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

David Golden david at
Sun Sep 28 03:40:58 CEST 2003

> I'm not disputing that. I just feel the GPL has bad knock on effects
> considerably underestimated by its proponents.

I don't think the effects are underestimated by me, anyway, but  I would note 
that "bad" is in this instance quite thoroughly in the eye of the beholder...

> Neither do I. But it is how the current system works - even something
> really stupid like goodwill is assigned a monetary value.

Sometimes, but even if it it's not guaranteed to anyone one easily assessed 
value, and is often disputed hotly.
Remember, we're out to change the system, not perpetuate it in its current 
broken state, anyway.  

My point stands- predefining your buying price is silly when you're out to 
remain unbought. 

> What did you think of my arguments (the page is at

A point by point analysis will take time that would be better spent developing 
software, but if I have free time I might do so. In the interim, I hope my
general arguments are enough.   I've already raised an initial opinion that 
even if one believes your argument, the dual-licensing option is enough to 
cover the important bases.

> > 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.
> Information is power, and thus it is valuable to those who wish to
> exert power. For example if most Americans knew the true state of
> Saddam's Iraq, they would never have let Bush invade that country.

Having value does not make something property, nor is it a valid argument for 
making it into property, particularly if it's non-scarce.  It certainly 
doesn't have a simple and unchanging value, e.g. value you could depreciate 
with a simple rule like office furniture.  Think about the value of timing of 
information - yesterday's news today is much less valuable to most people 
than today's news today.

It's a little more accurate IMHO to say asymmetry of information can translate 
to power - the value was not in the information in your example, it was in 
the keeping of information away from the american public.  From the 
perspective of Bush, if he insisted on ascribing the value to the information 
itself rather than to the propaganda and disinformation service the media and 
intelligence agencies provided to him, information would have been devalued 
by sharing, from the american public's perspective, it's value would have 

So the value of information is in the eye of the beholder...

All in all, life would be a lot easier if people stopped trying to treat bits 
like bricks... 

> See Reiser's comments on why filing systems should be completely
> rewritten every few years. I completely agree with him except I
> extend it to most software.
> Linux is most certainly not innovative, neither is Apache
> particularly.

Thus far, we've bandied about the term "innovation". That has a  economic 
meaning  - "innovation" is the introduction of something new to a market, 
often with disruptive effects, think "act of innovation", and a more common, 
loose usage, largely synonymous with invention, think "an innovation".   As 
far as I can tell, thus far, we've been using the common-usage one, since the 
economic usage allows evolutions to be innovations. I have continued with the 
common usage below:

Components of Linux are innovative. System evolution by subsystem revolutions.  
System revolution by subsystem evolutions. By gerrymandering your system 
boundaries and lumped-approximating, you're probably always going to be able 
to declare "innovative" and "non-innovative" bits - "An OS written in C on a 
Computer? Been done. Bah."

 Could Reiser rewrite filesystems without having to rewrite everything else if 
linux weren't modular?  

Another thing is that people often regard as innovative stuff that isn't 
really but that they don't know the history for.  You mention EROS, well, 
that's an evolution of KeyKOS.  There's a also quote, which I'm about to fail 
to attribute, which paraphrased is - "you can make it big in Computer Science 
by looking at what people were doing years ago, waiting for people to forget 
about it, and releasing it as a big new thing":  XML<--Lisp sexps, only badly 
done, OODBMS<--Hierarchical DB (bad idea then, bad idea now...), etc.

> There is virtually nothing on Windows or Linux which
> qualifies as "blue sky" innovative. 
> If you want to see "blue sky"
> innovative, go look at EROS, Plan 9, Syllable or even GNU Hurd
> (though ten years ago). That kind of innovation demands total
> rewrites from the ground up.

And those projects are... open source. Anyway, in the open source world, 
features and pieces can be interchanged readily - even if no end-user ever 
bothered with Hurd or EROS, they have already had lasting effects on the 
design of Linux and other OSes.

> And that kind of sweeping change is something free software cannot do
> because you'll never get enough of a team together to agree on
> something totally unproven. Only investment capital can pay people to
> do the work required to prove a concept.
You say that, yet 75% of your examples are GPL and quite actively developed?
Whatever.  That's a baseless assertion, as far as I'm concerned.  Quite apart 
from the fact that that assumes people need paying to do the work (history 
has many counterexamples, and I know I do blue-sky stuff just for laughs), 
significant Investment capital can be, and has been in the past, given to 
open-source people, companies, universities, and so on.  Your generalisations 
about human motivation, which you've done a few times, are iffy, and probably 
reflect most on your own motivations.

> Agreed. I prefer a clause like the LGPL has which mandates
> enhancements to some code are returned to the community.

Well, actually, it only mandates return if you _distribute_.  If you enhance 
in-house without ever distributing, you don't need to return.

> On this we would disagree. I want a law mandating that source comes
> with all code.

Nah. In the absence of copyright and patent, binary-only code would soon be 

> I also want a law giving the mandatory right to anyone
> to enhance or modify their purchase and share those changes with
> others. Period, across the board.

Well if you actually "purchase" the copyright to some software, rather than 
"license" the use of the software, even in the current framework, you get 
that right.  The problem is, people often think (and are misled by the 
packaging and marketing of software) that they're "purchasing" when they're 
only "licensing". 

One of the best ways to encourage Free Software is actually strict enforcement 
of EULAs - thanks, BSA!.

> Well, they'll do anything they [MS] can to win.

Yep, though I predict they'll eventually burn out, and assuming I'm not hit by 
a bus or whatever, most likely within my lifetime.  All empires fall, and 
MS's could crumble alarmingly quickly.   I do find Linus' recent quote in the 
new york times amusing:

[ From NYTimes, 2003-09-38 ]
The thing is, at least to me personally, Microsoft just isn't relevant to  
what I do. [....] I just can't see myself in the position of the nemesis,  
since I just don't care enough. To be a nemesis, you have to actively try  to 
destroy something, don't you? Really, I'm not out to destroy Microsoft. That 
will just be a completely unintentional side effect. 

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