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All content by Kyle E. Mitchell, who is not your attorney.

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Open HandicapsDid permissive used to advantage open work like copyleft does today?

Hypothesis: Prior to widespread industry adoption of open source, when most companies banned open source software entirely by contract terms and corporate policies, release of software under even permissive open source licenses like MIT and BSD gave open developers and allied companies competitive advantage. Open-movement developers could use software that industry at large would not. Now that industry, and especially the software industry, broadly accepts open source software under permissive licenses, only strong copyleft licenses still preference open development over closed.

Putting it the other way around: Early in open source history, permissive licenses shared much of the same open-promoting benefit of copyleft licenses, practically if not legally, because practically speaking industry couldn’t tell the legal difference. Willingness to use open source code gave open developers and the companies they founded a handicap, propping them up against more powerful, incumbent competitors. But industry got wise and began distinguishing permissive from copyleft terms, operationally. The permissive-license open source handicap fell away. Only copyleft license choices continue to nurture and protect open projects and companies.

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