Comparison of Free Software Licenses to Creative Commons

Back when I was dabbling in writing, I familiarized myself with the various Creative Commons Licenses. Now as a programmer I’m familiarizing myself with the various Free Software Licenses.

Unfortunately, the official list is worthless to someone who doesn’t already understand the differences between the basic types. In googling the issue, I found a few helpful resources: a “quick ref license chooser” which is a great idea but didn’t help this noob a whole lot, and this video from redhat entitled “Open source software licenses explained.” The video was the biggest help and is worth the 6 minutes it takes to watch.

But what I really wanted was something as simple as creative commons. But I couldn’t find one so I drew up this comparison. The licenses are obviously not the same. Nor are they compatible in many cases. This is only a loose comparison. But I’m hoping that this should still increase understanding for those coming from FSF to CC or vica versa.

  1. Attribution-Only – “permissive / non-protective” licenses, i.e. FreeBSD
  2. Attribution-ShareAlike – “copyleft / protective” licenses, i.e. GPL
  3. Attribution-NoDerivs – Here you would keep the source proprietary, but distribute the installer as freeware.

Each of these CC licenses also has a NonCommerical variant that prevents commercial use, but I couldn’t find a parallel to it in free software licenses. Why that is could probably be a whole separate blog post.

For further reading, check out this David Wheeler post on why you should use GPL for your software, the BSD licenses Wikipedia entry, the GNU instructions on how to include GPL in your project, and CC faq entry for why you can’t use a creative commons license on software.