Kernel developers' position on GPLv3

Ben Finney ben at
Sat Sep 23 21:59:54 UTC 2006

On 23-Sep-2006, Yavor Doganov wrote:
> While what Ben said is true, the goals of our Movement are not
> entirely technical and I'd say that the technical aspects are
> secondary.  In the beginning of the 80's, RMS thought that everyone
> would choose to use Free Software, if there was a way to escape from
> non-free software.  That assumption proved to be wrong: people
> generally don't value their freedom and prefer not to pay much
> attention. 

I find that enough people *do* value freedom, but they are generally
not aware of how much their freedom is being lost. Remember, the
culture-hoarding cartel all want general-purpose computers to wither
in preference to devices that preserve their current business models.

The vision of the world that they promote, through the extremely
powerful communication channels available to them, all support this
view: that freedom to create is not important, that culture is to be
consumed from on high.

It's tough to fight that endlessly-reinforced vision of culture. But
when people get bitten by DRM or when they contemplate the madness of
what current culture-hoarding regimes restrict them from doing, they
*do* care. However, it's all too easy to run from the concept back
into the warm embrace of the game console and the vendor-locked music

Our challenge is to make it ever easier for them to both realise
the prison they're in, and to escape it when they do.

> I must admit with regret that while the proponents of the Open Source
> campaign are contributing a lot in technical form, they make our job
> much harder and spreading their "philosophy" is against our goals.

Indeed, this is an ongoing concern. I find that simply talking about
freedom instead of "open source", passively refusing to use that term,
and having a quick, non-confrontational response to "oh, but this *is*
free to download" can work wonders to quickly make people realise
there's more to this than expedience.

> It's important to remember that there is a deep abyss between us and
> them -- we want to change the society and they want technical
> excellence.  It is useless to drive faster if we can't stay on the
> road -- and our road is the Freedom Road, not the Not-so-free
> Open-sourced Highway.

That's very adversarial, and I don't see how that thinking can help. I
also don't think it's an accurate depiction of the views of such
people. I find that such people *do* value freedom -- when it's clear
that they are worse off without it. They merely have a different
threshold for how much convenience they're willing to sacrifice to get

> It is pointless to [have a public discussion in response to the
> kernel developers' GPLv3 position statement], I'm afraid.  These
> people can't be persuaded in our cause and it's just a waste of time
> and efforts to even attempt to do that -- it will be ignored.  Their
> moto, inspired by their leader, is "Ideology sucks".

So the purpose of a response is not to convince those particular
kernel developers, but to speak to the people who are observing the
discussion. Many of *those* will be amenable to arguments either way;
if we have none in response, where they can find it as part of the
same discussion, those who have not yet make up their minds will have
only the input of the "expedience first" speakers.

Beating an idea into the other party's head is not the purpose of a
debate. Having the discussion for the benefit of those who observe it
is the purpose.

> What we can do is to apply Ben's idea to other projects that intend
> to follow Linus Torvalds' views in this respect.  The situation with
> the Linux kernel is hopeless, IMHO.

It is illustrative, though. We can show, for example, specific
problems that *are* solved by the GPLv3, and indeed specifically how
those would apply to Linux, if the license was amenable to change.
Hypotheticals can be helpful.

We can speak to the developers of other projects, sure. But the Linux
developers have chosen to make their work an object lesson: let's use

 \     "Anyone can do any amount of work provided it isn't the work he |
  `\       is supposed to be doing at the moment."  -- Robert Benchley |
_o__)                                                                  |
Ben Finney <ben at>
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