What is “ethical source”? How is it different from open source? What is an Ethical License for Open Source, and how is it different from an open source license? Why do we need this?

What is “ethical source”?

Ethical source is software source code that meets the criteria of the Ethical Source Principles. Ethical source benefits the commons, is developed in the open, fosters a welcoming and just community (with an enforced code of conduct), puts accessibility first, and protects user safety and privacy.

By meeting these criteria, the authors of ethical source software actively consider the community they’re creating, their collaborators, users, and the people impacted by the use of their software.

Back to top.

How is it different from open source?

Open source and ethical source are not mutually exclusive — developers can adopt and benefit from both.

Open source values transparency and openness of source code as a social good. This applies to the development side: source code is developed in the open and anyone with the necessary knowledge can access the source, distribute it, and extend it.

Open source does not require developers to consider the effects of their software’s use. Ethical source considers the safety and well-being of anyone subject to the software’s use. The Open Source Initiative’s Open Source Definition does not include such consideration.

Ethical source projects emphasize social good from the development of the source code through its use in the world to ensure that no harm is done. This means that open source can be ethical source if the developers follow both the Open Source Definition and the Ethical Source Principles.

Back to top.

What is an Ethical License for Open Source, and how is it different from an open source license?

Ethical source licensing uses copyright to ensure certain ethical principles are met and to prevent ethical source from being used for specific forms of harm.

This is similar to the way the GNU GPL uses copyright to ensure that GPL’ed source can only be used in adherence to GNU philosophy. Like the GPL, ethical Licenses for may not conform to the OSI’s specific licensing criteria.

Some examples of ethical source licenses include the Hippocratic license, the Anti 996 license, and the At The Root Anti-Racist license. Our licenses page lists more, and we have an incubator for supporting the development of new ones.

Back to top.

Why do we need this?

We as software developers cannot be neutral or naïve about the work that software does in the world. We are implicated in the social outcomes the usage of our software creates. Just as open source software acknowledges that there is social value in the development of software in the open, ethical source acknowledges there is social value in software avoiding harm.

Ethical source is a starting point to addressing the social impacts of using our software.

Back to top.

Still have questions? Get in touch!

Learn More