It occurred to me that a lot of the thinking and writing we ended up doing about the standard deal for IndieCC and its predecessors was phrased in terms of who we wanted to charge, but ended up drawing lines that look an awful lot like defining who it’s practical to charge.
Independent devs and small teams aren’t going to police the Internet hunting “infringers” like the MPAA. The MPAA barely does that anymore. Nor are they going to hunt down solo devs or even medium sized firms in smaller economies who can’t afford the license fee. Even for developers in those same countries, it’s probably not cost effective. We can write a nice exception for kids and those helping kids to learn. But even if we didn’t, with the code on the open Web, any number of those are going to get their hands on the software and use it, regardless.
I don’t think these two sets of criteria—who we feel good about charging, and who it’s practical to charge—happen to coincide in covering exactly the same set of real or potential users. They’re not secret, roundabout synonyms. But the parallels gave me a prompt to think a bit more about how what’s practical in a world with the Web, and what’s not, have shaped what feels good and seems fair.
There’s a very real sense in which permissive public licenses like MIT and BSD merely put a legal stamp over what was going on with the early Internet. There’s also a real sense in which the official permissions proved overbroad, opening the way for behavior that would have been quite taboo in the social scene.
The idealist in me holds hope that more legal terms written to be read, that actively encourage reading, can help collapse the mismatch between what people want and the terms they end up using. But there are clearly other influences all around that phenomenon that also come into play. Do the license people write what the developers want, or the developers want what the license people tell them they can have?