to another licence.

GNU LGPL: This is the same as the GNU GPL except that it allows the software to be linked into commercial proprietary software. Use this licence if you are creating a software library that you do not want anyone to sell, but which you wish to make available for use by proprietary software vendors.

Netscape Public Licence (NPL): This monster licence was created by Netscape when it took Netscape Navigator open source. It allows modifications made to the software by third parties to be privatized by the original software creator. This makes this licence unpleasant to hackers. This licence was tailored for Netscape Communications's particular requirements and is unsuitable for use by others.

Mozilla Public Licence (MPL): This licence is much the same as the NPL except that it does not allow the software creator to take private modifications made to the software by third parties. This licence is more acceptable to hackers than the NPL.

Public Domain: If it's all too hard and you don't want to think about licensing, you can "release your software into the public domain" which basically means that anyone can do anything with your software without further reference to you, including changing its attribution and creating their own proprietary version which they can sell. This is the option to choose when you've decided to become a pig farmer and you just don't care anymore.

To discuss free software licences, subscribe to the Open Source website's licence discussion list:

Licence Popularity

The following October 1999 posting to the licence-discuss list provides some statistics on the popularity of various licences in the Freshmeat website. Freshmeat carries regular announcements of new releases. These figures give a rough idea of the popularity of various licences.

Date: Fri, 15 Oct 1999 10:45:11 -0400
From: "Forrest J. Cavalier III" <>
Subject: license counts

Count of "license type" field of

15-Oct-99         4-Mar-99     License type
count   ratio   count   ratio
1       0.000   0       0.000   Eiffel Forum Freeware License
2       0.000   2       0.001   AFPL
2       0.000   0       0.000   Apache style
2       0.000   0       0.000   IBM Public License
9       0.002   2       0.001   QPL
14      0.003   7       0.003   source-available commercial
15      0.003   9       0.004   MIT
21      0.004   6       0.002   MPL
22      0.004   0       0.000   Artistic & GPL
39      0.007   10      0.004   Free Trial
48      0.009   23      0.009   Shareware
59      0.011   82      0.032   unknown
78      0.014   26      0.010   Public Domain
82      0.015   39      0.015   commercial
117     0.022   56      0.022   Artistic
171     0.031   82      0.032   BSD type
180     0.033   74      0.029   free for non-commercial use
208     0.038   92      0.036   LGPL
211     0.039   177     0.070   free to use but restricted
226     0.042   104     0.041   OpenSource
241     0.044   106     0.042   Freeware
263     0.048   118     0.047   freely distributable
3419    0.630   1510    0.598   GPL

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