Free Software Foundation updates their licensing materials, adds Commons Clause and Fraunhofer FDK AAC license

3 min read

Last week, the free software foundation updated the list of their licensing materials. They have added two licenses to their list of various Licenses including the Commons Clause, and the Fraunhofer FDK AAC license. They have also updated their article on license compatibility and relicensing and added a new entry to the frequently asked questions about the GNU Licenses.

Commons Clause

Commons Clause is added to their list of non-free licenses. This license is added to an existing free license to prevent using the work commercially, rendering the work nonfree. By making commons clause as non-free, FSF recommends users to fork software using it. So, if a previously existing project that was under a free license adds the Commons Clause, users should work to fork that program and continue using it under the free license. If it isn’t worth forking, users should simply avoid the package.

This move by FSF sparked a controversy that the Commons Clause piggybacks on top of existing free software licenses and thus could mislead users to think that software using it is free software when it’s, in fact, proprietary by their definitions.

However, others found the combination of a free software license + Commons Clause to be very compelling.

A hacker news user pointed out, “I’m willing to grant to the user every right offered by free software licenses with the exception of rights to commercial use. If that means my software has to be labeled as proprietary by the FSF, so be it, but at the same time I’d prefer not to mislead users into thinking my software is being offered under a vanilla free software license.

Another said, “I don’t know there is any controversy as such. The FSF is doing its job and reminding everyone that freedom includes the freedom to make money.

If your software is licensed under something that includes the Commons Clause then it isn’t free software, because users are not free to do what they want with it.

The Fraunhofer FDK AAC license

FSF has also added the Fraunhofer FDK AAC license to their list of licenses. This is a free license, incompatible with any version of the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL).

However, it comes with an advice of caution. While the Fraunhofer provides a copyright license, it explicitly declines to grant any patent license. In fact, it directs users to contact them to obtain a patent license. Users should act with caution in determining whether they feel comfortable using works under this license.

Other changes

FSF has also added a new section to their article on License Compatibility and Relicensing, addressing combinations of code. This section was announced in September and helps users in simplifying the picture when dealing with a project that combines code under multiple compatible licenses. They have also added a new entry to their FAQs. It explains what the GNU GPL says about translating code into another programming language.

Read more about the news on FSF Blog.

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