Embracing Freedom with the MIT and BSD Licenses

30 November 2023

Open source software has become an integral part of the modern programming landscape, fostering collaboration, innovation, and the sharing of knowledge. One crucial aspect of open source development lies in the choice of licensing, as it defines how software can be used, modified, and distributed. Among the various open source licenses, the MIT License and the BSD group of licenses stand out for their permissiveness and freedom-respecting nature, offering developers a flexible framework that encourages widespread adoption. In this article, we will delve into why the MIT and BSD licenses are often considered more permissive and freedom-oriented than the GNU General Public License (GPL) and how this choice benefits the programming community.

Understanding License Types

Before delving into the specifics of each license, it's essential to grasp the fundamental differences between permissive and copyleft licenses. Permissive licenses, such as the MIT License and the BSD licenses, allow users to do almost anything they want with the code, including using it in proprietary software, with minimal restrictions. On the other hand, copyleft licenses, like the GPL, mandate that any derivative work must also be distributed under the same license, ensuring that modifications to the code remain open source.

The MIT License: Minimalism and Flexibility

The MIT License, short for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology License, is a concise and permissive open source license. One of its primary strengths lies in its brevity and simplicity. The license essentially grants users the freedom to use, modify, and distribute the software, with minimal restrictions.

One key advantage of the MIT License is that it imposes very few obligations on developers. Users are only required to include the original copyright notice and disclaimer in any substantial portions of the software. This simplicity makes the MIT License a popular choice for developers who want to share their code while allowing others maximum freedom in how they use it.

Microsoft's Visual Studio Code (VSCode) is a prominent example of a project licensed under the MIT License. The permissiveness of the MIT License aligns with Microsoft's strategy to encourage broad adoption and collaboration within the developer community. VSCode's success illustrates how a permissive license can foster widespread use and contributions, transcending traditional boundaries.

The BSD Licenses: Fine-Tuning Permissiveness

The BSD group of licenses, including the 2-clause and 3-clause variants, share the permissive spirit of the MIT License but offer a slightly different approach. Like the MIT License, the BSD licenses grant users the freedom to use, modify, and distribute the software, but they include an additional clause addressing the use of the project's name or contributors' names for endorsement purposes.

The FreeBSD operating system, a Unix-like operating system descended from the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD), is an example of a project licensed under the BSD 2-clause license. The BSD licenses have played a significant role in the development of networking and server technologies, contributing to the foundation of the internet itself.

The permissiveness of the BSD licenses makes them suitable for a wide range of applications, including both open source and proprietary projects. This flexibility has led to the incorporation of BSD-licensed components into various commercial products, showcasing how permissive licenses can facilitate collaboration between the open source and commercial sectors.

GPL: Copyleft's Ideological Stand

In contrast to the permissive nature of the MIT and BSD licenses, the GNU General Public License (GPL) operates under a copyleft model. The GPL aims to ensure that any modifications or derivatives of the software remain open source, promoting the free distribution of software and preventing its integration into proprietary products without reciprocal openness.

While the GPL has been instrumental in preserving the open nature of many projects, it can be perceived as more restrictive than permissive licenses. Companies with a strong focus on proprietary software development may be deterred from using or contributing to GPL-licensed projects due to the obligation to release derivative works under the same license.

Choosing Freedom: The Advantages of Permissive Licenses

  1. Encouraging Adoption and Collaboration: Permissive licenses facilitate broader adoption and collaboration by reducing barriers to entry. Developers and organizations are more likely to engage with projects that allow flexible use, contributing to the growth of a vibrant and diverse open source ecosystem.
  2. Integration into Proprietary Software: Permissive licenses enable code reuse in both open source and proprietary projects. This flexibility attracts a broader audience, fostering cross-industry collaboration and allowing innovations to permeate various sectors without imposing ideological restrictions.
  3. Commercial Opportunities: The permissiveness of the MIT and BSD licenses opens doors to commercial opportunities. Companies can leverage open source components in their proprietary products without the constraints of copyleft obligations, striking a balance between open collaboration and proprietary development.


While both permissive and copyleft licenses have their merits, the permissiveness of licenses like the MIT License and the BSD licenses offers distinct advantages for the programming community. The flexibility and minimal constraints of these licenses encourage collaboration, innovation, and the integration of open source components into a wide array of projects, including proprietary ones. Microsoft's VSCode and the FreeBSD operating system stand as prime examples of how permissive licenses can drive the success of widely adopted and influential projects.

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