[Fsfe-ie] Patent letter #3

Ian Clarke ian at locut.us
Sat Jan 24 17:08:29 CET 2004

Firstly, I hope you don't think I am being overly argumentative in 
continuing this debate, I think it is important to be clear on what an 
organization's philosophy does and does not imply, and besides, debating 
is fun!  Onward...

Ciaran O'Riordan wrote:
> You've justified IFSO using this software because it fulfils two
> criteria :
> 1/ IFSO wouldn't be running the software - you would
> 2/ the source isn't a secret to you
> By these criteria, it would be ok for IFSO to accept an offer from MS
> of shell accounts on MS Windows boxes.  (or whatever their version of
> a shell account is)

If having shell accounts on MS Windows boxes helped to advance the cause 
of IFSO in some way, for example, to help us learn more about Windows 
such that we can make it easier for Windows users to migrate to a free 
operating system, then yes, I think we would be failing the IFSO were we 
to refuse remote shell accounts on a Windows box, and I certainly don't 
think such a refusal would be justified by the free software philosophy.

> The crux of these criteria is: who's "running the binaries"?
> a/ The person that started the service (you in this case)
> b/ The person that's interactively executing commands (albeit over a
>    network) (ifso contributors in this case)
> If a, MS shell accounts are ok.  If b, http requests to a proprietary
> webserver are not ok.  Since the only possible answers give bogus
> results, the question must be wrong, so the criteria are wrong.

The crux of this discussion is who owns the hardware that is being 
controlled by the software.  I believe the philosophy of free software 
is that you should have access to the source code to the software that 
*you* run on *your* computer, and the right to modify and share your 
modifications.  The question of whether *you* should have access to the 
source code of software *I* run on *my* computer is not addressed by the 
free software philosophy.

In the case of using a remote website, the only extent to which my 
software controls your computer is in that it sends HTML to your web 
browser which your web browser then renders.  You are completely free to 
look at this HTML to see what it is making your browser do, and are even 
free to modify the way it is rendered (assuming you are using a free 
browser).  Thus, I don't think the free software philosophy demands that 
I disclose my source code to you any more than it demands that I 
disclose my bank account password or my shoe size.

> To get back to the original point:
> Should IFSO use 3D17?
> Well, the first thing we face is: "You have to let me run the software
> because I own it and no one's getting a copy".

I am not telling you that you have to do anything, I am suggesting that 
you use a tool that may benefit the IFSO.  You are saying "If you want 
the IFSO to benefit from this tool then you have to release your source 
code".  I am not suggesting that you allow secret software to control 
your computer, and therefore I do not think your demand can be justified 
in terms of the ethics of free software.

> Surely that's not the FS ethic.

I think that it is very important that people involved in the IFSO 
(indeed any organisation) be extremely cautious about "ethic creep".  If 
your personal opinion is that source code should never ever be kept 
secret, then fine, but I don't believe that position is implied by the 
free software philosophy.


More information about the FSFE-IE mailing list