making money off your GPL-ed code

Clark Evans clark.evans at
Wed May 19 16:11:24 UTC 1999

Bruce Perens wrote:
> You can apply a proprietary license and the GPL to the work at the
> same time, and distribute them to different customers. If you create 
> a new version under a proprietary license only, the GPL recepients 
> have no right to that version.

Yikes!  Discriminatory pricing followed by a bait-and-switch.

> It is _only_ in the case where you are distributing the work of _other_people_
> that you must heed the GPL on the code. You can do anything you want with
> software for which you own the copyright, except for one thing: if a GPL
> recepient aswks for source, you must give them source for the _version_they_
> _have_.

I feel that if anyone is trying to make money from
software that is GPL'd, then they obviously do not
believe in the GPL, thus they really should not be 
using the GPL.  Personally, I think that practices
that have a "basic" version GPL'd, but the "advanced"
version proprietary are worse for open source than
if you just stayed 100% proprietary.  

Anyway, I've struggled to come up with a balanced
software ownership model betwen proprietary and
GPL.  I strongly admire Richard Stallman and the GPL, 
I just don't believe in the "gratis" requirement.

GPL confuses "free beer" with "free speech" beacuse
it professes "free speech" but delivers "free beer"
as well.  I think you can have "free speech" without
requring "free beer".

Here are Stallman's freedoms:

> The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0). 

Yes, as long as you help cover the costs to develop
the program.  You can do this for much of the internet 
software by paying your taxes, since much of it is funded
by grants.  Thus, this freedom should be replaced with
one that is a freedom from price discrimination.

> The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). 


> The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2). 

Once again, as long as your neighbor has tipped in to 
help cover the development costs, i.e., free speech, but
not free beer.  You are welcome to the party, but bring
your own beer, or help pay to cover what is on tap.

> The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the
>  public, so that the whole community benefits. (freedom 3). 


Thus "free speech" but not necessarly "free beer".  I see this
as equivalent to a room full of people in a town meeting.
Free speech dosn't mean that you can speak when ever
you want... it means that you have the right to take 
your turn.  The cost here is your time, other people's time,
the building for rent, etc., is having to hear other people's
perspectives as well.  These are real costs and they should
not be covered by stealing from our parents, or our 
girlfriend/wife/children's time.  

I personally don't feel that the service idea is all
that great either.  In this strategy, the developer
uses services to subsidize development, thus, they
use one customer's money to subsizize free software
available to all customers.  But more than that, 
it also creates an environment where the owner of
a trademark/website by which the free software is named
is in competition with the complementary service
market.  This is very similar to what Microsoft does.
For instance, would you go into competition with 
Digital Creations using their product Zope?  
I would think not.  They control what is and what is
not Zope, thus if you did, you would be in competition
with someone you are dependent upon.  Trying to compete
on a big bid using Zope with Digital Creations.  You
won't get the bid, why?  Beacuse they control the future
of Zope, not through the source, but through the
trademark, which defines a standard.  

Open-source completely ignores the issue of trademark,
which is central to naming and controlling the future
of a standard which people become dependent upon.

Having "Free" software, (free as in free speech) requires
effective trademark management as well as clear copyright

Thus, if you want to be strictly percise, the GPL
favors "free beer" _over_ "free speech", since it
has no provisions for trademark management.  

Anyway, if you'd like to read more, It would be great 
to have your comments:


Clark Evans

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