I’d like more open source work in the world because people benefit from technology faster when they don’t have to ask permission. But open source is not the default, it’s opt-in (at least for digital things like software), so we have to actively explain why it’s a worthy action to take.
Working on github is a great first step since it makes the project easy to discover. However, I suspect a big part of the reason most people don’t pick a license is that they just want to use the tool itself for their work and they don’t really expect “rights” to be important enough to think about. The legal default is to reserve all rights, which saves the author the effort of thinking about it, but it creates a barrier to everyone else building off that thing.
I suspect creators are ambivalent about the theoretical value of their work. The long tail of open source is made up of a string of small, marginally useful bits of work. By relinquishing individual rights we free up that work to be aggregated and made more useful. That’s great for the person who finishes the project, and good for the world, but it doesn’t mean much for the individual developers.
Maybe we can encourage more active licensing by pointing out that just putting an open source license on the work lowers the barriers for hundreds or thousands of other people.
- “GitHub has made significant efforts to get its developers to thoughtfully license their software, but most developers still don’t bother. This can create problems for those that choose to deploy this seemingly unlicensed software.”
- “GitHub, more than any other code repository, put code first…But one of the potential pitfalls in this easy experience is that most GitHub developers continue to ignore open source.
- “A mere 14.9% of projects on GitHub in 2013 identified a license at all.”
- “All software, whether explicitly licensed or not, carries a copyright. That’s just how copyright law works.”
- “The more popular code…will generally find its way to a mainstream license, because enough people will get involved that expect mainstream licensing behavior.”