GPL really free was Re: [Fsfe-ie] 1-page letter, faxes at the ready (IFSO, irish org)

Niall Douglas s_fsfeurope2 at
Sat Sep 27 19:38:49 CEST 2003

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On 26 Sep 2003 at 14:26, David Golden wrote:

> Alternatively, something I like less, but it is hardly invalid, and
> also a point that Niall seems to have missed in my first reading
> (skimming) of his proposed "tornado fair use license": [
> ]

It's an old idea that, more a sounding board for ideas and discussion 
than reality. It's certainly not legally enforceable because 
copyright law forces things on derivative works as defined by 
copyright law.

> One can dual-license - there is nothing in the current western legal
> framework really stopping the original copyright holder of GPL
> software negotiating alternative licensing with interested parties -
> the original copyright holder can release under whatever terms he
> wants, even multiple different licenses.  In fact, that seems
> relatively fair to me, and perhaps to Niall (?)  - those who abide by
> the GPL get to use it for free, those that seek exploitation via more
> restrictive copyright assertions have to negotiate alternative terms
> with the copyright holder, such as a cut of the profit.  There's
> simply no need for some wierd and definitely legally dubious (IANAL,
> blah, blah) license such as Niall's proposal, even if you want to
> allow proprietary use of the code.

I'm not disputing that. I just feel the GPL has bad knock on effects 
considerably underestimated by its proponents.

> Niall suggests those wishing to disallow proprietary use under his
> license could set a prohibitvely high monetary price, but one man's
> high price is another's pocket change.   Anyway, I certainly don't
> ascribe to the simplistic and grade-school-capitalist theory that it
> is valid to assign everything a single predefined monetary price, and
> would rather negotiate on a case-by-case basis for monetary or
> non-monetary compensation...

Neither do I. But it is how the current system works - even something 
really stupid like goodwill is assigned a monetary value.

> This negates, as far as I am concerned, most of the reasoning behind
> Niall's proposed license, and certainly seems to have worked okay for
> Troll, Aladdin, etc.

I had been trying to integrate the best elements of free software 
with a revenue model that adequately rewards contributions to society 
all into the one license. Unfortunately I've since learned that 
copyright law makes that impossible.

> I also disgagree strongly with his assertion that free software
> inhibits blue-sky research and entreprenuerialism:

What did you think of my arguments (the page is at

> The very phrase "intellectual property" is a propaganda term, as RMS
> points out - it is simply not the case that information is even
> remotely like physical property, at least for the present and in
> macroscopic human life - it is only even vaguely "property" in the
> twisted legal sense that property is a result of law, not a beginning.

Information is power, and thus it is valuable to those who wish to 
exert power. For example if most Americans knew the true state of 
Saddam's Iraq, they would never have let Bush invade that country.

>  Software, just like mathematics (gee, because it IS mathematics), and

Software is a BRANCH of mathematics. It is *similar* to other areas 
of mathematics but it is most certainly not the same.

>  unlike 
> many other fields, requires little or no capital investment for
> blue-sky research - some of the most innovative computing science
> research was, is, and probably will be, done with a pencil and paper,
> not even a ¤500 computer.  And sweeping ground-up rewrites aren't
> particularly necessary for impressive blue-sky research - the
> modularity of sytems like Linux, Flux, Apache, etc. mean that
> "ground-up rewrites" are happening all the time, but you only have to
> ground-up rewrite the bits you care about, not everything, so some
> continuity is also preserved.

See Reiser's comments on why filing systems should be completely 
rewritten every few years. I completely agree with him except I 
extend it to most software.

Linux is most certainly not innovative, neither is Apache 
particularly. There is virtually nothing on Windows or Linux which 
qualifies as "blue sky" innovative. If you want to see "blue sky" 
innovative, go look at EROS, Plan 9, Syllable or even GNU Hurd 
(though ten years ago). That kind of innovation demands total 
rewrites from the ground up.

And that kind of sweeping change is something free software cannot do 
because you'll never get enough of a team together to agree on 
something totally unproven. Only investment capital can pay people to 
do the work required to prove a concept.

> > I personally don't like things like Open Source or the LGPL.  I
> > don't like the possibility that things could be unfree.
> Yeah, I'm just wary of them, mainly.  I don't think anyone could
> reasonably argue that e.g. BSD stuff _is_ unfree, it's just that it's
> very easily landgrabbed.

Agreed. I prefer a clause like the LGPL has which mandates 
enhancements to some code are returned to the community.

> Well, yeah.  I don't think legislation forcing the use of free
> software is sensible - I do think correction and/or removal of
> legislation creating advantage for proprietary software is worthwhile,
> though.

On this we would disagree. I want a law mandating that source comes 
with all code. I also want a law giving the mandatory right to anyone 
to enhance or modify their purchase and share those changes with 
others. Period, across the board.

> > I don't want to see an IFSO settling for a "common position" of Open
> > Source.
> If it did, I would hope it would be courteous enough to call itself
> the IOSSO rather than the IFSO -  It's bad enough we have MS and
> MS-wannabees in Sun trying to dilute and confuse terminology
> surrounding open source and free software, we don't need those within
> the general group mutating the terminology away from the commonly
> recognised definitions.

Well, they'll do anything they can to win. That's immoral practice 
like all big business must do, and it's why Microsoft is the world's 
biggest software company.


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