GPL really free was Re: [Fsfe-ie] 1-page letter, faxes at the ready (IFSO, irish org)

David Golden david at
Fri Sep 26 15:26:33 CEST 2003

[Niall] > > I'll take this off list

I'd rather you didn't.  I like to keep correspondence arising from 
mailing-lists on-list unless it's definitely off-topic (aside: I detest being 
CC'd on posts if I'm subscribed to the mailing list...) Otherwise, I'd have 
to make many more mail-filtering rules, just to keep discussion threads 
together, not to mention the greater opportunity for misrepresentation if 
discussions aren't publically archived.  

> Can you guys keep this on list?  I'd be interested in the debate.


> I for one interpret the GPL as a social construct.  It's intended to
> build a community of people who study, modify and redistribute
> software.  I also think that it is commercially exploitable (I'm
> organising a lecture by a CEO who _believes_ in Free Software).

It is commercially exploitable, you just need to provide solutions and 
services, and, while people don't have more bandwidth than you could shake a  
at, you can even get away with packaged products in a shiny box.

Alternatively, something I like less, but it is hardly invalid, and also a 
point that Niall seems to have missed in my first reading (skimming) of his 
proposed "tornado fair use license":
[ ]

One can dual-license - there is nothing in the current western legal framework 
really stopping the original copyright holder of GPL software negotiating 
alternative licensing with interested parties - the original copyright holder 
can release under whatever terms he wants, even multiple different licenses.  
In fact, that seems relatively fair to me, and perhaps to Niall (?)  - those 
who abide by the GPL get to use it for free, those that seek exploitation via 
more restrictive copyright assertions have to negotiate alternative terms 
with the copyright holder, such as a cut of the profit.  There's simply no 
need for some wierd and definitely legally dubious (IANAL, blah, blah) 
license such as Niall's proposal, even if you want to allow proprietary
use of the code.

Niall suggests those wishing to disallow proprietary use under his license 
could set a prohibitvely high monetary price, but one man's high price is 
another's pocket change.   Anyway, I certainly don't ascribe to the 
simplistic and grade-school-capitalist theory that it is valid to assign 
everything a single predefined monetary price, and would rather negotiate on 
a case-by-case basis for monetary or non-monetary compensation...

This negates, as far as I am concerned, most of the reasoning behind Niall's 
proposed license, and certainly seems to have worked okay for Troll, Aladdin, 

I also disgagree strongly with his assertion that free software inhibits 
blue-sky research and entreprenuerialism:

What's inhibiting my entrepreneurialism at the moment is the fact that some 
jackass american do-nothing company might soon have a legal right in europe 
to shut down any company I consider forming by "patent" rights that didn't 
even exist a couple of years ago.  As a cold-hearted mostly-capitalist (not 
fascist/corporatist, though), I regard government-enforced copyright and 
patent as annoying interference with the free market in physical items. 

The very phrase "intellectual property" is a propaganda term, as RMS points 
out - it is simply not the case that information is even remotely like 
physical property, at least for the present and in macroscopic human life - 
it is only even vaguely "property" in the twisted legal sense that property 
is a result of law, not a beginning.

 Software, just like mathematics (gee, because it IS mathematics), and unlike 
many other fields, requires little or no capital investment for blue-sky 
research - some of the most innovative computing science research was, is, 
and probably will be, done with a pencil and paper, not even a €500 computer.  
And sweeping ground-up rewrites aren't particularly necessary for impressive 
blue-sky research - the modularity of sytems like Linux, Flux, Apache, etc. 
mean that "ground-up rewrites" are happening all the time, but you only have 
to ground-up rewrite the bits you care about, not everything, so some 
continuity is also preserved.

OTOH, I'd be quite happy with Niall's "five years and it's public domain" 
terms, and I agree totally with his assertion that software patents are 
terrible :-)).

> I personally don't like things like Open Source or the LGPL.  I don't
> like the possibility that things could be unfree.

Yeah, I'm just wary of them, mainly.  I don't think anyone could reasonably 
argue that e.g. BSD stuff _is_ unfree, it's just that it's very easily 

>  Ian correctly pointed out that goverment
> legislation that _forces_ the use of Free Software negates the whole
> idea of freedom.

Well, yeah.  I don't think legislation forcing the use of free software is 
sensible - I do think correction and/or removal of legislation creating 
advantage for proprietary software is worthwhile, though.

The current problem is that quite reasonable legislation that has been 
proposed to allow the mere _consideration_ of open source software in 
government tenders tends to be painted by infofascist-controlled media and 
opposing speakers as _mandating_ or _promoting_ open source - very different 
things.   Of course, once open source is allowed to be considered, people are 
often quick to see the advantages, but that just means proprietary vendors 
have to <gasp> compete, not that they'll be destroyed necessarily.

> So, as a social construct, the GPL is doing good things.  
> It's legal status is debatable (and not wholly of interest to me).  

It has been effectively quite strong over the past decade, anyway, since, even 
if a particular  court found it invalid, it would be difficult to get a 
result other than reversion to "all rights reserved" of the copyright holder.

Thus, if you're a proprietary company attacking the GPL itself in court, you 
have two main results - either you lose, and abide by the GPL or lose the 
right to use the code if you can't negotiate alternative licensing, or you 
"win" and lose any right to use the code, which is pretty pyrrhic unless 
you're a non-productive pseudocompany with another master and a hidden agenda 

> I don't want to see an IFSO settling for a "common position" of Open Source.

If it did, I would hope it would be courteous enough to call itself the IOSSO
rather than the IFSO -  It's bad enough we have MS and MS-wannabees in Sun 
trying to dilute and confuse terminology surrounding open source and free 
software, we don't need those within the general group mutating the 
terminology away from the commonly recognised definitions.

David Golden

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