Software doesn't grow on trees. Perl is free because of the donated efforts of several generous persons who have devoted large chunks of their spare time to the development, maintenance, and evangelism of Perl.
Perl itself was created by Larry Wall, in an effort to produce reports for a bug-reporting system. Larry designed a new scripting language for this purpose, and then released it to the Internet, thinking that someone else might find it useful. In the spirit of freeware, other people suggested improvements and even ways to implement them, and Perl transformed from a cute scripting language into a robust programming language.
Today, Larry does little actual development himself, but he is the ringleader of a core development team known as the Perl Porters. The Porters determine which new features should be added and which pesky bugs should be fixed. To keep it from being a free-for-all, there is generally one person who is responsible for delivering the next release of Perl, with several "development releases" in the interim.