License Proliferation

Matthew Seth Flaschen superm40 at
Mon Sep 5 01:25:18 UTC 2005

Russell Nelson wrote:

>Chris Zumbrunn writes:
> > "Open" and "free" would become the Yin and Yang of the open source
> > movement and the clear difference will actually make it easier to
> > develop compatibility and harmony.
>Uhhhh, actually I made that point to show that the GPL works as hard
>to inhibit and prevent freedom as it does to support and increae
>freedom.  It's not "Open" and "free", it's "Freedom as defined by RMS"
>and "Freedom as defined by the rest of us; you know, the absence of
>restrictions on activity."  It's pretty Orwellian of Richard to say
>that we're more free when we live under more restrictions.
>I'm not making this up; this has been a long-term and long-lasting
>criticism of the GPL.  I'm posing it as a strawman because I know that
>there are members of the community who feel this way about the GPL,
>and their voices haven't been heard.  I distribute most of my software
>under the GPL, so if you watch my feet, you can see how I've voted.
The GPL protects what the FSF has identified as the fundamental 
freedoms, namely

"1. The freedom to run to run the program for any purpose
 2. The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your 
needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
 3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor 
(freedom 2).
 4. The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to 
the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to 
the source code is a precondition for this."

Allowing those actions makes software free according to the FSF, and it 
has never attempted to claim that free software is free in any other 
sense.  In fact, the FSF recognizes that other freedoms may not be 
guaranteed by the GPL and other copylefted licenses, saying that 
"certain kinds of rules about the manner of distributing free software 
are acceptable, when they don't conflict with the central freedoms."  I 
agree with the FSF that those freedoms are the most important where 
software is concerned.  Furthermore, it is simply incorrect to say the 
GPL "inhibits freedom" when most software would be more free under both 
the FSF's definition and yours if the software's license changed to the 
GPL.  GPL software has fewer restrictions on activity than the vast 
majority of software, so it's ridiculous to say it's preventing freedoms 
that would otherwise be available.  It is freer even under your 
pointlessly broad definition.  Maybe there's Newspeak here, but it's not 
coming from Stallman or the FSF.  If you are really making these claims 
as a devil's advocate, you should think twice.  Should you really be 
advocating a position that has supporters who are so apathetic about it 
they will not do so themselves?

-Matt Flaschen

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