[ppc-mobo] Re: GNU License for Hardware

Stephen Turnbull turnbull at sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
Mon Oct 18 10:17:07 UTC 1999

I wrote:

      I think your analogy is precise and accurate.  It also
    demonstrates an irreparable flaw in your position about individual

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

    rms> It just shows that we're evaluating freedom in two different
    rms> ways and not understanding each other.

OK, fair enough.  I'm being very analytical (in the sense of "breaking
into pieces"); evidently what you are thinking about is at a higher
level.  I guess _this_ "is the part of `Gestalt' I don't understand".

    rms> I was hoping the analogy would help you see it, but it
    rms> didn't, because you're evaluating it the same way in regard
    rms> to dictatorships as in regard to proprietary software.

Yes.  That's because I wanted to try as hard as possible to see what
you're getting at.  There is a very important distinction between
freedoms that the government takes from one by law, backed by force,
and the "freedoms" that one cannot persuade the counterparty in a
negotiation to grant one in voluntary trade.  The former is a direct
unavoidable loss of freedom.  The latter leaves _me_ no worse off than
if I never heard of the product, or it never existed, and I remain
free to go talk to a different vendor.  That comparison makes the
whole discussion moot, so I abstracted from it.

Do you believe you are better off if you are not informed of the
existence of a non-free work of software?

    rms> It is very consistent of you to use the same evaluation
    rms> always, but I'm at a loss to explain what the other way is.

As far as I can tell from your arguments, you believe that the
accident of coming into physical possession of an item carries with it
the right to use it in its natural way.  At least when that item is
software; I can't imagine that you would assert ownership over the
cash or credit cards in a wallet found on the street in the same way.

How do you feel about congestion tolls (the practice of exacting a
toll on use of a public good such as a bridge, not to amortize the
cost of construction, but to improve the convenience to fewer users
who choose to pay the higher toll)?  I think it would be consistent
for you to maintain that the natural use of a bridge is to cross it,
and that the congestion toll infringes your freedom to do so.  But in
fact your use of the bridge also infringes others' freedom to cross it 
(that's what "congestion" means).  So there are rights/freedoms on
both sides.

As there are in the case of legally defined "IP rights".  I have never
seen you deny the software author's right to withhold _all_ rights on
his work from society (by not publishing and distributing the work).
So authors do retain some rights.  That being so, I do not understand
the case for bundling (that is, _forcing_ an author's decision to be
all or nothing) the various rights to

    1. run a program once
    2. run a program as often as you like
    3. see the source of the program
    4. modify the source of the program for personal use
    5. redistribute the executable verbatim
    6. redistribute the source verbatim
    7. redistribute modified executables
    8. redistribute modified source

(are any missing?)  There is absolutely no question that it is
economic nonsense to (a priori) bundle those rights together.
Removing a constraint from an optimization cannot decrease the optimal
objective value.  But you wish to discuss "freedom", not "cost".

That is, if the automatic bundling of rights 2--8 with right 1 whenever
right 1 is granted has equal status to "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit
of Happiness," then the economic argument is irrelevant.  But I do not
see any justification for elevating automatic bundling of 2-8 with 1
to that status.  I can see a justification for raising the bundle 1-8
to that status; it's called "Communism".  I disagree with that.  But
AFAIK, so do you.

What is the argument for bundling those rights together?

On the other hand, there is a pretty strong (IMO) argument that these
rights are in the domain of property rights, and that there is no
strong a priori claim that the property rights should be assigned to
users rather than producers, or in any particular bundle.  And that
argument is that software is very much an economic good.

By that I mean "highly substitutable."  The substitutability is in the 
sense that any given program can "easily" be replaced by an equivalent 
program.  The GNU Project proves this.[1]  (Evidently software patents 
nullify this argument, but we're not talking software patents here.)
If you want to look at the source of a given application, and it's
proprietary, the answer is simple:  write a compatible implementation
and look at that source.  It's not quite the same, but it's very
close most of the time.

Wasted resources rewriting the program?  That's an argument from cost,
and now you're _purely_ in the domain of economics.

And in fact making that bundling principle a "constitutional right"
increases your "freedom" at _my_ expense.  I lose my right to bargain
with vendors for a reduced price (in particular, the case where the
reduction is from "more than I can afford" to "feasible") for software
in which I have fewer rights.

I use terms like "constitutional right" because I think that is
implicit in your statements that you consider selling proprietary
software qua proprietary software (ie, to a fully informed customer)
to be "immoral," and that the mere possession of proprietary software
"reduces your freedom".  That is, that the bundling of the rights
enumerated above should be enforced by law.  If not, I have no idea
what you mean by "moral" and "freedom."

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

    rms> I think this is quite a stretch; taking a risk of losing some
    rms> money is very different from living in a dictatorship.

This is true.  But purchasing proprietary software is, by the same
token, different from living in a dictatorship.

    rms> Perhaps in your political philosophy these differences are of
    rms> no import, but that is not so in all political philosophies.

Fear not; they are of very great importance in my political
philosophy.  But, as I explained above, I interpret the transaction
between a software vendor and her customer to fall in the economic
realm, not the political one.  It is true that you can transfer
property rights from the vendor to the customer by political
action[2], and this is one of the policies you evidently advocate.  Of
course you would characterize the transfer as a "restoration" of the
original right ("freedom").  Still, it is a transfer from one member
of society to another, which has quite different implications for
freedom than the fiat of a government.  In particular, the increase of
freedom for one member of society is attained at the cost of lost
freedom for others, on both sides of the market.

    rms> Comparing Japan to a dictatorship is also a stretch.

Not as much as comparing proprietary software to a dictatorship!

Japan has in living memory been a dictatorship, and has recently
enacted some serious contraints (eg, permissive use of wiretapping by
the police) on freedom into law.

Which software firm shares those characteristics?

    rms> (I do not share the unqualified adoration of entreprenuerism
    rms> that is part of the established ideology, but I think that
    rms> would be an unnecessary tangent.)

I'm aware of that; but by my definition, _you_ are an entrepreneur, as
much so as any business proprietor.  Have you not taken great risks,
introduced innovations, and organized resources to accomplish a goal
of great importance to you?  Also, while I agree with much of the
"established ideology", I recognize it for what it is, and my
agreement is based on self-examination as well as careful
consideration of the content of the ideology.  And I will not restrict 
my application to supporting the conventional wisdom, although that is 
often the outcome.

I think you should be careful about rejecting entrepreneurism in the
sense that I mean it.  This is a genuine freedom, and I consider it
quite different from the bargaining over property rights that
characterizes the proprietary vs. free software issue (until you show
me that it is more than that).

    rms> Using proprietary software makes you less free because it
    rms> means you are living under domination.  Whether you are
    rms> encouraging or discouraging the development of more free
    rms> software or more proprietary software is also important, but
    rms> it's something else.

Good; explicit confirmation that we agree on this.

    rms> You may not care about this [domination], but I do.

If it were domination, I would most definitely care.  But I don't see
it as domination.

    _What_ domination?

    rms> You are forbidden to redistribute a copy to me or anyone
    rms> else.  You are unable to change the program.  In other words,
    rms> you don't have the freedoms that define free software.

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

Then you are dominated, regardless.  You are denied the freedom to
redistribute that software, whether you possess a copy or not.  You
are denied the freedom to use its source code to improve your own

The fact that you choose to put it out of sight and out of mind
doesn't make you more free, as far as I can see.  The fact that the
freedom "acquired" by refusing the software is false is easily
demonstrated: suppose you change your mind, and accept a copy of the
proprietary software.  You still lack the freedoms that define free
software.  OTOH, you do acquire certain rights, freedoms if you will,
to use the software in accordance with the license.

The only benefit I can see is the benefit that one gets from telling
one's boss, "You can't fire me!  I quit!"

(In an instantaneous sense; of course it is possible that by refusing
the software you may help to put the vendor out of business, and thus
increase the scope of free software.  But that dynamic is a different
matter, as you state.)

[1]  I am not belittling the effort and ingenuity that went into the
project; far from it.  What I mean is that given Richard's drive,
there was little risk of complete failure; the GNU system would
eventually come into existence.  Given the determination to replace a
program, "all" that is required is programmer effort in sufficient

[2]  Not necessarily legislation.

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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