I’m going to be doing one (and possibly more) AMAs on the worst(?) topic in open source. That’s right... licensing!
You are immediately saying WHHHYYYYY. And let’s be honest, some days I have the same response.
Indeed, in other contexts, such as an upcoming training for lawyers, these days I’m rarely talking about licensing, instead focusing on diversity, inclusion, and sustainability. So why a licensing webinar/AMA, now?
So why a licensing webinar/AMA?
The short summary is that licenses are dull—but also irreplaceable governance infrastructure for the FOSS ecosystem. And many people (both bizfolks and developers) still know very little about them, causing all sorts of pains, mostly small—but sometimes very, very big.
Let’s unpack that in a little more depth.
First, not everyone is bored! If you’re an old hand, and have been doing this for a decade or two, it can be easy to forget that there are millions of open source newbies who are genuinely intrigued by how this all works. In part because some of us find this tedious, the inner working can be obscure sometimes. (I almost derailed a sales call last week because of curious questions from engineers—they really were excited to pick my brain on legal concepts that most lawyers find elementary or just plain full.)
Second, even when it genuinely is dull, it still matters. For better or for worse (often for worse!) it is hard for companies to be involved in FOSS without licenses. Having a basic understanding of why the licenses are important is useful to grokking the broader non-licensing world of open source.
You can also Google a lot of licensing rules of thumb. They’re helpful, economically rational (perfection is expensive!) and often accurate enough for most businesses and developers. But with a deeper understanding of open source licenses, one can apply them more confidently and effectively, and I hope to start getting into those rules of thumb (either in this seminary or in a future one!).
Finally, knowing why the “experts” generally find licenses tedious can help FOSS contributors understand what non-licensing tools are appropriate, and why; and perhaps even help us understand when licenses might still be the right tool.
Anyway, that’s enough to have convinced me that it’s still a good idea to talk about and educate people on licensing, andI suspect once I get in the groove there will be more.
I hope to make this AMA accessible and interesting (despite the title!) so, again, feel free to sign up here: