does a free license make software free?

Ben Finney ben at
Tue Aug 28 22:56:08 UTC 2007

On 28-Aug-2007, chrysn wrote:
> i recently stumbled upon a piece of software [1] a wikipedia article [2]
> tells the following about:
> > The actual code of Core Force is not publicly available;

To qualify as free software, it doesn't need to be "publicly 
available"; it *does* need to be available with the full exercise of 
the four freedoms in the Free Software Definition to every recipient 
of the software.

So, the page needs to clarify whether the "actual source code" is 
available for unrestricted use, modification, and redistribution for 
every recipient.

> now it seems the core force team has done so (it is based on another 
> piece of free software) and decided to stick to the apache license. 
> as i understand the license, it does not require the author (core 
> force) to release the source code, it just gives permission to users 
> to re-distribute it ("in Source or Object form"), although the 
> source is not provided by the author, so the users would be allowed 
> to re-distribute the source /if they received it/.

So long as the source is the source code *to the object form they 
received", and so long as any recipient can be reasonably sure of 
getting that corresponding source form.

> all together, it seems to me that corelabs are not strictly 
> violating the license, they are just using it unusually, but if this 
> was possible, the usual assumption "it is released under a Free 
> license, so it has to be Free software" would not hold.

That's never been the case. A free license is a necessary, but not 
always sufficient, precondition for the work to be free software.

Instead, a work is free software if its recipients have full exercise 
of the four freedoms. This is *usually* a function of what license the 
work is released with; but it's not *defined* by the license, it's 
defined by the freedom of the recipient with regard to the work.

 \       "A 'No' uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater |
  `\       than a 'Yes' merely uttered to please, or what is worse, to |
_o__)                               avoid trouble."  -- Mahatma Gandhi |
Ben Finney <ben at>
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