[License-discuss] Ethical open source licensing - Persona non Grata Preamble
Eric S. Raymond
esr at thyrsus.com
Tue Feb 25 22:24:27 UTC 2020
Richard Fontana <rfontana at redhat.com>:
> I agree with you to some degree. The GPL does show that political
> speech in a preamble is not out of bounds in an open source license.
> But I don't believe the example of the GPL establishes that *all*
> speech possibly characterizable as political in nature should be
> includable in an open source license under the OSD.
Indeed. The GPL's political speech is very narrowly on point to the
motives and goals of free software itself. It's not even an implicit
attempt to recruit developers to other causes. That makes it
acceptable, in my view.
It probably will not surprise any of you to learn that I have given a
lot of thought to what other sorts of political commitments could or
should travel with open-source advocacy,
I have arrived at some conclusions, which I have not shared before
because there was no need to open that can of worms. I will share
them now because they illustrate a principle I think we should follow.
I am very passionate about the defense of free speech and the
fundamental individual rights recognized in (not conferred by - that's
important) the First Amendment to the U.S Constitution.
I am very passionate about the defense of civilian bearing of arms and the
fundamental individual rights recognized in (not conferred by - that's important)
the Second Amendment to the U.S Constitution.
I think political speech in software licenses affiring and supporting the
First Amendment would be appropriate. I think political speech in software
licenses affiring and supporting the Second Amendment would not be.
The crucial difference is this: the open source process is directly
threatened by censorship and speech restrictions. If we cannot
communicate freely and without fear our community cannot function. A
maximalist pro-free-speech political position is entailed by what we
do and who we are, because even attacks on the controversial fringes
of free speech can be - and often have been - battlespace preparation
for measures that would directly damage us.
That is not true for Second Amendment rights. My ability to cooperate with
other developers is not threatened by "gun control" laws, so even though
I consider all such laws idiotic and dangerous there is no way I would
ever advocate pro-Second-Amendment language in a license or otherwise
bundling 2A advocacy with open-source advocacy.
The underlying principle is this: political language or advocacy
should be considered acceptable in an open-source license only to the
extent that it is a direct defense or advocacy of the conditions we
require to accomplish open-source cooperation.
In practice I haven't yet found any category of defense outside of
simply talking about the Four Freedoms that is both conformant to that
necessity and *not* a defense of free speech. I can imagine, for
example, mandatory-licensing laws for software engineers that might
qualify, but so far all those other possible cases are very
Going beyond the political positions that are necessary to our
function can serve no purpose other than to divide and damage the
community. Whether it's "right to bear arms" or "Catalan separatism" or
"diversity and inclusion" we should stay the hell away from all such
controversies. They can do nothing but harm us.
<a href="http://www.catb.org/~esr/">Eric S. Raymond</a>
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