OSI enforcement?

Donovan Hawkins hawkins at cephira.com
Wed Jan 9 01:52:29 UTC 2008

On Wed, 9 Jan 2008, Philippe Verdy wrote:

> The FSF has never condemned the existence of proprietary schemes, but
> the fact that free software should have an equal right of existence.

I think a distinction is needed between the FSF's free software license 
list and the FSF's position on free software licensing. There are deep 
philosophical divides between advocates of copyleft licenses (such as the 
FSF's GPL) and advocates of permissive licenses (such as BSDL), but I 
don't think that reflects any fundamental difference between the FSF 
definition of "free software" and the OSI definition of "open source 
software". I can't really say anything about *why* the divide happened 
between the two defintions (I was a bit young at the time), but it 
certainly seems like the copyleft/permissive battle spilled over. 
Regardless of the reason, it is not impossible for the two definitions to 
merge at some point in the future.

As for your statement above, I'd say the FSF is advocating not the right 
of free software to exist but rather the ability of free software to 
compete against proprietary software. Their GPL creates a separate and 
distinct commons in order to prevent proprietary software from gaining the 
advantage of using GPL software without GPL software gaining the 
reciprocal advantage.

The other side of the philosophical coin, permissive licensing, neither 
asks for nor expects a level playing field. It creates a commons (modulo 
pointless license incompatibilities) which can be used by both GPL and 
proprietary software.

The philosophical rift is over whether we want to allow other developers 
to use our free software in their proprietary products. This really 
shouldn't have anything to do with defining what free/open-source software 

> The FSF supports the development of commerce, and even prohibits the
> restriction of its licences against commercial use...

Legally there is no restriction on using GPL sofware in commercial works, 
but it requires you to release the source code to your work and allow it 
to be given away for free by anyone who wishes. Practically speaking that 
means you cannot sell your work (or at least, can't sell it more than 
once). You can make money on support and you can make a small amount on 
distribution, but you effectively can't sell the time you spent writing 
the software in the first place (the model most proprietary software 
companies have).

> The FSF can't be accused of creating a polarization, because it has existed
> long before OSI. The OSI is clearly an independent split of the movement
> initially created, popularized and supported by the FSF.

That doesn't necessarily mean the OSI created the polarization. OSI could 
have split off because the FSF was not being responsive enough to the 
needs of everyone in the community.

> But the FSF also recognized what others had made before (notably with 
> the original BSD and MIT licences, that have since then been abused and 
> reused in closed proprietary schemes because they were not enough 
> protected, and that's the main reason why the GPL was created).

If you're a developer using a permissive license, you wouldn't consider 
that abuse. Working as intended.

FSF has a vision for how free software should be developed. At various 
points, the pursuit of that vision has led to splits in the 
community...this isn't either side's fault but is simply the natural 
result of having differing viewpoints. The permissive group split off when 
GPL was released. Torvalds appears to have hopped off the bus when GPL v3 
was released and that may or may not result in a new faction.

Unfortunately I don't see how you can solve this problem since each side 
has a very reasonable and very defendable position. The best we can hope 
for is to get everyone to "agree to disagree" and focus on areas with less 
contention. The free/open-source definition could be one of those areas.

Donovan Hawkins, PhD                 "The study of physics will always be
Software Engineer                     safer than biology, for while the
hawkins at cephira.com                   hazards of physics drop off as 1/r^2,
http://www.cephira.com                biological ones grow exponentially."

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