FW: Ethics of Circumventing OS (LONG)

Kim Bruning (seperate for lists) kim2 at bruning.demon.nl
Tue Mar 27 22:04:57 UTC 2001

On Mon, 19 Mar 2001, Gladwell, Ricardo wrote:

Hello, this might seem a bit on the late side, but I've been thinking, and
here are some comments I have on some of the points that you tried to make
in this discussion. 

I've tried to argue as close to the FSF standpoint as possible. Do take
into account that all I can do is argue the point of view as I see it,
so your mileage may vary.  :-)

Since I'm answering point by point, it's turned out to be a pretty long
story. Sorry about that. 
> > > -----Original Message-----
> > > From: Michael Trachtman [mailto:michael at eloquence.com]
> > > Sent: 19 March 2001 05:53
> > > To: Gladwell, Ricardo
> > > Cc: Al Williams
> > > Subject: RE: Ethics of Circumventing OS
> > > 
> > > 
> > > Ricardo,
> > > 
> > > Thanks for your comments. I enjoyed reading them.  Of course, I see
> > > your point. I'm not sure that I agree that using Open 
> > Source Software
> > > is unethical in the way I describe. I'm not qualified to 
> > judge ethics.

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

Even so, maybe I can try to explain some concepts to Trachtman and to you
too Mr. Gladwell. I'm not the worlds greatest writer (yet), but I can try.

If you want to forward this to Mr. Trachtman as well, please do, I'd be
much obliged.  In the mean time, I'll just post this to the list first.
That way if I make any mistakes, people can come forward and correct me.

> > > 
> > > However, I think that there is a slight difference between legally
> > > working around Open Source limitations and working around 
> > > other copyright
> > > limitations,
> > > in that in one case somebody loses money and in the other 
> > > not.

This is a false claim. For instance: the FSF's gcc alone has an estimated
world economy value of just under 1 billion dollars, or so Mr. Stallman
was told at one point in time. 

Actually, I wonder how this value was calculated. Probably it's because
gcc is one of the first programmes to be compiled for a new processor.

If you think of it that way, then I guess the value looks about right.

There are 2 ways in which you can actually claim to circumvent an Open
Source licence, or better yet: a Free Software licence. (IIRC you were
GPLed code so, let's stick to Free Software) 

1. Open Source software is also often sold. ("I'll sell you this software
under GPL for Euro ... 10000" is a line which the world famous RMS
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).

2. There is actually a worse situation thinkable, in which someone somehow
manages to take GPLed code, and patent or copyright it for themselves. Not
only does the original author then loose the right to sell his/her/it's
own code (the FSF earns/earned money by selling custom versions of emacs
and GCC) , but everyone else also loses rights to the source code.

Since open source and free software have taken over the world already,
the damage that this might cause to the world economy would be pretty
interesting to see. The good thing is that you probably can't circumvent
open source in this way, fortunately.

A quick aside: 
In case you don't believe the "taken over the world" bit, do this on a
dual boot GNU/linux (or BSD) and microsoft machine. Let's assume that MS
windows is on /dev/hda1 and that we have done mkdir /mnt/dosc, (modify if
you have a different system):

mount -t vfat /dev/hda1 /mnt/dosc
strings /mnt/dosc/windows/ftp.exe | grep -i california

Any guesses? That's right, that'll show the copyright string from the BSD

Ok, true, it's just FTP, but it does mean that even MS Windows
occaisionally uses bits and pieces of Free Software.

>>  I'm sure
> > > that
> > > web techniques would not publish an article for 
> > circumventing anything
> > > in an illegal way.  I disagree that "the profits belong to the
> > > open-source movement", as the "open source movement" does 
> > not (in most
> > > cases)
> > > claim or ask for any profit.

I don't know much about the Open Source movement, but the FSF can and does
occaisionally ask for money for some of it's work, and they actively seek
out and give offenders a "good talking to".

Up till now, the GPL has never seen it's day in court, mainly because it
is a very clear document. Also, my lawyer friend tells me that you
*really* don't want to infringe on it.
If you successfully claim the GPL is void, you're left with a
copyright infringement. (Against the original author of the software) 

Everyone the FSF has ever tried to sue have apparently wisely chosen to
settle based on the much milder GPL copyleft licence.

> > > The real truth is, of course, that I wrote the article for 
> > > fun. The topic
> > > of the month was "legal issues", and I wanted to write an 
> > > article about
> > > using CORBA to bridge Java and C instead of JNI.  In order to match
> > > the article with the monthly topic, I came up with this idea,
> > > of using CORBA to circumvent Open Source restrictions.  I 
> > don't really
> > > know if the idea works from a legal perspective. Who knows !!

I haven't read the article (please give me a link!) but from what I can
guess at first sight is that your idea has something to do with not having
to link libraries or other code. That way one can keep ones own code it
doesn't need to be GPLed. Is that about right?

You know, that might be a lot of trouble, and a probable give your code a
performance hit. 

It might be far easier if you just E-mail the author and ask for a
rerelease under the LGPL. After all, if you need it as a library, it
probably should have been LGPLed in the first place. :-P

Alternately you could always *try* to ask for a BSD licence :-) 

The author might want you to pay some money for the latter though. I know
I would. 

So maybe it's more ethical, fun and cool to contact the author
anyway, just to be sure :-) 

> > > In any case, what I was trying to do was to have fun. And 
> > the creation
> > > of controversy is fun in any case.  So, thanks for adding to the
> > > controversy.

Trolling is known to be fun yes. Just be careful of who you troll though.
It can occaisionally get you in trouble.

Even so, I might not think trolling is always a good idea, but I shall
defend anyones right to do it to the death.

> > > Of course, if you want to cancel your subscription, that is 
> > your priv.
> > > However, since it is a fun and educational magazine, I don't 
> > > suggest it.
> > > And besides, the magzine is like Open Source software. It 
> > is available
> > > for free both in print and on the web. Without serious "open source
> > > restrictions".

YAY! You mean I can just copy it, pass it off as my own, and make lots of
money off it? Then can I claim a copyright, patent or trade secret on it
and sue everyone else who has the magazine for infringement, and get *very
rich indeed*?

Wow! Way Cool!

On the other hand, maybe Mr. Trachtman and his editors would want to
protect their rights to free speach too.

I'll just sort of innocently point out some great "open source document"
licences they might want to use. I think the linux documentation project
might have some. ;-)

> And, if you want to write an article on how to 
> > > work around
> > > any "copyright restrictions" that might apply to Web Techniques
> > > (such as making deep links to content and other such "controversial"
> > > issues),
> > > it's possible that Web Techniques would publish it. Who knows.

That's not a copyright restriction though :-)
If you're truely interested in free speach, you shouldn't worry about
that kind of thing. 

> > > So, in the meantime, just enjoy the fun. It's not all that serious.

It's good to hear Michael Trachtman doesn't take the world *too*
seriously. Heaven help us if people couldn't have fun.

If he *has* published any really nasty circumvention techniques, he's done
everyone a service, and had some fun at the same time. 

I respect his right to free speach, and would want to thank him for
bringing this problem to everyones attention. Can you give me a link to
an on line version/transcript of the article in question please?

> > > Most warmly..
> > > .. Michael

Most warmly back to you Michael :-)
 -- Yet Another Original Message (reply from Riardo Gladwell) --

> > Dear Michael,

<plenty of snippage all around>

> > Your first point that you are in no position to 'judge 
> > ethics' leaves me slightly concerned: surely, as mature 
> > adults, we are all responsible for judging the ethics of our 
> > own actions.

Well, lawyers,serial killers, games reviewers and tech writers ;-) can get
along quite nicely without them, apparently.

> > 
> > You also claim, in defence of you article, that Webtechniques 
> > is 'open-source'. 

Well, it probably isn't, but I don't know enough to judge that at this
point in time. :-)

> > You also tell me in your reply that 'in one case somebody 
> > loses money' (if a copyright workaround is found for 
> > commercial software) 'and in the other not' (if the procedure 
> > detailed in your article is followed).
Well sure, like I said earlier, the Open Source people might deliberately
be distributing their software under GPL or similar, and sells services
for customisation or LGPL type licencing. It's a cool sounding business
model. Unfortunately, if you circumvent the licence somehow, then they
can't feed their wife and kids.

<still lots of snippage of course>
> > groups and chat rooms with the rest of the troll posts, 

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.

> > [as]
> > far as any open-source developer is concerned the profits 
> > from circumventing copyleft belong to the open-source 
> > community and not private individuals.

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

I'm sure other people have similar ideas. Imagine getting something like
1000 lawsuits for various packages, because you broke the GPL on all of
them at once (quite possible these days, with eg. SuSE on DVD :-) ). Now
*that* is fun.

> > 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

> >Rather, I 
> > believe copyleft was created to make a point about the 
> > hypocrisy of copyright - a point that you have unconsciously 
> > demonstrated with your article.

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.

> > As I mentioned in my last 
> > email, you would never dream of publishing an article 
> > demonstrating a 'legal' method of circumventing, say, 
> > Microsoft's copyright restrictions for fear of (extreme) 
> > legal reprisals. You do so for open-source community only 
> > because you know legal reprisals will not be forthcoming. And 
> > what could be more hypocritical and unethical than that?
> > 

Well, there was this one story of the fellow who tried to trademark the
name "linux". His first lawyer actually quit the case on him. (the threat
of a lawsuit with a claimed 30000 participants on the other side might
have scared him off a bit :-) ). If I remember correctly, that case was
settled peacefully, with and ended up with Linus Torvalds now holding the

The general rule here: if you somehow manage to invoke the wrath of some
Open Source people, you're in a bit of a pickle. You might want to stay
out of public sight for a while.

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.

read you soon,
	Kim Bruning

-- Information wants to be beer. Or something like that.

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