"viral" (was RE: Licensing options for firmware)

Evan Prodromou evan at bad.dynu.ca
Thu Apr 7 11:39:21 UTC 2005

On Wed, 2005-04-06 at 09:21 -0700, Joel West wrote:

> >Oof. Is there a reason you use that awful term, "viral", instead of
> >"copyleft"? Ignorance, hostility, or something else?
> Because "viral" is an accurate metaphor (in the DNA sense, not in the
> common cold sense).

"Viral" is a hostile metaphor. It implies that copyleft is
non-consensual, unhealthful, and alien to the organism. Using and
modifying Free Software is a choice, and one that requires some work to

I've heard it said that the term means "'Viral' as in 'marketing', not
'viral' as in *cough cough*." That's a roundabout way of saying,
"hateful in another sense." There's definitely a good thesis paper in
the term "viral marketing" -- the idea that common culture, interaction
between human beings not dictated by big media, is somehow dangerous and
febrile. I don't think it's a positive term there, either.

The language we use betrays our thoughts, and it's hard to believe that
anyone friendly to or even objective about Open Source would use a
loathesome term like "viral". You can use whatever words you like, of
course, but I reserve the right to pass judgement on you because of it.
My verdict: crank.


Evan Prodromou
evan at bad.dynu.ca

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