Feedback appreciated for "There is no Free Software company - But!"

Daniel Guagnin lists.d at
Thu Nov 17 13:41:46 UTC 2016

tldr: A differentation between "fully proprietary" and "fully free"
should not only focus on the licensing of parts of the software but also
the degree of abidance with the four freedoms in the license.

Dear Matthias,

I am happy to read your post about balancing Free Software ideals and
your proposal for a scale of software freedom abidance.
I think this is an important discussion.

Your proposal differentiates between kinds of software which has parts
of its infrastructure (like the API) licensed with a proprietary
license and which not, that is a useful first approach.

What I am missing is a scale of different levels of free/non-free licensing.

I would argue that it makes a difference if a non-free software
restricts the access to the source code, or if it restricts the freedom
to run.

Moreover it could be useful to differentiate between different kinds of
the limitations to run the software. As I discussed earlier [1] a
non-commercial restriction can be a tool to safeguard the long-term
maintainership of a project, if it is conceived to let some money flow
back into the project in case of monetization (even if at the same time
it can hinder the adoption of that software on a larger scale).

In regard to limitations of use I would also be happy to see a
differentiation between the exclusion of arbitrary groups (like let's
say vi-users) or if a limitation of use focuses on the exclusion of use
cases which violate fundamental rights (let's say torture).

Best wishes, Daniel


Am 15.11.2016 um 18:28 schrieb Matthias Kirschner:
> Since the start of the FSFE 15 years ago, the people involved were certain that
> companies are a crucial part to reach our goal of software freedom. For many
> years we have explained to companies – IT as well as non-IT – what benefits
> they have from Free Software. We encourage individuals and companies to pay for
> Free Software, as much as we encourage companies to use Free Software in their
> offers.

> offering their customers. Another factor was whether the revenue stream is tied
> to proprietary licensing conditions. Would we also allow a small revenue from
> proprietary software, and how high is that that you can still consider it a
> Free Software company? 

> It turned out to be a very complicated issue, and although we were regularly
> discussing it we did not have an idea how to approach the problems in defining
> a Free Software company.

> is a first idea for a scale:
> * EXCELLENT: Free Software only and on all levels, no exceptions.
> * GOOD: Free Software as a complete, useful, and fully supportable product.
>   Support available for Free Software version.
> * ACCEPTABLE: Proprietary interfaces to proprietary systems and applications,
>   especially complex systems that require complex APIs/libraries/SDKs, as long
>   as the above is still met.
> * BAD: Essential / important functionality only available proprietary, critical
>   functionality missing from Free Software (one example for an essential
>   functionality was LDAP connector).
> * EVIL: Fully proprietary, but claiming to be Free Software / Open Source
>   Software.
> **Now I would like to know from you:** what is your first reaction on this?
> Would you like to add something? Do you have ideas what should be included in a
> checklist for such a test? Would you be interested to help us to evaluate how
> good some offers are on such a scale?
> To summarise, I believe it was a mistake to think about businesses as a whole
> before and that if we want to take the next big steps we should think about
> Free Software business offers / activities – at least until we have a better
> name for what I described above. We should help companies that they are not
> deluded by people just claiming something is Free Software, but give them the
> tools to check themselves.

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