Non-profit licencing vs. GPL

E L Tonkin py7elt at
Fri May 11 11:12:56 UTC 2001

On Thu, 10 May 2001, josX wrote:
> Klaus Schilling wrote:
> > John Tapsell writes:
> >  > On Thu, 10 May 2001, you wrote:
> >  > > 
> >  > > On Thu, May 10, 2001 at 09:56:24AM +0200, Stefan Meretz wrote:
> >  > > > Is there a copyleft license preventing from making money with free
> >  > > > software?
> >  > > 
> >  > > No.
> >  > > 
> >  > But you can always write one :)
> >
> > No, you can't, because the software would not be free if its license 
> > prevented that.
> Let's do it.
> Draft:
> This material is hereby released to the public.  It is not allowed to
> be profitting from this material by selling it's use or the material
> itself, not profiting in monetary systems, or via services, unrelated
> deals or other. This includes the original creator of the material: he 
> too must not profit from it, other than in the joy that others use his
> creation.  It is not allowed to sell this material in any shape or
> form.  It is not allowed to enclose it as gratis with something that
> /is/ soled, even if that something is a vital part of it, a medium,
> an extra, or if this material is presented as an extra, or a gift.

I see the concept.

There's the problem that if you disallow the possibility of distributing
any given material with something that is sold, anything that is sold,
then you disallow the possibility of its inclusion in magazine cover CDs
and so on. Not everybody has a friend with a T1 and a CD burner... so how
can they enjoy your software?

Speaking for myself, my rather grandiose view of free software includes
the idea that, knight-on-white-charger style, it can help save the world
from the evils of proprietary file formats, restrictive licencing, and
the disappearance of the concept of Fair Use. For this to occur, it has 
to be available as widely as possible and as cheaply as possible. Put
quotes around the melodrama if you like ;-)

[A side note on restrictive licencing: I was amused to note the other day
that, re. the 2600 court case (the DeCSS DVD-decryption case), on hearing
the defence's suggestion that restricting access to the DeCSS code
restricted somebody with legal ownership of a DVD from making fair use of
it ie. watching it, copying scraps of it for film review purposes, the
judge replied- "Have we ever said as to fair use that you not only get to
make fair use of the copyrighted work, but you get to make your fair use
in the most technologically modern way?" The implication being that one
should be content with whatever forms of 'fair use' that the industry
chooses to allow...  The whole DVD mess seems a wonderful demonstration of
the materialisation of RMS's fears]

A second point is that as a community, we would all suffer if companies
were restricted from making a profit using our software as end users,
since they would be forced to use another solution... A third, related
point is a philosophical one; ideally, we 'ought' to be thinking as a
community (imho). Not "It comes from /me/, it's /mine/" but "It comes from
/us/, it's /ours/!" The implication being that if it's ours we can darn
well use it, and sell support for it as well... making a profit from
selling the product itself is an extension of the same thinking.
Essential, as I think RMS might say, is that restrictions on distribution
and modification of a program can only interfere with its use.[1]

Consider the GNU/Linux penguin. If the original logo had been released
under this licence, we'd not be wearing our penguin t-shirts [2] today.
We'd be thinking, damn, nobody's allowed to design a penguin t-shirt
unless they make /sure/ they break even or make a loss, ergo very few
people are going to do it... OK, that's a daft example but you see the

So if you go in the direction of total non-profit, you risk the
possibility of your software being (as with proprietary software, only for
the opposite motivation!) too restrictively licenced to be distributed
other than online, and not everywhere online at that. Most free servers
have business models, serve advertising, etc. They'd be unable to host
your software. Which would be a little ironic, really... making your
software less free by forcing non-profit.

I do think the GPL as it is intended to work (I don't know if it's been
tested in the UK yet ;-) is /very/ well thought out from the point of view
of maximising the distribution and use of free-as-in-speech software... 

On the other hand, perhaps there are times when the non-profit issue
really outweighs the distribution problem. 


// OLDSIG "All bad art is the result of good intentions." - Oscar Wilde 

/* START NEWSIG */ Processor: (n.) a device for converting sense to
nonsense at the speed of electricity, or (rarely) the reverse.  - Tonkin's
First Computer Dictionary

[2] Qui? Moi? T-shirt obsessed? ;-)

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