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Recently there has been a lot of discussion about 996.ICU and this has highlighted an uneasy feeling I've had about Open Source for a very long time.

The Open Source Initiative publishes the Open Source Definition which defines, amongst others, the following criteria for a license to be considered Open Source:

  1. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups The license must not discriminate against any person or group of persons.
  2. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.

These criteria were originally derived from the Debian Free Software Guidelines.

I write Open Source Software (OSS) for fun, not profit. I've written a lot of code that is useless even to me and given it away to see if anything interesting happens to it. I'm not a member of the Apache Foundation or the Mozilla Foundation, although I think those organisations do great work.

People write OSS for a lot of reasons; for the lols, to learn new things, to be part of a community, because they need it for their job or just because they can. There are as many motivations for writing and giving away software as there are people doing it.

Writing OSS has always been a political act. When Richard Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation he was making a political statement. That political statement represents his desire for universal freedom to study, distribute, create, and modify computer software. The OSI was founded by Bruce Perens and another guy whose name I won't mention because he's so toxic. I don't find it surprising that our "global movement" of giving away software for free has been framed by cisgender, heterosexual white dudes from the east coast of the United States. It has been said that the ability to write and contribute to OSS requires a certain level of privilege - enough spare time and resources to participate without negatively impacting your work or family life, for example - as such it's hardly surprising that the roots of our movement stem from a place of wealth and have a weirdly American flavoured libertarian bent.

So here's where I'm at: I want to write software and give it away for free. I want my friends or complete strangers on the internet to use my software for wonderful and surprising things. I even want people to build businesses using it if they can think of a way to do that. However, there are things I want to limit: I want to stop companies which mistreat their labour force, damage the environment or public health, discriminate against people, or make weapons from using my software. These are my core beliefs. Why shouldn't I be allowed to use a license that reflects them, when the licenses endorsed by the so-called Open Source Definition or Free Software Foundation so obviously reflect the beliefs of those that founded those organisations?

The idea of adding limits to open source licenses, other than those which enable derivative works to stay open source has been seen as taboo in our community. Why is this and what can we do about it?

Update 5th June 2019:

I've only just found out about the Do No Harm software license. I like it.

Update August 2023:

I'm in the process of migrating all of my open source work to the Hippocratic License.