Toward a Broad Ethical Software Licensing CoalitionWe are passionate about and dedicated to the cause of software freedom and rights because proprietary software harmfully takes control of and agency
in software away from users. In 2014, we started talking about FOSS as fundamental to “ethical software” (and, more broadly “ethical technology”) — which contrasts FOSS with the unethical behavior that Big Tech carries out with proprietary software.
Some FOSS critics (circa 2018) coined the phrase “ethical source” — which outlined a new approach to these issues — based on the assumption that software freedom activists were inherently complicit in the bad behavior of Big Tech and other bad actors since the inception of FOSS. These folks
argue that copyleft
— the only form of software licensing that makes any effort to place
ethical and moral requirements on FOSS redistributors/reusers — has
fundamentally ignored the larger problems of society such as
human rights abuses and unbridled capitalism. They propose new copyleft-like licenses, which, rather than focusing on the requirement of disclosure of source
code, they instead use the mechanisms of copyleft to mandate behaviors in areas
of ethics generally unrelated to software. For example, the Hippocratic
License molds a copyleft clause into a
generalized mechanism for imposing a more comprehensive moral code on
software redistributors/re-users. In essence, they argue that copylefted software (such as software under the GPL) is unethical software. This criticism of copyleft reached crescendo in the last three weeks as
pundits began to criticize FOSS licenses for failing to prohibit Putin from potentially using FOSS in his Ukrainian invasion or other bad acts.