A comparative ethical assessment of free software licensing schemes

Samir Chopra
Brooklyn College (CUNY)
Software is much more than sequences of instructions for a computing machine: it can be an enabler (or disabler) of political imperatives and policies. Hence, it is subject to the same assessment in a normative dimension as other political and social phenomena. The core distinction between free software and its proprietary counterpart is that free software makes available to its user the knowledge and innovation contributed by the creator(s) of the software, in the form of the created source code. From an ethical perspective, one of the most pressing questions raised by this form of collaboration is the question of the rights, and the restrictions on them, that are passed on to users and collaborators by the creators of programs. That is, what freedoms do software users deserve, and how can they best be protected? In this study we analyze free software licensing schemes in order to determine which most effectively protects such freedoms. We conclude that so-called copyleft licensing schemes are the morally superior alternative.
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