Ben Laurie blathering

Is The GPL Open Source’s DRM?

I was trying to explain the difference between BSD and GPL to a non-open source person the other day and halfway through I suddenly realised that what I was saying sounded just like DRM.

What does DRM do? It seeks to control the ways in which the recipient of some content can use that content.

What does the GPL do? It seeks to control the ways in which the recipient of some code can use that code.

Just sayin’.


  1. That’s a bit of an oversimplification IMHO. DRM removes rights we’d normally have whereas the GPL gives us rights we normally _wouldn’t_ have (because of automatic copyright). Big difference. DRM adds restrictions, GPL removes restrictions (copying, modifying, etc). It just doesn’t remove as many restrictions as the BSD license, in order to make sure that those restrictions the GPL removes will remain removed. In contrast, the BSD license allows these restrictions to be placed back on a BSD-licensed work, making the additional rights granted by the license mute. So actually, the BSD license allows for (the possibility of) more restrictions.

    Comment by Ferry Boender — 8 Nov 2007 @ 7:49

  2. I hope this doesn’t make it on slashdot 😛

    Comment by Chris — 8 Nov 2007 @ 8:54

  3. Hmm, the way I think of it is that BSD is about software for hardware hackers while the GPL is about hardware for software hackers. That is, BSD advocates assume that software is independent of any hardware and that hardware can always be replaced, while GPL advocates assume it’s critically important to be able to modify the software that comes with the hardware you have, even if that restricts developers. This nicely explains the difference in attitude towards Tivoization.

    Comment by Brian Slesinsky — 8 Nov 2007 @ 10:37

  4. Non-open source persons prefer the WTFPL to either one.

    Comment by Dalibor Topic — 8 Nov 2007 @ 13:19

  5. That’s an unfair comparison on two important counts: the GPL doesn’t enforce anything by blunt technical means, and, more importantly, it never prevents you from *using* the software in any way you see fit. It’s only when you redistribute the software that there are legal restrictions.

    Comment by Ben Adida — 8 Nov 2007 @ 22:51

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress