The argument against copyleft, or for BSD

J.B. Nicholson-Owens jbn at
Thu Jul 16 02:08:15 UTC 2015

Nico Rikken wrote:
> Thanks J.B. and Darryl,
> Thanks for the clear expositions, which confirm my thoughts.

You're welcome. If you're looking for more confirmation on how 
non-copyleft free licenses can be a ruse where derivatives take your 
freedoms away (even while non-copyleft free license advocates claim such 
licenses maximize freedom for all), check out today's clarification of 
Canonical's language about redistributing binaries in Ubuntu GNU/Linux.

As Matthew Garrett wrote in his blog[1], the Ubuntu Community Manager 
confirmed "that any binaries shipped by Ubuntu under licenses that don't 
grant an explicit right to redistribute the binaries can't be 
redistributed without permission or rebuilding" despite that Canonical's 
assertion is in clear violation of both GPLv2 and GPLv3 but probably 
not, as Brad Kuhn points out in his blog, non-copyleft free licenses[2], 
hence the concern about what that means for users of those programs.

Two years later, and with much effort by two non-profit groups (the Free 
Software Foundation[3] and the Software Freedom Conservancy[4]), 
Canonical has added a "trump clause" to its license terms which makes it 
clear that nothing found in Ubuntu's license modifies or reduces rights 
under each program's license.

Kuhn spells out the case against non-copyleft free licenses quite 
> This whole situation seems to me a simple argument for why copyleft
> matters. Copyleft can and does (when someone like me actually
> enforces it) prevent these types of situations. But copyleft is not
> infinitely expansive. Nearly every full operating system distribution
> available includes a aggregated mix of copylefted, non-copyleft, and
> often fully-proprietary userspace applications. Nearly every company
> that distributes them wraps the whole thing with some agreement that
> restricts some rights that copyleft defends, and then adds a trump
> clause that gives an exception just for FLOSS license compliance. I
> have never seen a trump clause that guarantees copyleft-like
> compliance for non-copylefted programs and packages. Thus, the
> problem with Ubuntu is just a particularly bad example of what has
> become a standard industry practice by nearly every “open source”
> company.

This, as Kuhn rightly points out, is yet another practical instance of 
how software freedom differs from the inadequacy (when viewed from a 
user's perspective) of being "open source". You'll note that neither of 
the two groups working with Canonical on this bill themselves as "open 
source" organizations, even though both work with open source advocates. 
It's a defense of software freedom that motivates these organizations to 
push Canonical into GPL compliance.


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