Is it really free software ?

Randy Kramer rhkramer at
Tue Nov 6 12:56:47 UTC 2001

DeBug wrote:
> egc> : We protect your rights [for free software] with two steps:
> egc> : (1) copyright the software, and
> egc> : (2) offer you this license which gives you legal permission
> egc> : to copy, distribute and/or modify the software.
> ...
> egc> free software exists solely because of copyright law.
>      Why is it necessary to copyright the software in order
>      to make it free ?


I'll take a stab at this.

It depends on what you mean by free, or what freedoms you include.

If you, as a software author, want to write software and give it away
unconditionally, you don't need copyrights.  You just give it away (I'm
oversimplifying, because you want to deal with things like avoiding
liability), and let anybody use it or modify it in any way, including
making a proprietary version, with no requirement to distribute the
source or allow further modifications.  If someone does modify your
program and does not distribute the modification and/or makes it
proprietary, now a derived work has been created that you have no right
to use (or modify) unless you pay for it.  And no one else can either. 
Some people would resent this and feel that their free work has been
made unfree.  (I think I would resent this.)

The way the GPL deals with that is by copyrighting the program, and then
licensing it with the requirement that all (distributed) derived works
must also be licensed under the same license.  (The license requires
things like the source code be available, modifications are allowed, and
distributed modifications must include the source (and be distributed
under the same license).)  This means that your free work stays free.

Hope this helps,
Randy Kramer
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