Free Software Across Cultures

28 May 2014

License proliferation hurts the free software community. I've detailed why I think the free software community is prone to write amateur licenses, and why writing Yet Another license is a bad idea.

Having lived in the Middle East and worked in the technology sector there I hope to provide some further insight by drawing from personal experience.

Let's stipulate that you are gainfully employed at a technology company, involved in product development and wish to advocate for the use of free software within the company and in the company's products.

Imagine yourself in a board room with project directors, PR personnel, the QA team, several people from the purchases and acquisitions department and perhaps a programmer or two. Your job is to explain to this motley crew what is software freedom, why we all need it and why it's important enough to make a 2 hour afternoon project status meeting even longer. Your chance to have free software adopted depends on your ability to make a concise and convincing argument which everyone involved can readily understand.

Now imagine the same exact scenario, only that nobody in the room is a native English speaker. That the culture and history of everyone there is fundamentally and uniquely different than that of an American, French or English person. The words in the free software license you need to explain will at best have different meaning and at worse have no direct translation to your local language. If all that wasn't enough, the local legal system may very well have little in common with that of the country where the free software license in question was written. Making your concise and convincing argument has just turned from a challenge to the rhetorical equivalent of Hannibal crossing the Alps; you need to maneuver a lot of information over huge obstacles and still be effective once you get to the other side.

This underscores why we need to support the best licenses and reject the rest. We need to advocate for software freedom, and within the hacker community we need to advocate for licenses which will support free software developers no matter where their are. When you are advocating for licensing software under the terms of a well understood and internationalized license like the GNU GPL, you may be making all the difference to someone who will one day try to get that free software adopted somewhere half a world away.