GNU License for Hardware

Arandir arandir at
Mon Oct 18 05:15:22 UTC 1999

On Sun, 17 Oct 1999, Richard Stallman wrote:

> For those of us who care about these freedoms as freedoms,
> to be denied them is domination.

I rarely respond the Richard Stallman, because even though I disagree with him
on certain philosophical issues, I still greatly respect him. However, this
previous statement cuts right to the heart of the matter, and I feel I must
respond. It appears to be a main premise of the FSF.

It depends greatly upon the meaning of "freedom" and "domination". A
restriction in and of itself is not a domination. If someone denies me the use
of my own property or faculties, either by criminal or governmental acts, then
I am certainly dominated. If one believes that the software in their possession
is their own property, then certainly they will feel dominated by restrictions
against distribution or modifications. This is a question of property
ownership. Is the software owned by the user or the copyright holder? Current
law recognizes the latter, but the existance of a law does not make it right,
correct or proper.

I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of software developers believe
that the software that they write is "theirs", no matter who uses it. This also
applies for most developers distributing their software under the GPL. In fact,
the mere fact that the software is under the GPL give creedence to this belief.
Otherwise, the developer who does not believe the software to be theirs
wouldn't not restrict it in any way to the user.

The use of software is voluntary. Caveat Emptor, and if you didn't read the
restrictive license that Microsoft or Sun gave you, that is your fault. It is
still voluntary, because you can discontinue its use at any time. You are not
being dominated unless the software is your personal possession
(You may believe that they have defrauded you into thinking you actually bought
it, but that is another case)

This all comes down to the concept of intellectual property. Those who believe
IP is wrong, will believe any software license, proprietary or free, is a
domination. Those who believe that IP is justified will see any license on
software as just that, a license, that gives the user certain permissions.

But I never understood that the "free" in Free Software referred to a
political freedom or liberty. This understanding probably differs from
Richards. I see the "free" as meaning "free to use". I write an application,
and give it to my friend, telling him he is "free to use it". I certainly do
not tell him that I am liberating him, or that I am giving him a freedom or a
right. The freedoms granted to me in the GPL or other free licenses are
permissions, not political rights like free speech.

David Johnson

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