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Please don't be a donkus with your code

This post should be treated as an historical artifact. It probably contain broken external links and it may no longer reflect my views or opinions.

First, some background…

About two weeks ago, Dan Langille sent me a short email. He just wanted to to let me know that he was about to post a bit on his personal blog about mod_watch, and that he was going to try to generate some community interest in getting it working properly. His post goes into more detail than I’m willing to about the short­comings of mod_watch but the important part is that I main­tained an unsanc­tioned Github mirror of mod_watch because it’s a tool that I found useful; Dan wanted to reference my repos­itory as a starting point for the work, and I had no problem with this.

After some conver­sation, Dan pointed out that the license for mod_watch was unusually prohib­itive. The real sticking point is:

Non-commercial redis­tri­b­ution, including but not limited to mirrors, archives, collec­tions, bundles, CDROMS, of derived binaries is NOT permitted without the prior written permission in hardcopy (letter or fax) from the author.

The emphasis is mine, but the gist of it is that anything inter­esting you might want to do (like make it work with a version of Apache HTTPD released after 2005 and distribute your work as anything but a stand-alone patch set) will require written permission from Anthony C. Howe, and he’s shut down his Apache module archive:

Snert’s Apache modules currently CLOSED to the public until further notice. Ques­tions as to why or requests for archives are ignored.

OK, well, so what?

Figuring that while it didn’t look promising but having nothing to lose, I reached out to Anthony via Twitter, as he’s a regular tweeter and I asked some reasonable questions:

And that brings me to the point that I wanted to make…

Your work lives on beyond you.

I’m not the sort of self-entitled Generation-Y dick who thinks that if you release code, art, or music out into the wild that you now and forever owe some­thing to the people who use your work1. I believe in strong Creators Rights and I view source code through the same lens as comic book char­acters and literary work.

Mr. Howe licensed his work the way he saw fit, and he even­tually decided that he wanted it to dry up and die; if he’d never published his work, maybe it would have. That’s his right, but it’s also funda­men­tally selfish in the same way as _why the lucky stiff nuking his entire presence on the internet from orbit2. I’d go so far as to say that when you release some­thing out into the public and then try to claw it back or kill it (or worse, try to pull a Ministry of Truth so your work never existed), then congrat­u­la­tions! You’re a donkus.

Don’t be a donkus with your source code. I don’t have the intel­lectual where­withal to take this to a Stallman-like conclusion but when you release source code out into the public, people are going to build from your work. They might do things with it beyond what you intended, and histor­i­cally that right has been well protected: see the Center for Social Media & a plain-english breakdown here. When you’re a donkus, you hurt the people you were maybe trying to help and you guar­antee a short lifespan for your work. You foster bad-will and you make it impos­sible for others to build off the work you gave them. None of us is working in a vacuum here – We’re all standing on the shoulders of giants.

You’re not building solu­tions when you’re a donkus: you’re gener­ating problems.

I don’t need a problem generator in my life – I’m already married and everyday, problems. I can think of a few really inter­esting uses of mod_watch, and I won’t use it for absolutely any of them. Maybe that’s what Anthony C. Howe intended. But an unin­ten­tional side-effect is that when I need an Apache module developer to build custom func­tion­ality into a commercial system (fun fact: that’s some­thing I actually need at The Day Job) his name won’t even be at the bottom of the list: I don’t have time to work with donkuses.

Don’t be a donkus. Karma is real.

  1. Finn & Some Donkus used without permission. © man, I have no idea. Fred­erator Studios? Cartoon Network? Pendleton Ward? Thanks to any and all who made this image possible. ↩︎

  2. See also this Slate article about _why. ↩︎