MIT Licensed Software: Fashionable Or Dead by@rndhouse

MIT Licensed Software: Fashionable Or Dead

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rndhouse

Complex Systems.

The MIT License is broken. It leads to situations like this:

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To be fair, the license has also led to incredible innovations and benefits. But it doesn’t play out well over the long term. Its weakness is most palpable in projects which have fallen out of fashion yet are also part of the bedrock of digital infrastructure. Log4j2 is a prime example.

Fashionable Or Dead

The only options for funding MIT Licensed projects are donations or sponsorship. The license prohibits forcing businesses to pay for use. This arrangement does not work well for unfashionable but valuable projects. These projects exist on the long tail of the attention distribution.

Selecting projects or developers for sponsorship is an attention game. That’s why only Michael, Glenn, and Matt sponsored Ralph Goers to maintain Log4j2 before the security vulnerability was found. But now, since the news drew massive public attention, Ralph has 110 sponsors.

Well done, case closed, let’s all go home.

Wrong. The funding mechanism is still broken.

It still misses the long tail of attention. It is still reactive rather than proactive.

A Path Forward

We need a funding mechanism that targets use rather than attention. It also needs to encourage proactive maintenance. And the simplest way to encourage proactive maintenance is to have a funding source that can shift to a competitor.

The path forwards requires innovation. We have to invent new technologies which solve the problem. Licensing is a technology. And its ability to express healthier agreements at scale needs to improve.

My attempt at that solution is the OpenFare License. It’s a lot like the MIT License. The code can be modified, forked, reproduced, executed, and compiled without restriction by anyone. With two exceptions:

  1. Commercial users are subject to payment plans defined in code.
  2. The license and payment plans can only be modified by the license copyright holder.

I’ve written an introduction to OpenFare here.

Key to this idea is the OpenFare tool which can parse payment plans and therefore manage payment obligations at scale. This is an important factor because it allows payment plans to be customizable to an extent that is only constrained by their legibility to the tool. It also means that long-tail projects can be funded by micropayments.

This shift of licensing from a static medium to a dynamic medium means that project maintainers can better negotiate their position.

Onwards!

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