FW: Ethics of Circumventing OS (ALSO LONG)

Ricardo Gladwell ricardo.gladwell at btinternet.com
Fri Apr 13 15:17:12 UTC 2001

Dear Kim,

Thank you for your interest in my correspondence with Mr. Trachtmen. These 
exchanges have indeed been an interesting experience for me and you made
some note-worthy points in your reply, to his reply, to my reply to his article.

  > I'm not sure it's unethical either. I don't believe Michael Trachtman has
  > actually circumvented anything.

You are quite right on this point: Michael Trachtman hasn't, officially,
circumvented anything. In his article he claims to define a legitimate, legal
method of using GPL'd software in a commercial environment, i.e. for profit. My
emails were not about the legality of this - I'm not in a position to judge
this. I was merely concerned with the ethics of doing this.

<some more snippage>
  > actively encourages.) The biggest difference between open source (and free
  > software) and closed source in this case is that the oss software includes
  > the source code. "circumventing Free Software" in this case would also
  > mean circumventing copyright law. That would be a Bad Thing (c).

You are quite right again: I was wrong to use the phrase 'open source' when
'free software' is the correct term. Of course, I mean 'free software', although
most people use the terms (correctly or not) interchangeably. I am a free
software advocate, but the years of explaining the 'free software' position to
my employers, who only really understand the term 'open source', has corrupted
my vocabulary.

With regard to the Web Techniques article, the differences between 'free 
software' and 'open source software' is irrelevant: the method can be applied to 

<lots and lots of snippage>
  > Trolling it is. But he has a legal and moral right to do it. Even so,
  > this kind of trolling might be seen as bending those rights just a little,
  > by some people, maybe.

You seem to be under the misconception that I take the position that trolling
should be outlawed. On the contrary, as a free-software advocate I am also a
free-speech advocate. I just don't expect to read trolling in a magazine I pay
good money for. I do expect mature articles regarding serious technical issues
in magazine entitled, say for example, WebTechniques.

<so much snippage it hurts>
  > Huh? Well, actually, the profits anyone makes by trying to circumvent
  > copyleft on any of *my* programmse definately belong to me. Offenders
  > *will* be sued. :-P

IANAL, but on reading the GPL I can see no mention of exactly who the profits
belong to. Any details about you the programmer do not appear, but the address
of the FSF *does* appear in the GPL blurb.

<is snippage a word, anyway?>
  > Well, Copyright is not exactly hypocrite. It's just that it gets abused
  > for things it shouldn't be so now and then these days.

This is an interesting point but you don't really back it up with anything
concrete. Why isn't copyright hypocritical? Without a doubt, copyright is
used against freedom of speech, but would you say that it can be used for the 
benefit of freedom of speech?

 >> It is worth noting that there have never been any legal cases > enforcing
 >> copyleft - in fact, I do not consider that copyleft > was ever designed to be
 >> upheld in a court of law.
 > Sure it was. Ask your lawyer for advice first though. IANAL

Again, IANAL either but, as far as I know, there are no legal precedents for
defending the GPL in a court of law. What is more, while I'm sure the FSF can
call upon considerable resources could they (or anyone else protecting their GPL
code) sucessfully carry out legal defense of the GPL against one of the software
giants, such as Oracle or Microsoft? I seriously doubt it.

With this in mind, I stand by my argument that the GPL is less a legal document 
as it is a manifesto about the hypocrisy of copyright. I'm sure that it is 
legally sound, but in these days of big-business litigation I don't think that 
means very much.

 > Even so: one of the things that I think everyone agrees on is that freedom
 > of speech is practically sacred. Nothing is to be gained by being angry at
 > the messanger. Instead, take a look at his message, and see how it can help
 > you. Sorry for making this so long, and I hope that this is useful to you.

Again, you seem to misunderstand me, I'm not angry at the article, just 
concerned with it's almost hostile attitude to the GPL (and, incidentely, 
freedom of speech) as I think we should all be. While Mr. Trachtmen is indeed 
entitled to his freedom of speech, so are we entitled to our freedom to 
publically disagree with what he says. What is more, we should actively exercise 
that right at the risk of losing it.

But, don't take my word for it. Judge for yourselves:


Yours sincerely...

Ricardo Gladwell
9 South Drive, Cheam
Surrey. SM2 7PH
Tel: +044 (020) 8643 2392
Mob: (07779) 841 444

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