Licenses are not a useful way to define modern open source anymore.
I hate the term “open source”
Nadia Eghbal

As is often the case, the points you think people will talk about get overlooked in favor of the points you didn’t expect them to notice quite so much. In response to this post, a lot of people are talking about licenses. I’d like to annotate a bit here.

So that there is no further confusion…


The second sentence in this paragraph matters more than the first, and I explicitly wrote it so that people would NOT think that I didn’t think licenses matter. Licenses matter in the same way that it matters that a startup is set up as a C Corp if they plan to take venture. If a startup was set up as an LLC, or had no legal entity at all, I’d be like “yo, startup, get your legal shit in order before you wreck yourself”.

But if you asked someone to define what a startup is, they’d probably say something like “an early stage, high growth company”. C Corp would not be part of that definition. It’s more like, when you start a company, someone along the way is gonna be like “you have to make it a C Corp”. And you’ll say, “ok”.

That’s how I envision public software’s relationship to licenses. You start a public software project and someone’s like “hey, put a license on that, it’s really important”. And you say, “ok”. And you just fucking do it, because that’s what you do.

My point was that there seems an aspect of open source CULTURE that is systematically excluded by historical interpretations of open source.

I’m interested in figuring out a term that feels inclusive, easy to grok, and free of political baggage. That comes from me spending hundreds of hours trying to talk to ALL sorts of people about open source: business, gov’t, VCs, software co’s, non-software co’s, old school developers, new school developers, other types of open source contributors, my friends, my parents. Because it is clear to me that the word right now is not adequately serving the wider community of people who have adopted it.

Those are my interests. Licenses will not, and should not, go away from that conversation. (I’ll say it one more time in case you missed it: PUT A F’IN LICENSE ON YOUR PROJECT. YOU NEED THAT SHIT.) It’s just a separate conversation from culture. And right now those two things are VERY intertwined under the word “open source”.