[ppc-mobo] Re: GNU License for Hardware

Stephen Turnbull turnbull at sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
Sat Oct 16 12:42:15 UTC 1999

CC trimmed somewhat.

>>>>> "sjt" == I wrote:

    sjt> Then what is the benefit to anyone of me foregoing my OCR?

>>>>> "rms" == Richard Stallman <rms at gnu.org> writes:

    rms> I would rather have no program for the job, than have a
    rms> non-free program.  With no program, I have nothing to be
    rms> ashamed of.

We differ there.  I am a fully informed decision-maker in the matter;
I chose to use the software because it makes doing my job (trying to
explain neoclassical economics in terms that are both accurate and
convey that there's more than money to economics, in fact, that money
is not particularly an important goal) much easier.  I am in no way
ashamed of using free software where it exists, even when it sucks,
and proprietary software where free software does not, even when the
proprietary software is cheap and excellent, in the course of my work.

Why not?  Because teaching economics right is, In My Biased-By-My-
Profession Opinion, far more important to maintaining freedom in
general than maintaining certain disputable theoretical freedoms of a
small part of the economy/culture/society, software.

    sjt> A program that is never written is trivially not free.

    rms> A program which doesn't exist cannot be described either as
    rms> free or as non-free.  It is outside the scope of that
    rms> distinction.

It is not.  I didn't write "doesn't exist"; I wrote "not written".
Please pay others the courtesy that you always demand: reading, and
responding to, what they write.

In some sense all possible programs already exist; we have an
algorithm to generate them ("monkeys typing Shakespeare").  What makes
a person a great programmer is picking programs that are useful,
efficient, and correct out of that soup.  They don't "create" the
programs out of a vaccuum; the programs already exist in this sense,
as members of the (eg) language defined by the syntax of C.[1]

    sjt> So what's wrong with substituting an existing non-free
    sjt> program for a non-existent non-free one?  _Freedom is not
    sjt> decreased._

I am sorry you were misled by my inaccurate use here of "non-existent"
to increase the symmetry of the expression.

    rms> There is a sense in which your freedom is not decreased.  But
    rms> there is another sense in which it is.

_Your_ freedom might be decreased in that sense.  _Mine_ is not.

    rms> In regard to the use of that non-free program, you are under
    rms> the domination of someone else, in a way that would not
    rms> happen if you had no non-free software.

_What_ domination?

I own the software, I pay no royalties on its use, I can lend my box
to my friends so they can use it, exactly as I share my automobile on
occasion.  I can stop using that software any time.  I have done so,
although not for reasons of principle (installing the wrong DLL broke
the software).  But the solution would be the same: I typed by hand,
just as I would have done had the software not been available at all.

What domination?  I just don't see it.  It's a voluntary transaction,
and it's not like I'm unaware of the small print.

On the other hand, my freedom increases, because there are activities
that I can choose to do that I could not if I forego the OCR software.
I can scan and OCR documents, increasing accuracy and saving time.  As
for the restrictions, if I own the software, I am not legally free to
make copies for my friends.  If I don't own the software, I am not
physically free to make copies for my friends.  I just don't see a

In fact, even the transmutation of a physical restriction into a legal
restriction increases my freedom; as a semi-anarchic rationalist
(pace, Robert Anson) I can choose to violate the contract, either
following Thoreau and landing in jail, or secretly, just like any
promise-breaker hoping to get away with it.  I can't copy bits I don't
possess, though.

    rms> Perhaps I can explain better with an analogy.  (Analogies are
    rms> never valid as proofs, but they can be useful as
    rms> explanations.)

Or they can be Trojan horses, which then destroy your argument from
the inside.  I think your analogy is precise and accurate.  It also
demonstrates an irreparable flaw in your position about individual

    rms> Suppose you live in country A which is a free country.
    rms> Suppose you are not allowed to enter country B, which is a
    rms> dictatorship.

    rms> Now suppose the situation changes and you are allowed to
    rms> enter country B, subject to its restrictions on speech,
    rms> secret police, and such.  In one sense, this decision gives
    rms> you increased freedom, because a strictly larger set of
    rms> options is open to you.  I think that is the sense that you
    rms> are using for the comparison.

    rms> But if you start spending much of your time in country B, I
    rms> would say that your life is less free in another sense,
    rms> because the oppressive system of country B now dominates a
    rms> part of your life.  I think that sense is more important.

Richard, I have done exactly that.  Not only have I lived in a
less-free country, Japan, for ten years now, but I have married a
native and my daughter is dual-citizenship.  If it is necessary for my
freedom (and more importantly, theirs), I will leave and take them
with me, just as I would stop using my OCR software if I became
unhappy with the contract.  If the additional freedoms it would
provide seemed beneficial to me, I would apply for naturalization as a
Japanese, despite the fact that it would tend to close off my avenue
of retreat from potential violations of certain of my freedoms.

I am sorry, but I think your argument is simply irrational.  Ruling
out relationships because there is a _risk_ of entrapment does not
make me freer.  It makes me less free.  If the risk of entrapment is
great enough, I would give up the benefits that make the risky action
attractive.  Otherwise, I may take the risk and enjoy the benefits.

That is an important freedom: the freedom to choose to take risks.  In 
economics it's known by a rather different name:  "entreprenuerism".

None of the rock climbers, hang-gliders, or free software businessmen
I know will give it up.  When you choose not to take the risk that
someday you will want to share proprietary software, you are
exercising that freedom.  If I choose to accept that risk by using the
software, I am exercising my freedom.  So far I've not been tempted to
"share" the OCR software; my students use my scanner, my colleagues
use their own budgets.  I have lost nothing.

True, my life in Japan is less free on a day-to-day basis in many ways
than it would be in the US; but without taking that risk and accepting
instantaneous restrictions (even though they may persist for years, I
can rather quickly bail out at some economic cost) on some of my
freedoms, I would not be free to enjoy my wife, my baby, and the
Japanese culture.

Interestingly enough, Japanese culture is why I am posting here
today---I needed Ghostscript to print kanji, I needed it to work under
an unfree operating system called DESQview/X where it did not, I
provided a small patch but it still wasn't quite right, I needed a
better compiler, so I started following DJGPP development, and that's
how I learned about GNU.

I'm sorry, if you want to argue that using proprietary software makes
me less free, you are going to have to argue in dynamic terms, that by 
supporting proprietary software I am encouraging creation of more
proprietary software, perhaps crowding out free software.

But once you do that, you must accept the other possibility: that by
becoming more productive through the use of unique proprietary
implementations where necessary, I free up resources which I use to
support free software, perhaps on balance crowding out the proprietary
stuff.  More realistically, more rapidly expanding the domain where
you, Richard, can live a shame-free life.  I think that's the way the
world is going to work, in fact.  It's not perfect, but I think it's a 
pretty good world, all told.[2]

[1]  I don't take this model all that seriously; the word "creative"
is to useful and apt.  It is a useful model for my economic research
though, if I can get the math straight (^^;

[2]  Abstracting from the threats from software patents and UCITA,
which are real although I believe the magnitude to be smaller than
many others do.

University of Tsukuba                Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences       Tel/fax: +81 (298) 53-5091
What are those two straight lines for?  "Free software rules."

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