Why so few Python jobs? (and licenses)

Paul Boddie paul at boddie.net
Tue Oct 9 15:49:42 CEST 2001

Paul Rubin <phr-n2001d at nightsong.com> wrote in message news:<7x4rp91bqh.fsf at ruckus.brouhaha.com>...
> paul at boddie.net (Paul Boddie) writes:
> > I would seriously doubt that any of the libraries distributed with
> > Python are GPL licenced. Indeed, options such as the readline module
> > remain just that: optional. So, there seems to have been an explicit
> > policy of avoiding "GPL by stealth".
> That's a good policy--whatever license one uses, it should be stated
> up front and not slipped in by stealth.

Thankfully, though, the Python maintainers are aware of the issues -
they would have to be given the Python licensing trials of the past
year or so. People in charge of projects who are less aware of the
issues might accept GPL code contributions without thinking carefully
enough about it.

> > However, there are a number of useful packages which have GPL
> > licences. I was asked to update the Python Web modules page which I
> > maintain some time ago with licence information, purely so that people
> > could see which modules/frameworks weren't worth evaluating because of
> > the licence, and there are a lot of them with GPL licences - it's
> > quite surprising.
> I don't understand why it's surprising--the GPL is by far the most
> common license on Sourceforge, so it's natural that Python module
> licenses would follow the same pattern.

It has been argued that many developers choose GPL because it is so
well-known amongst open source developers and seems the "safest"
choice. I have contributed to GPL projects, but I think it really
depends on the nature of the project as to whether GPL really works in
its favour; in one case, it's an emulator of a 1980s microcomputer,
but the licence is (in my opinion) suitable because there isn't likely
to be many "spin off" applications of that code, and it would be
unfair on the principal developer and the other contributors to allow
someone to copy it, bundle it up and sell it for profit - such an
end-user application is much more susceptible to such freeloading than
a Web framework, for example.

[GPL dynamics]

> Maybe for some but not others.  I'm far more likely to volunteer to
> contribute to a GPL'd project than a non-GPL'd one.  I have nothing
> against non-GPL'd programs, but if I'm going to do product development
> for a closed source company, I expect to get paid for it.

What interested me was the number of Web frameworks which are GPL
licenced. For example, SkunkWeb is GPL licenced whereas Webware and
Zope are not; some templating frameworks such as Wasp and Pyml are GPL
licenced whereas others are not. I'm not going to second guess the
rationale for such licencing amongst the maintainers of the various
packages, but I can see a number of reasons for going either way:

  * Going GPL means that no-one is going to take your work, enhance
    it, and then keep those enhancements private, thus getting the
    benefits of your work while you don't get the benefits of theirs.
    However, people might be concerned about which code is covered by
    such a licence in certain frameworks - what constitutes enhancing
    the framework and what constitutes application code? Maintainers
    need to be explicit about the issues in a way that is clear to

  * Going with a different licence means that developers may be less
    reluctant to use your work, but they could exploit you as
    described above. However, it becomes less likely, in my opinion,
    that as the community grows with a particular framework, people
    are going to add some exotic feature to that framework and keep
    it private, partly because the community around that framework
    is likely to provide a valuable source of advice, complementary
    enhancements and sanity checking, as well as being itself a
    source of wider deployment and therefore wider testing.

Another issue (which applies to both kinds of licences, but
particularly to the GPL) is whether employees of the corporate world
are "allowed" to contribute code to open source projects, particularly
when such code may never again be used to form the basis of a closed
source product.

I rather feel that a number of people who choose non-GPL licencing for
their projects probably want to make money from their work without
scaring potential customers away. Other contributors may be thinking
more about what they themselves can gain by contributing rather than
what the others are getting out of such contributions. Therefore, it's
really a case of everyone adding to the value of the project and then
making use of that combined value, rather than believing that they are
working for others for nothing.

Perhaps non-GPL projects really only entice "really interested"
parties who either see revenue opportunities or academic fulfilment in
participating in such projects. I don't think this is a bad thing at


P.S. And I haven't even considered issues such as why there are so
many Python-in-HTML/HTML-in-Python modules around. Perhaps some
licence investigation may reveal why this is.

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