The position RMS takes...

David Johnson david at
Wed Mar 29 03:55:04 UTC 2000

On Tue, 28 Mar 2000, W. Yip wrote:

> I think his key ambiguity is not the word 'freedom' (which the adage
> 'liberty not price' explains) but instead, his (IMHO) clumsy use of the
> word 'proprietary'. If RMS clarifies this word, I believe his position can
> be consistent with my proposition stated above.
> I must stress the legal concept of what is 'proprietary' is very different
> from the word 'proprietary' defined in the GPL. For RMS and the GPL, a
> 'proprietary' license means any license that gives you less rights than the
> GPL. 

I earlier implied that RMS was dishonest. I apologize (I really do).
I realize now that he is just using different definitions than I am.
When he says that Free Software is a matter of liberty, not price, I get
confused. I am every bit as free when I use closed source software as I
am using open source. The confusion arises because those things
sometimes called "permissions" are also called "rights". And a right can
also be a "priviledge". Thus, there is a confusion over permissions and
priviledges. I lose no priviledges when using closed source software,
but merely forego the opportunity of permissions I did not possess in
the first place. Then throw in the phrase "free speech no free beer"
and the concept of political rights in added to the mix. 

> Granted that it would be overly radical and even revolutionary in an active
> sense to go against copyright itself as information property, I would
> concur with the somewhat passive stance that RMS takes (it is passive in
> that it complies with Intellectual Property as far as legal mechanisms are
> concerned).

It's more than passive. The GPL uses the power of copyright law to deny
permissions (restrict) to the user. These restrictions are far fewer
than in closed source licenses, but they still exist.

By requiring that all derivitives of GPLd software also be under the
GPL, the author of the software is actively asserting ownership. If the
intent of RMS was to replace copyrights with a different type of
software ownership, then the "copyleft as subversion" strategy may be
valid. But he makes no such claims. He even has several essays arguing
against any form of software as property.

David Johnson...

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