Top 5 open source licenses trends

Everybody has a favorite database project. Well, most of you do anyway… If you do, you may feel protective about what people can and cannot do with it. That usually comes down to the open source license. And man, licenses can get people’s backs up, so it’s good to know where things are headed when you’re picking a license for a project or just trying to understand what’s out there. Thankfully the folks at WhiteSource do a deep dive each year to let us know what’s happening with all the open source packages and files in their database. Here are five trends to know about open source licenses.

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  1. Permissive licenses are on the rise. In 2012, 59% of components’ licenses were copyleft and 41% permissive. In 2019, that has fully swung the other way with 67% of components having permissive licenses and 33% copyleft. Permissive licenses face few restrictions on how others can use components.
  2. MIT was the most popular license in 2019 at 27%. The MIT license lets folks do almost anything they want with the code as long as they attribute it and don’t hold you liable.
  3. Apache 2.0 jumped over GPL 3.0 in 2017 to number two and it’s still there with 23%. It gives you patent rights while allowing modifications and distribution of larger works under different terms and without source code.
  4. The GPL licenses keep declining. Once the undisputed most popular, only GPLv2 stayed steady at 10% from 2018 to 2019. LGPLv2.1 fell from six to 5% and GPLv3 dropped from 16% to 13%. Every project using GPL code must also use a GPL license to release its source code.
  5. No new licenses made the list in 2019. Lots of organizations and, especially cloud projects, are experimenting with new licenses. It’s only a matter of time before we see a new open source license develop and gain some traction.

The more things change, the more they really change. I used to know people who thought the Apache license was evil. I’m very curious if something that is neither copyleft nor permissive arises. Stay tuned!

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