[License-discuss] Open Source Eventually License Development

Bradley M. Kuhn bkuhn at ebb.org
Thu Aug 15 14:17:12 UTC 2013


fred trotter wrote at 03:52 (EDT):
> I have been burned pretty badly by people who literally rewrote
> sections of the GPL to suit them and still called it "GPL" that I know
> that some people will try those shenanigans.

The FSF is quite vigilant about handling situations like this -- it's
one of the reasons that the GPL text itself is still under a copyright
license that forbids modification -- so that situations like this can be
dealt with.

Please report any such issues to the FSF at
<license-violation at fsf.org>.  I hope you so-reported them at the time
you encountered them.

But, I think that issue is somewhat off the point here: you're talking
there about people who are attempting to mislead the public by
illegitimately modifying a license text. I doubt the behavior of such
people would be curtailed by a packet of license templates that help
build proprietary-but-eventually-liberated-code business models.

As has been noted in this thread, such business models have been
experimented with since the early 1990s, and most software freedom
advocates find them, at best, problematic compromises, and, at worst,
scourges upon our community.
> if every person who benefited indirectly from the GNU compiler would
> donate one cent to FSF and one cent to the OSI per year, neither
> organization would have any problem paying the bills. People don't pay
> because that is the norm in our development culture, this mechanism
> could change that.

Non-profit fundraising is always going to be difficult for orgs like FSF
and OSI, but that's not an argument for violating principles that our
community is based on: permission to redistribute with no royalty nor
any payment upstream is a fundamental tenant of software freedom.  While
Free Software licenses should never discriminate *against* charging for
distribution, it's just not Free Software if there's a *mandate* to
charge money.

Also, note that so many volunteers to the FSF give code rather than
pennies.  That's often much more valuable a contribution, anyway.

> Could someone who knows the story well related what problems the
> "people on the other side" had?

I can speak from my personal experience with these business models.
During the Ghostscript era, when I was first working at the FSF, I saw
that few people wanted to contribute to GNU Ghostscript.  Most people
just waited to see what Aladdin would do next, since they knew it'd be
released under GPL "eventually".  This curtailed the usual culture of
Free Software development.

Since that practice ended for Ghostscript, there have been a myriad of
business models attempting to do this sort of thing, and they all suffer
from that fundamental flaw: there's no way build a proper community of
developers around a Free Software codebase when there's an incentive to
"wait N months and see what the primary proprietary developer

Free Software licenses -- particularly copyleft ones -- are designed to
create equal footing for all community participants.  Anytime one
contributor to the codebase has more power than everyone else (usually,
due to holding all the copyrights and operating under terms *other* than
the primary Free Software license for the project), it creates serious
flaws of all sorts in the community around that project.
   -- bkuhn

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