The position RMS takes...

Rod Dixon, J.D., LL.M. rod at
Wed Mar 29 12:05:01 UTC 2000

I agree. RMS is using language in an atypical manner so it's tricky to grasp
what he is saying upon a first reading. RMS has told me he is not in favor
of de-linking copyright from software. In other words, copyleft is in fact
an alternative version of copyright.  RMS told me he does not support some
of the conclusions I have made in an article on copyright and copyleft that
will be published in the Columbia Science and Technology Law Review. His
primary objection seems to be that although software needs to be free, free
software needs the property protections of copyright. I think his argument
is not circular (even though it appears to be), but it is not revolutionary


> -----Original Message-----
> From: David Johnson [mailto:david at]
> Sent: Tuesday, March 28, 2000 10:55 PM
> To: W. Yip; license-discuss at
> Subject: Re: The position RMS takes...
> 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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