Limiting the use of an OpenSource application

John Cowan cowan at
Mon Mar 4 04:42:57 UTC 2002

David Johnson scripsit:

> The key phrase in your post is "at the time". At the time you purchased the 
> apartment you were fully aware of the restrictions, explicitely agreed to 
> them, and (I can only assume ) that you actually signed a document to that 
> effect. You are under contract. There is nothing inherently immoral about two 
> consenting individuals negotiating terms over the use of a piece of property.

Okay, good.  (It hasn't actually happened yet, BTW.)

> The situation is different in software. Imagine if you purchased your 
> apartment thinking that you had full home ownership rights to it, then walked 
> up to the front door the first time and saw a note that said "by entering 
> this apartment you hereby agree to...".

Well, the example is not on all fours, because you don't buy an apartment
on a retail basis, without a hand-drawn contract, lawyers on both
sides, etc. etc.

> If the aforementioned company wants to restrict the use of their software to 
> only "socially conscious" individuals and companies, then they need to 
> explicitely license their software to them. They can't just post it on a ftp 
> site somewhere and impose restrictions on the user AFTER the user has legally 
> aquired the software.

So you argue that the GPL is immoral?  It imposes after-the-fact
restrictions on redistribution; they just serve different purposes
than the "not-to-be-used-by-the-South-African-police" license.

Remember, this is not a restriction on *use*, but on redistribution.
The copyright owner has the right to restrict redistribution.
Indeed, even the BSD license restricts you from redistributing software
in source form with the author's name and copyright hiked off, as AT&T found
out some years ago to their cost.

In any event, suppose there had been a text saying "You may not redistribute
this text to anybody currently on Eric S. Mbogo's List of Certified
Bad Guys" and a button to click that said "I accept" -- and only
then do you get to download.  Would that be moral?

> p.s. The law may say that you own your apartment, but sounds more like an 
> indefinite lease to me.

Technically, I will own shares in a corporation that owns the building;
as a condition of ownership, I have tenancy of the apartment.  When
I leave, I sell the shares back to the corporation and vacate the
apartment.  (Feet first.)

John Cowan               cowan at
To say that Bilbo's breath was taken away is no description at all.  There
are no words left to express his staggerment, since Men changed the language
that they learned of elves in the days when all the world was wonderful.
        --_The Hobbit_
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