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GNU is Not Unix

Freedom or Power? 521

Posted by michael
from the turkey-or-ham dept.
mpawlo writes: "As reported by Gnuheter, a new essay published by Bradley M. Kuhn and Richard M. Stallman carries the title "Freedom or Power?". The authors state something that we might have suspected from essays from Kuhn and Stallman before, but now is a little more clear, if still ambiguous: "However, one so-called freedom that we do not advocate is the "freedom to choose any license you want for software you write". We reject this because it is really a form of power, not a freedom." The essay is interesting in the light of an earlier essay published by Eric S Raymond. ... Tim O'Reilly started the debate with his weblog of July 28, 2001: My definition of freedom zero."
Ed. note - FWIW, Stallman and Kuhn are right. Not necessarily in their advocacy of the GPL, but certainly in their description of whether licensing is freedom for the developer or power over others. All licensing stems from copyright law, a completely man-made creation whose sole purpose is to give the writer of creative works artificial power over what others do with those works. If you take the canonical description of freedom ("Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins") and apply it to software, it's pretty clear that true freedom would not let one person control what another does with software.
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Freedom or Power?

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  • by perdida (251676) <thethreatproject.yahoo@com> on Thursday November 22, 2001 @08:05PM (#2601977) Homepage Journal
    ends where my face begins.

    The fundamental problem with anarchism lies in this statement. Open Source's GPL itself requires a heirarchy to maintain it, although it was designed to fight a heirarchy.

    You need a body of people who act similarly to the RIAA or whomever, investigating people's GPL licenses and behaviors with Open Source software and its derivatives.

    Of course, the "GPL police" would wind up chasing large corporations or developers who wish to appropriate GPL'd tech in closed source projects. This would make them rather ineffective, due to the financial disparities between the OSS movement and corporations.

    So, OSS is going to have to do what M$ does, and that is buy into the government through a lobbying system.
    • by Deskpoet (215561) on Thursday November 22, 2001 @09:02PM (#2602144) Homepage Journal
      So, OSS is going to have to do what M$ does, and that is buy into the government through a lobbying system.

      One reason some anarchists revile Noam Chomsky is because he advocates such activities to achieve the ultimate goal of a hierarchal-less society: in effect, working from within the system to change it, which is inherently contradictory to the very concept of autonomous free zones, etc. (I don't follow this line of thinking myself, but the idea is out there.)

      Your characterization of anarchism is unfounded; it is not about defining freedoms, it is about the expectation that human beings are not children to be sheparded through their lives by external conventions or traditional modes of living, thinking and feeling. Anarchism, as a mode of thought, simply expects people to be grown-ups. Most people who have anything to say about the subject--which is to say, most people who are not in any shape or form an anarchist--fail to notice this component of it in their mad rush to disavow any possibility that human beings can live this way.

      If you're really seeking to understand "anarchy" from a workable economic perspective, go to parecon.org [parecon.org] for more information.
    • Freedom and private property go hand in hand. They are mutually inclusive concepts and cannot exist without each other. This is one reason communism cannot work.., there can be no true practical freedon if we do not have the right to claim things as our own and that includes, as others have already written, the right to express control over our creations.

      The choice to give it away, or destroy it is the decision of the creator of that work.
    • Open Source's GPL itself requires a hierarchy to maintain it, although it was designed to fight a hierarchy.

      In the immortal words of Eric Arthur Blair (better know as George Orwell):

      "Throughout recorded time, and probably since the end of the Neolithic Age, there have been three kinds of people in the world, the High, the Middle, and the Low. They have been subdivided in many ways, they have borne countless different names, and their relative numbers, as well as their attitude towards one another, have varied from age to age; but the essential structure of society has never altered. Even after enormous upheavals and seemingly irrevocable changes, the same pattern has always reasserted itself, just as a gyroscope will always return to equilibrium, however far it is pushed one way or the other."

      If you want to change the hierarchy, change the human being.
  • by mindstrm (20013) on Thursday November 22, 2001 @08:06PM (#2601981)
    true freedom would mean I can't be thrown in jail for murdering a bus full of kids.

    Not able to license however I want? Get real.

    Look. I'll be the first to advocate the use of free/oss software. Stuff that the community can use and build upon. In fact, in more than just software, I'm in favor of nothing really stopping people from doing things for the common good.

    However. If I write software, with my time, and my effort, then nobody is going to tell ME under what terms I may let someone else use it. Period.

    I'm not a fan of over-broad IP law, but I'm also not an advocate of ditching it altogether.

    I'm not totally opposed to communism.. but that's basically what Stallman wants. Communist hippie software (literally). Great. Good for him. Communies can be fantastic in the right circumstances, with the right group of people.

    But the majority of the world is based upon power. Supply and demand, money, greed, etc.
    • true freedom would mean I can't be thrown in jail for murdering a bus full of kids

      Kudos on a very insightful and reasonable post. The laws that stop people from committing crimes are totally artificial entities: I can't drive through stop lights because the law says I can't, regardless of the fact that I can slam the accelerator and technically I can drive through a stop light. I can't freely go into a tower and shoot at people not because it's hard to get a rifle into a tower, nor because the rifle magically stops working in said tower, but because the law doesn't look favourably on it, and society has mechanisms that prevent. Copyright laws are no less "real" than any of countless laws that allow society to function.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 22, 2001 @08:29PM (#2602042)
      I can't be thrown in jail for murdering a bus full of kids.

      It depends on how you murder the bus. If you put the bus inside a compactor then yes, the kids will die and you should go to jail. If you just climb on the bus, hit the floor with your fists a dozen times, and proclaim "the bus is dead now", you will hardly be thrown in jail for making the kids laugh.
    • by Billly Gates (198444) on Thursday November 22, 2001 @08:35PM (#2602059) Journal
      "However. If I write software, with my time, and my effort, then nobody is going to tell ME under what terms I may let someone else use it. Period.". Agreed. I view freedom = power. Not freedom vs power. I think what Stallman really means is who has the power? You as teh developer or the user. Most companies like Microsoft and IBM want to have power over the their software. But this comes at an expense to the user. For example I had to buy XP because of my job. I already activated it twice and I am afriad to install anything. If it screws up my system then I have to activate my pc for the last time before forking another 300 BUCKS! I know most of you are laughing at me right now but as a user this is not funny and it is, well kind of my computer so why can't I install more then 3 times?



      This is what RMS means by freedom. I never have to worry about this under linux. Of course many opensource programers also make proprietary software for work which pays the bills. I think there should be some limits as to whats exceptable in an EULA for example. However as a user I have to make a choice between how much power do I want. Gnu ( power for me) or MS-EULA ( all strict power for ms), or somewhere in between with most software products. I am a poor part time college student so I choose GNU.

      • I think what Stallman really means is who has the power? You as teh developer or the user.

        In other words, the guy who did the work, or somebody else with whom he chose to share?

        Stallman's logic is that the world would be better if we didn't get paid for our work. Like all Communists, he thinks the economy is a zero sum game, in which the current level of wealth could be distributed equally to all and all would be comfortable.

        It doesn't occur to him that if it weren't for proprietary licenses, computing would still be in the "Altair box I built in my basement" level for the masses, I.E., the masses ain't got it.

        His kind of freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose; nothing of any value, anyway.

        The PC hardware which is his primary platform, and which allowed the growth of the low-cost market that is the primary user of his software, wouldn't even exist if it wasn't for Microsoft. They suck, and I don't chose to use their software, but nevertheless I wouldn't have this Linux laptop on which I type this if IBM hadn't had a market to sell it to in sufficent quantity to justify making it and charging a price I could afford, and THAT market chooses Windows every day.

        Fortunately the people of the US aren't nuts enough to elect legislators that would enact Stallman's ridiculous agenda. The intelligent stance in computing is to use the right tool for the job, whether that's a processor, a compiler, and OS, or a license.

        Communist raisin, I rebuke thee.
      • Freedom 0 (Score:2, Interesting)

        by lightware (415793)
        I appears many readers are failing to read the links. That, or do not understand the values being espoused in the various articles.

        Freedom as being described in these articles, isn't the same freedom many of us are accustomed to. Rather, it is being declared in a very atypical self-censored form.

        This freedom is more clearly labeled Freedom 0, as O'Reilly does in his original article. A limited freedom in the sense that it is a freedom of choice to be exercised; a freedom of choosing and not a freedom of acting.

        Most governments have established freedom for their citizens insofar as that freedom does not interfere with that same freedom in others. But as a whole, we have really failed to analyze the types of freedom this empowers us with, and the freedoms we are limited to.

        It would appear RMS is reembracing this application of freedom, in only the strictest sense.

        "The freedom to swing your fist ends where my face begins" as another reader so eloquently put it. It would appear Freedom 0 is only an attempt to analyze where exactly our faces begin; where exactly do we limit the freedoms we have previously, commonly accepted. And perhaps moreso, a new obersavation asserting that our faces are far closer to the swinging fists than we previously accepted. And so, as a new standard to be raised in the light of the digital age, where new freedoms are discovered, but still under the threshold of out-dated control, in a realm that continuously promises new freedoms.

        It is impossible to make that same examination-the assertion of only Freedom 0-in a Democratic Capitalistic society, such as the US, because of the many contradictions it would bring to light. Capitalism cannot suceed without the unipmeded effort to exploit the resources of the masses for personal gain.

        The very freedom RMS espouses is contraindicative of a capitalist society. And in my opinion, only in the borderless benevolent anarchy of the internet can such a freedom be exhorted, as it now is.

        It cannot apply to our physical world, at least not in the way commonly accepted by the various World Powers. But in the indefinite information space that is shared by all does this concept deserve its greatest relevance.

        Freedom 0 can not work without common acceptance. It would be hypocritical of this limited freedom to be forced upon ourselves, without all parties first declaring a willingness to be limited by it.

        So in the sense that this new formula for freedom is an expression of power itself, it is my personal opinion, that under willing acceptance it is not so.

        As has been previously recounted, freedom is only an idea, an abstraction that has no basis for our real world interactions, but rather only on our choosing of them.

        It is only under common acceptance of freedom, that we can govern in its name.

        So too, is this also with Freedom 0.

        One must withold their right to freely define freedom, to afford the benefits its acceptance can provide.

        So the very concept of freedom itself is quite paradoxical, or at least contradicting, there is no question of that. It is only in its acceptance by many, does freedom really materialize in an expressable shape.

        And I, for one, am all for Freedom 0

      • "However. If I write software, with my time, and my effort, then nobody is going to tell ME under what terms I may let someone else use it. Period.". --- Agreed. I view freedom = power. Not freedom vs power.

        Unfortunately, there is the question of what happens when your work finally gets into the hands of someone else. This gets into things like "Artists' rights" where an artist has some rights protect their works even when sold to another (protecting things like statues, etc)

      • For example I had to buy XP because of my job. I already activated it twice and I am afriad to install anything. If it screws up my system then I have to activate my pc for the last time before forking another 300 BUCKS! I know most of you are laughing at me right now but as a user this is not funny and it is, well kind of my computer so why can't I install more then 3 times?

        No wonder you're paranoid. You don't understand anything about XP activation. First off, installing software will not affect your activation status. Only installing/replacing hardware can do that (and you have to replace something like six different pieces before you need to reactivate). Also, you can reinstall as many times as you like. You can reactivate up to 10 times, at which point you'll need to call Microsoft on the 11th reactivation. You do not need to buy a new license, nor do anything but tell them you're reactivating, and it's done. Finally, if you bought XP for business use, why didn't your business by a license pack? Buying XP licenses in bulk (5+ licenses, I believe) allows you to not have to bother with activating the system. Perhaps you should research these things a bit more before you start in with the paranoia, eh?

    • by blakestah (91866) <blakestah@gmail.com> on Thursday November 22, 2001 @08:38PM (#2602069) Homepage
      However. If I write software, with my time, and my effort, then nobody is going to tell ME under what terms I may let someone else use it. Period.

      But copyright law already does that. If you let anyone use your software, they CAN make archival backups. They CAN transfer the copyright and all archival materials to someone else. They CAN implement ANY idea embodied by the work and use it as their own intellectual property. The only thing you have control over is the specific expression you use.

      Whereas I agree that posturing over whether one thing or another is freedom or power is semantic and will NOT lead to a logical conclusion to the argument, I am almost completely unconvinced that copyright law as it currently applies to software is appropriate. It can be redefined however the government sees fit - its purpose, after all, is to encourage people to create works for limited time protection, so that public domain eventually becomes quite rich in intellectual property.

      Currently many people are finding it less costly in the long run to create new operating systems instead of using those commercially available. That alone tells you we have had a near complete failure of the laws on software IP. It is long past due for a change.
    • true freedom would mean I can't be thrown in jail for murdering a bus full of kids.

      BS, because that would mean you're restricting *my* freedom to throw you into jail. So it isn't true freedom.

      We live in a world of absolute freedom. What we've chosen to do with that freedom is to set up systems of laws, to jail people who do things we don't like, etc. You're "free" to murder the busload of kids, and I'm "free" to introduce you to Ol' Sparky for doing so. Perhaps you should consider a more meaningful definition of freedom?
    • true freedom would mean I can't be thrown in jail for murdering a bus full of kids.

      Perhaps you missed the bit in the essay where they say...

      Freedom is being able to make decisions that affect mainly you. Power is being able to make decisions that affect others more than you. If we confuse power with freedom, we will fail to uphold real freedom.

      It seems you have confused power with freedom.

    • However. If I write software, with my time, and my effort, then nobody is going to tell ME under what terms I may let someone else use it.

      You can choose whether or not to give someone a copy of the software, true - they can't use force to pry a copy out of your fingers. (That's why and how you can sell free software [gnu.org].) But you need government force (or some kind of force) if you want to control what they do with it once you give them a copy.

      You have a natural freedom not to give me a copy of a program, poem, song, or whatever you created. You do not have a natural right to control what I do with it afterwards.

      I'm not totally opposed to communism.. but that's basically what Stallman wants.

      No, it's not, and you would be well served to go read some Marx before you make such ignorant statements.

  • Strange distinction. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dinotrac (18304) on Thursday November 22, 2001 @08:08PM (#2601986) Journal
    I don't understand RMS's obsession with powerless freedom.

    Any freedom that means something is, in some way, an expression of power.

    The freedom to own my own home and house my family is meaningless unless I can exercise the power to keep others out.

    The freedom to speak out against the government is empty unless there is power to prevent government censorship.

    The GPL's guarantees of freedom to take, use, modify and distribute source code are meaningless without the power to enforce them.

    Freedom without power is no freedom at all.
    • by Pathos78 (398591) on Thursday November 22, 2001 @09:51PM (#2602253)
      Any freedom that means something is, in some way, an expression of power.


      This is an oversimplification of the slave (user) view of power. As a master (developer), with power over others, granting freedom is a dissolution of power. As far as I can tell, the Tao De Ching, RMS and The Holy Reverend Polyfather feel this is the only justifiable use of power: giving it to others.

      MS's use of power is the reverse: the concatenation of power, into larger pools controlled by smaller numbers of people. This reinforces the master/slave relationship, which ultimately devalues everyone involved.

      The GPL is a powerful tool for creating freedom. Not everthing falls into a simple top-down heirarchy.

      Plus your analogy to home defense is FUD. Is anyone brutally reverse engineering your code to rob you? If they are, is your EULA going to do a damn thing about it? How will you ever know for certain?
      • by dinotrac (18304)
        Oversimplification? Hardly.
        Your notion of granting freedom to others as a dissolution of power is just plain wrong. It is a transfer of power. Those who receive the freedom obtain the power that goes with it, including the power to enforce the GPL against those who wrongfully derive from their own work. In fact, it is a power mulitiplier. The author has given some (but not all) power up to the licensees. However, each of those licensees have gained power that approaches that of the original author -- especially with regard to derived work. In a sense, the GPL is an empowering tool, not a destroyer of power.

        Your "criticism" of my home defense example is confused and confusing. Not surprising given that you don't seem to understand what FUD is.

        PS. I don't rely on EULAs. I use free software.
    • I don't understand RMS's obsession with powerless freedom.
      Any freedom that means something is, in some way, an expression of power.

      The GPL does not deny true powers and freedom. like if someone copys your code and says that they wrote it instead of you, you still have legal rights to defend against that type of fraud.
      The freedom to own my own home and house my family is meaningless unless I can exercise the power to keep others out.
      The freedom to own your own house derives from the fact that not everyone could use it at the same time without massively intefering with each other. Properties just didn't come about because such and such institution said so.
      The freedom to speak out against the government is empty unless there is power to prevent government censorship.
      Copyrights are a form of censorship. Rights are something that exist inspite of government, not because of it.
      The GPL's guarantees of freedom to take, use, modify and distribute source code are meaningless without the power to enforce them.
      And it has that power, I cant take GPL'd code and stick it into closed software, and that's legally enforceable.
      Freedom without power is no freedom at all.
    • RMS is using an unusual set of terms in this essay. He's using "power" and "freedom" in ways that they are not normally used.

      Fortunately, he has the good sense to define his terms.

      He defines freedom as:

      being able to make decisions that affect mainly you

      Conversely, he defines power as:

      being able to make decisions that affect others more than you

      Under this definition, the first freedom you mention is actually a freedom, not power. The ability to make decisions about who can enter the home where you live is an ability to make decisions that affect mainly you. Most people do not want to enter your home (even if you're Mr. Popular, there are billions of people on the earth :) and are not affected at all; even the ones who do want to visit you, most do not want to force themselves upon you, and the burglars and so on who might want to visit you despite your not welcoming them are not affected nearly as much by your refusal to grant them entry as you would be affected by their entry.

      I won't deal with the free-speech example, because it's empty. There is never power to prevent government censorship; the government is the agent of power - when it is powerless, it is not a government.

      And, lastly, RMS defends the GPL as being a necessary evil. In a more logical world, the GPL would not have to exist.

      I don't know if I agree with RMS, but it's clear you didn't understand him.

    • by abe ferlman (205607) <bgtrio@yCHICAGOahoo.com minus city> on Friday November 23, 2001 @12:27AM (#2602659) Homepage Journal
      Your simple post is attractive for its conciseness, but you conflate the power to take away freedoms and the power to protect freedom. They are different.

      The distinction is actually rather obvious. You have the freedom to do anything you like except take away freedoms. You are being too simplistic with your notion of "power"- It's not that all power is bad, but rather that power when used to take away important freedoms is bad.

      The GPL takes away no more freedom than is necessary to preserve freedom, and in a world where no one is able to take away your freedom to use information (i.e., a world without copyright), the GPL becomes unenforcable, you're right- but also unnecessary. I can only guess that those shouting loudest about how the GPL takes away freedoms must be paid by microsoft, because the only freedom it takes away is your right to keep someone else from having the same freedoms you have, and the only beneficiaries of such a system would be those who want to take the work of the community and make it exclusively their own.

      Your "right to defend my home" example presumes you have an exclusive right to the object you are protecting. Intellectual property doesn't work this way though- the government grants you a temporary monopoly, it is not yours by right but rather because the framers of the constitution thought it would be a good bargain that would maximize social benefit. Unfortunately, they were wrong.

      Your "censorship" example raises a good point. Everyone has the right to say that certain things ought not be said, but no one has the right to *keep people from saying those things*. Where is the freedom to censor? It is incompatible with free speech, and free speech is a fundamental right, so it trumps the "freedom to censor". Similarly, the freedom to take away other people's right to use software is incompatible with the freedom to use and modify software for any purpose.

      No wishing for more wishes. -the djinni
  • by John Miles (108215) on Thursday November 22, 2001 @08:09PM (#2601989) Homepage Journal
    The authors state something that we might have suspected from essays from Kuhn and Stallman before, but now is a little more clear, if still ambiguous: "However, one so-called freedom that we do not advocate is the "freedom to choose any license you want for software you write". We reject this because it is really a form of power, not a freedom."

    And forcing me to choose a license that meets the FSF's approval is an attempt to assert what?

    Could it be...?

    Power?

    I'm impressed. That single-sentence excerpt, by itself, says more about its author than Mao's entire Little Red Book did.
    • And forcing me to choose a license that meets the FSF's approval is an attempt to assert what?

      Could it be...?

      Power?


      Nope...if you read the article, you will find that power is when you affect other people more than yourself. When pushing for free software, they are clearly trying to affect themselves - their ability to run the software, modify it, and so on.

      They are trying to prevent people from doing one thing, and that is taking freedom away from others. But taking freedom away from others is no more a "right" or a "freedom" than taking people's property from them or their lives. Nobody complains that their inability to rob people is "the government taking their freedoms away from them".

      Similarly, the ONLY action GNU wants to take away from you is your ability to take freedom away from other people. I think that's perfectly spelled out in the GPL. People don't have the right to take freedom from other people.

      Say what you want about GNU, but they are the only voice in the free software or open source community that has the balls to stand up for what's right, rather than spending their time worrying which "open source" company is making their profit margins, whether or not we'll be taken seriously by Bill Gates (the answer is - who cares) and worrying about whether or not free software or open source is a "viable business model".

      They stand for freedom, they stand for high quality software, and they got GNU/Linux to where it is today. Or maybe you'd like to try running Linux without the GNU system. Good luck.

      People will attack them with glib wordplay like you've done in your post, but take them out of the equation, and you've got all the proprietary abuses you had with your Micros~1 software, just that it's a different cabal that would be running things.
      • Similarly, the ONLY action GNU wants to take away from you is your ability to take freedom away from other people. I think that's perfectly spelled out in the GPL. People don't have the right to take freedom from other people.

        It'll be interesting to hear your explanation of how I can "take freedom from other people" by writing my own software and offering it under license terms of my own choosing.

        If you honestly believe what you wrote, you're not talking about power, or even ideology. You're talking about religion.
        • by Uruk (4907) on Thursday November 22, 2001 @09:07PM (#2602156)
          It'll be interesting to hear your explanation of how I can "take freedom from other people" by writing my own software and offering it under license terms of my own choosing

          Simple - people should have the freedom to use software. See the free software definition. When you license software under a non-free software license, you take away my freedoms as listed by the free software definition.

          Programs, like math formulas, like cooking recipies, like common sense, are generally useful technical information. They help advance society, and it's wrong for someone to deny that to people, just like it's wrong to deny people the ability to use common sense ideas and methods, (read: one click shopping) just like it's wrong to deny people to make use of information that can help them. (think of banning people from using calculus unless they paid a licensing fee)

          If you honestly believe what you wrote, you're not talking about power, or even ideology. You're talking about religion

          Huh? Where did you get this? My feeling is that you're just trying to brand an idea a religion, (read up on the definition, and I think you'll see the error in this) so that you can slag it. That's what we call a strawman argument.
      • Something I've written is something I should be able to exercise power over. If I am the kind of person who thinks that the ability of others to modify my software is desirable, great! If I am not, I should not have to make the choice between either allowing this to occur against my wishes or not writing the software (which is my interpretation of the position that all software should be GPL'd). I agree with Tim O'Reilly's definition of Freedom 0 as the freedom to choose the terms under which I will release the software I've written.
  • I have this to ask. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Spamuel (246002)
    What is freedom if not power?
    • Please, resist the temptation to turn a serious debate into a silly game of semantics.

      Given the definitions of both, it's clear that you could work out a plausible arugment semantically speaking that freedom implies power, or that power implies freedom, (since if you have power no one can stop you from doing certain things, etc).

      None of that has anything to do with GNU, Linux, software, the freedom to run software, or anything else. This is not a cute semantic game, this is a discussion about software, and what rights people should have to the software that controls many aspects of their lives, whether they like it or not.
    • Read RMS' article. He defines the two terms, and while I'm not sure he's got his definitions right, they're the ones that are relevant for discussing his arguments.

  • Freedom/Power (Score:5, Flamebait)

    by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Thursday November 22, 2001 @08:16PM (#2602007)
    Who appointed Stallman God? In his own way he is just as bad as Bill Gates, for they are both trying to dictate the terms under which we can distribute the software we write, or use the software we use that has been written by others.

    I reject both of them for trying to control what I do with the code I write. When I write something, _I_ should have control under the provisions it is licensed under.

    When I use software from others I have to make a choice about what license provisions I will agree to. These days I have a lot of choices. I like it that way.

    I am perfectly capable of making my own decisions in this regard - and I cannot stomach the idea of others trying to make them for me.
    • This argument by RMS is essentially about power -- HIS power. Bill Gates wants to force you to give him money in exchange for software. RMS wants to force you to give him the source code with any software you write.

      Both arguments are essentially about the person doing the arguing, not the person on the other end of the transaction.

      The right to choose the license under which you will release the work you do is probably the most fundamental freedom of all. Being forced to give away source code, whether you like it or not, is essentially forced bondage.

      The GPL as written is an amazing document, one that does an excellent job of balancing freedoms for all parties involved in software distribution. But it doesn't suit all purposes or all situations. Trying to force it into all transactions is an abrogation of freedoms, not an extension.
    • Re:Freedom/Power (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Uruk (4907) on Thursday November 22, 2001 @09:02PM (#2602145)
      Who appointed Stallman God?

      Nobody, of course you're free to ignore him.

      In his own way he is just as bad as Bill Gates, for they are both trying to dictate the terms under which we can distribute the software we write, or use the software we use that has been written by others

      The only thing he attempts to prevent people from doing is taking freedom away from other people.

      I reject both of them for trying to control what I do with the code I write. When I write something, _I_ should have control under the provisions it is licensed under.

      One of the underlying assumptions that GNU has, (which I happen to agree with) is that programs are generally useful technical information, just like mathematical formulas or cooking recipies. If you invented a new way of doing math, would you think that you have the right come hell or high water to keep people from using it if you wanted to? Most people don't think so because they realize that math is something too important and too useful to let one person have a chokehold over. Same goes with programs.

      So you reject someone dictating terms to you about how you distribute your program. I reject your bullshit laws that throw me in prison for helping a friend out by copying software, and your nonsense regulations telling me I can't use a common sense algorithm in my programs, that instead I am mandated by law to go around my elbow to get to my ass.
      • Re:Freedom/Power (Score:3, Insightful)

        by kin_korn_karn (466864)

        Most people don't think so because they realize that math is something too important and too useful to let one person have a chokehold over. Same goes with programs.

        Wrong, fundamentally.

        Programs are a product. They are a manufactured good that, when combined with a type of electronic hardware, performs a certain pattern of calculations, and interprets the results of those calculations to produce information. They are the application of pure logic and hardware and as such have inherent value as capital goods.

        Theorems [for brevity I'll lump all mathematical research into that of theorems] are scientific principles that have no inherent capital value. They are ideas that can be applied to capital goods, but theorems are not capital goods in and of themselves because there is no market for them. There is a prestige market for math research, but everyone's still gotta eat.

        Programs are created by programmers. Theorems are derived by mathematicians. Programmers get paid for their output, not their capabilities. Write X, get Y. Mathematicians get paid for being capable of figuring things out. Think about X, get Y.

        The point is that money is what makes the world work, and if something, such as mathematical research, isn't worth money by itself (thus being sellable), nobody's going to bother trying to own it. This means that math != software, period.
        • theorems are not capital goods in and of themselves because there is no market for them

          There certainly are markets for theorems. Your point is that there are no capital markets. A tautology. But anyway..

          If the only reason there is a capital market for programs is that copyright and patent law allow for the creation of artificial shortages, then perhaps programs are not truly capital goods either. Devoid of government sponsorsip, we might consider programs capital goods of negligible value.

          So the question is, should government be in the business of creating capital markets for software?
      • If you invented a new way of doing math, would you think that you have the right come hell or high water to keep people from using it if you wanted to?

        Damn straight I do.

        I completely reject the concept that I have to show anything I invent to ANYONE. Ultimately I always have the right and ability to destroy any writings, calculations or code that I author before I show it to anyone.

        Given the fundamental freedom to keep my thoughts to myself, it is up to you to come up with a way to encourage me to share my inventions with others. This is what intellectual property is all about - encouraging creators to share their work. If you don't like IP, well too bad, because I am not going to give you my work just for your pleasure or convenience.

        I reject your bullshit laws that throw me in prison for helping a friend out by copying software

        It's not for you to reject. Copyrights and Patents are explicit contracts between the government and the author. If you don't like it, it's up to you to come up with an alternative that authors like better.

        Otherwise many will just rm -rf the recipe.
        • I completely reject the concept that I have to show anything I invent to ANYONE. Ultimately I always have the right and ability to destroy any writings, calculations or code that I author before I show it to anyone.

          Of course. But the question is, what rights should you have once the cat is out of the bag, so to speak.
          • Of course. But the question is, what rights should you have once the cat is out of the bag, so to speak.

            Indeed, what rights are you going to offer me in exchange for letting the cat out of the bag? Patent rights? Copyrights?

            How about I just write a contract that gives you the right to run this program on a single computer with no writable removable media drives in exchange for a whopping monthly fee. As part of this contract you must post a big old bond that is forfeit if you don't keep the existance of this software secret except for those within your company that I approve, and you must keep this computer, and all copies of the software in a locked room inside which there is no network connectivity. Only two people, identified by you and approved by me are allowed inside this room. Any disassembly, reverse-engineering etc. forfeits the bond. We have the right to audit, inspect your premises etc. You are not allowed to use any of the software technology present in this program in your future products. (I saw this in an NDA contract once).

            Are you going to make contracts like this illegal? Good luck - that means a major overhaul of our system of government.

            If you don't come up with an offer of rights I consider fair, the cat stays in the bag, Sorry.
            • Good luck - that means a major overhaul of our system of government.

              Yep. Thanks for your support. ;)

              Actually, it mostly means reforming copyright and patent law. Which is what we're talking about.
    • Re:Freedom/Power (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wfrp01 (82831) on Thursday November 22, 2001 @11:40PM (#2602554) Journal
      When I write something, _I_ should have control under the provisions it is licensed under.

      The question isn't really so much whether you should control the terms of the license, as whether being able to 'license' software has any validity, period. The question is whether society should reserve the right for developers to control how members of that society use the software they write and distribute. And yes, this 'right' to which you lay claim is not a law of nature, but a social construct.

      It's very easy to understand why developers might prefer to retain control. What is not clear is whether and why society should prefer this arrangement. If society should give you this right, what does society gain in return?

      Or is social progress irrelevant? Is there some legal precept paramount to the greater social good?
  • In the US Constitution, Copyrights and Patents exist to "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts". If, due to any circumstances, they do not do that, they have no reason to exist.

    It seems that some debate is needed to insure that those mechanisms still serve their original purpose. When a licence is used just to ensure a continuing flow of profits, without any new works being created, the Copyright or Patent is, technically, forfeit.
    • Remember .... (Score:2, Informative)

      by taniwha (70410)
      not everyone who reads or posts to /. is in the US ... so, in this context at least, the contents of our constitution are not an absolute
      • I don't live in the US, nor am I a Gringo. However, I think the US Constitution is admirable in its simplicity and objectivity. If, in any other country, copyrights and patents have any purpose other than those specified in the first article of the US Constitution, I would like to hear what they are.

        No matter what country you are in, laws don't exist in a vacuum, they always have some reason to exist. And the whole idea of "intellectual property" is debatable, if not meant to encourage further development of the Arts and Sciences. What harm could it cause someone to copy their works? Copying does not remove the original good from the owner's hands.
  • Rather than debate over the types of licences developers are allowed to choose for the software they write, we should instead look at whether it is OK to prevent developers from writing software.

    As currently set up I can apply for a license [read Patent] that prevents others from using an idea. This is a much more fundamental issue that the debate over what rights a developer is willing to grant users in a software license. After all, there is nothing to prevent other software developers from producing a competing product providing we solve the patent issue.

    At that point, if you do not like the fact that Eric releases some software with a proprietary license, anyone is free to create a competitive product and GPL it. Then the users can decide. Right now, with patents, creating a compatible clone can be impossible.

  • by banky (9941) <gregg@neuCHICAGOrobashing.com minus city> on Thursday November 22, 2001 @08:22PM (#2602026) Homepage Journal
    I think RMS and the FSF are going to start losing ground, because they're going to fall into the trap of many politicians who want to change the world: they're going to offend the moderates.

    I'm speaking as a USian, of course. As everyone knows, despite the media's obsession with polarized (right and left) politics, the US population is really a vast pool of people with relatively moderate views. Sure, some of them are sharply polarized about *issues* (abortion rights, the economy, whatever), but by and large, they're in the middle of the political spectrum. The first thing a candidate does is hit up his support of the issues while trying to not appear too far to one side, lest he offend the moderates.

    There are a lot of people who like the GPL, because it prevents proprietary lock-in and helps create a sense of empowerment and community. The problem, I feel, is that once you put the GPL in your code, you're putting it (and yourself) into the "camp" of the FSF. You're now essentially signing on to the RMS/FSF game plan, even if all you wanted was to see your code not get folded into a proprietary product, and let as many people as possible play with things.

    MS kept saying, once you start down the path of the GPL, there's no going back. I hate to say it, but maybe they're right. For all their talk about a software "ecosystem", contrasted against stuff like this, it makes me think they (MS) might have been right after all.
    • by mangu (126918) on Thursday November 22, 2001 @08:27PM (#2602039)
      MS kept saying, once you start down the path of the GPL, there's no going back.


      But, wait, doesn't the copyright owner have the power to put the work in the public domain? Or under another licence?

      Is there anything in the GPL that says I can't give my work to Peter under the GPL and to Paul under the BSD licence? (And to Bill under the MS-EULA, of course... :)

      • You can of course make up your own license that covers this. As for you first question, that was recently done with Tux Racer - an Open Source project was moved to a closed source license. They can do that, but all the old code remains freely available and was used to start (or continue) an open version.

        It's like if Microsoft released the Windows XP code under the GPL (ha!). Free developers could take it and improve it, but in a couple of years there would be two or more improved versions of the same starting code base competing, because the GPL release would not have any effect on further development under a closed license.
        • As for you first question, that was recently done with Tux Racer - an Open Source project was moved to a closed source license.

          What? When did this happen? URL?

      • Yeah, right. Remember when the whole ESR thing kicked off, and everyone was dead worried about forking?
        Well that's the problem with what you're saying. Sure I could buy a license for some source, but at that point I'm effectively forking that source.
        If you think writers of proprietary software don't want to release changes they make to (say) LGPL'd source... You're dead wrong.
        But who are you trying to kid? You think I'm gonna buy a non-GPL license to some source, and continue to get the benefit of other peoples' changes? Even if I contribute my own changes?
        You must think I was born yesterday!!!
        I read the article... And I think Stallman is really losing it. I remember, when I was at Uni some ten years ago, I was into emacs and all the rest. But he needs to chill out. Seriously.
        No power to choose a license? Umm unless your initials are RMS? Muahahaha!!!
        One license to bind them all!!!
        Fuck you, Mr. Stallman.
    • I think RMS and the FSF are going to start losing ground, because they're going to fall into the trap of many politicians who want to change the world: they're going to offend the moderates

      You seem to be thinking of all of this as some primarily political abstract dance whose only consequence is who seems more popular in the public eye.

      This is about SOFTWARE. Not about popularity. Not about who has the most money. It's about whether or not people are going to have the ability to control the software that controls many aspects of their lives. It's not some political debate where the person who kisses the most babies wins, it's about freedom.

      Several years ago, fans of GNU and Linux were always talking about what a "revolution" it was, and how it was fundamentally different thinking, and how everything was going to change. Now, they seem to have abandoned that in favor of discussions about whether or not a particular "open source" company is going to make money or not, political arguments about whose the better speaker, (Tim O'Reilly or ESR, etc) and who can better represent "the community". (Implicit in all of that talk is the assumption that you or I know what is best for the community, how they are best represented, or what is easist)

      Well screw the politics. GNU is offering you freedom in your software. Nobody's forcing you to take it. If you'd rather have the shackles of proprietary software, go use the proprietary software, and you may just find out why everybody's been talking about GNU/Linux for so long.
      • Popularity may be the wrong phrase, but it is about hearts and minds. If you cannot convince the moderates that releasing under the GPL is the way to go, then where are you?

        Let me give an example. About a year ago, a developer I worked with upgraded his systems. He was left with a Frankenstein machine, which upon some inspection, was a perfect Linux candidate. "You should put Linux on it," and he did. After a bit of debate, he decided to work on his latest project, "porting" to Unix/Linux and Qt as he went. He would have NEVER done this, had he seen this article. He wanted to get his feet wet, and as a moderate, he would have honestly been scared by the GPL.

        That's heart and mind lost. I don't buy that, "If you don't get it, we don't want you" crap. We want everyone.
      • Well screw the politics. GNU is offering you freedom in your software. Nobody's forcing you to take it.
        They're not in a position to. But I'm sure they'd like to be. If you read the article it clearly states that they do not advocate the freedom to choose non-Free licences. They don't think this is a freedom at all, but the opposite. If they were in a position to require Free licences they surely would be doing it.

        RMS even wants the GNOME project to not mention proprietary software as a matter of policy. If that isn't an attempt at censorship for political reasons I don't know what is.... It's actions such as these that "moderates" may find offensive.
    • Half the point is that this is not about a popularity contest. Niether were freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, or half the other rights we enjoy for that matter. These rights we take for granted every day offend most the moderates in the rest of the world. Even here, not so long ago, freeing slaves offended most of the moderates as a form of stealing.

      MS is wrong, going down the path of copyrights is where there is no turning back - they started out as short term incentives 200 years ago, now they are eternal corporate "properties", that trump most our first amendment rights. Just look at all the DMCA court cases, these are copyrights brought to their logical conclusion. Surely we couldn't expext to tell all these entities that they have glorious intellectual property rights without wanting them to secure these "rights"

  • Untitled (Score:2, Funny)

    by goatman.cx (536700)
    after having read this essay, the author strikes me as a person who would order a sandwich for lunch without lettuce, gets a sandwich with lettuce, would proceed to eat it, then demand not to be charged for the sandwich, as he did not order lettuce on it.
  • However, one so-called freedom that we do not advocate is the "freedom to choose any license you want for software you write". We reject this because it is really a form of power, not a freedom.

    This oft-overlooked distinction is crucial. Freedom is being able to make decisions that affect mainly you. Power is being able to make decisions that affect others more than you. If we confuse power with freedom, we will fail to uphold real freedom.


    This is just plain stupid. Everything anyone does affects others in some sense. Who it mainly affects is a matter of opinion.
    • Oh, how I love reductio ad absurdum... :)

      This is just plain stupid. Everything anyone does affects others in some sense. Who it mainly affects is a matter of opinion.

      Let's take this sentiment, and put it into a new context:

      This is just plain stupid. Every time somebody kills anyone, then it's deliberate in some sense. Whether it's deliberate or not is a matter of opinion.

      And yet, our courts seem to have little trouble with the concept of "murder" as being distinct from "manslaughter." Just because something's hard to figure out, doesn't mean it's not a useful test, in itself.

  • In essence, Stallman & Kuhn are saying "you do not have the right to tell others what to do with your software". However, by making that statement themselves, they are asserting that very right for themselves. Do as I say, not as I do.

    These statements are no better than Microsoft's leverage with the OEMs forcing them to not change the boot loaders; not included non-MS software and other non-competitive measures.

    All other things being equal, GPL software should win out over proprietary licenses on cost and ease of administration (license tracking, etc.) alone. We only need a level playing field -- not one tipped one way or the other by Microsoft OR the FSF.
  • The editorial note is fundamentally misguided. Some freedoms are also powers. By opposing other people's freedom to choose licenses, Stallman is also pushing for *his* power.

    You can't just draw a line and say "these freedoms are really freedoms, others aren't". Free speech is the power to hurt people's feelings; freedom of association is the power to form unions. If we allow people to choose terms for their software, they can, indeed, do so. This doesn't mean it's not a form of freedom; it just means that Stallman is dogmatic, rather than philosophical, about freedom. The freedoms he wants are the only ones he will recognize; this is no different from other people who recognize only those freedoms their dogma encourages.
  • Possibly. If you accept the existance of copyright as a natural right, rather than a right granted by governments for the common good. If the latter, then a right to license any way you want is not so clearly a "freedom" as you're using the force of copyright law to obtain your ends. In the US copyright is not held to be a "natural" right, and there are already limits on licensing (see also, fair use). The courts have been pretty good about saying that you can't just come up with a license that takes away fair use. Stallman's position is more in line with the courts (that there are licenses that are contrary to public interest, and hence verboten), than the idea "I can do anything I like with my license".

    Or should the RIAA and MPAA and all their friends be allowed to write licenses that are contrary to the public interest.

    I'm not sure I agree with Stallman about all which licenses are contrary to the public interest, but I agree they exist, and you should not have the "freedom" to use copyright law to enforce them....

  • I've always considered Perl's Artistic license to be in the truest spirit of freedom.
  • by Uruk (4907) on Thursday November 22, 2001 @08:39PM (#2602076)
    GNU wants to give you freedom.

    Nobody has the freedom to do things that are harmful to others. Nobody complains about not having the "freedom" to kill people, because that's not a freedom people have.

    Similarly, GNU grants you every freedom except one - you can't take freedom away from other people by relicensing the software with restrictive conditions that don't give the people the same freedom you had.

    To take freedom away from people, (i.e. not giving them the freedom that you had) is not a freedom - it's an issue of power. Just as taking someone's life or property away from them is not a freedom, taking someone's freedom away from them is also not a freedom with respect to software.

    So it's not that GNU is "denying" you the freedom to license as you see fit, they just want to deny you the ability to take freedom away from other people, which itself isn't a freedom.
    • On the other hand, what freedom, exactly, am I ever denying anyone? They have access to all the public code I do; if I don't produce code, they can't use it, so I can never be "taking away" their freedom to use it; they have such freedom only if I choose to create it.
  • RMS is correct (Score:4, Insightful)

    by plastercast (234558) on Thursday November 22, 2001 @08:40PM (#2602077) Homepage
    Almost everyone of the "RMS should mind his own business" posts here ignores the key argument that he makes. That freedom cannot be limited only to the producer, but also must be extended to the consumer (the code user here). This cannot simply be a bad choice one vs bad choice two, but needs to extend to some of the realities of the world. While it may be simple to say, "well, I have the freedom to make my own software" (which for obvious reasons isn't true for the vast majority of people) is false becase of the power pattents grant.
    They are arbitrary, not some divine (or as Rand would say, nature) given right. Say we live in a world where the software producer has total "freedom" to do what he or she would like. O'Riley and ERS would say that no one should have the "power" to take their right to this property away from them. What if the software or hardware pioneers had placed a pattent on a logic gate, or the word proccessor, or the browser, or any number of other broad areas like this. Think of how it would impact the rest of society, this untaped knowledge and technology that is now held from the public behind the iron bars of pattent and property. Sure, in theory I have the ability to say, I don't want to use product ABC with license requirements XYZ, but in pratice no such ability exists, as I must also sustain myself physically (food shelter, etc come to mind).
    The reality is that our actions inharently effect others, and the (IMHO) simple way of looking at property, code in this case, as comming with a absolute freedom/power to decide how others use it not only makes little sense philosophically, but also pratically.

    (sorry for the typos by the way)
  • by uwmurray (516566) on Thursday November 22, 2001 @08:43PM (#2602081) Journal
    RMS,

    Please review Locke. People have property rights. If I put my efforts into thing X I have property rights to thing X and thus it is morally permissible for me, not you to decide how to distribute X, if at all.

    I, and many others here in the /. community agree with you, people/corporations ought to open up certain projects, as open source is good for the customer - but the notion that somehow software developers are somehow morally obligated to GPL their work is completely nuts.

    The ideals behind socialisms, either those of government or those of software, do not work. Without the ability to distribute property (of which software is a type) as one sees fit, one loses much economic incentive to develop in the first place.

    Please RMS, check your ego just a little bit and town down the sensationalism, its starting to get rather tired.

    Besides, some of my code is far to ugly to ever be open-sourced :)

    Cordially,
    Andrew Murray University of Washington
    • If I understand correctly, you actually don't have property rights with regards to software. That's the whole point of copyrights and patents - you don't own ideas, the public does, but you are granted a limited monopoly for a short period of time as an incentive. Remember, software is not really a physical thing like a car or a piece of beef jerky - its a bunch of information.
  • Consistency (Score:5, Insightful)

    by YoJ (20860) on Thursday November 22, 2001 @08:46PM (#2602096) Journal
    I don't think most people who have posted have grasped the fundamental idea of what RMS is talking about. Here is a little test. Please answer the following questions truthfully:
    1. Do you think it is right for someone to hack a Tivo and add an extra harddrive?
    2. Do you think it should be legal to sell any copy of Windows that you no longer use to someone else?
    3. Do you think quoting a paragraph from a book in a written paper should be an illegal copyright infringement?

    If you think at all like me, then your answers are yes, yes, no. I think that if you buy a toy, then you should be able to take it apart and see what else you can make it do. If you buy Windows, you should be able to sell it to someone else after you are done using it. Quoting a paragraph from a book should be fair use.


    And yet the Tivo usage agreement says something about no reverse engineering or disassembling. Microsoft does not let you sell copies of Windows, even if you no longer use it. The third example is a right of consumers that is respected by volumes of law. How are they all similar? In every case the author releases their work under a restrictive license. In all three cases I think the restriction should not be legally binding. This means that I think that creators should not be allowed to release their work under any license they choose. I think there are restrictions that should not be enforced, and license "agreements" that I believe do not mean anything. This is what RMS is saying.

    • In each of your three cases, there was no contract between the user and the producer. Microsoft claims that their EULA prevents you from reverse engineering or reselling Windows; but in my opinion that the EULA is a meaningless document with no legal force, exactly as valid as me writing "by reading this post you agree to pay me $500". However, if Microsoft had required me to sign an actual contract before purchasing their software, and that contract stipulated that I was not allowed to reverse engineer or resell it, I see no reason why that should not be enforceable. If I don't like the terms of the contract, I don't have to sign it.
  • We could equally say that freedom zero is the choice whether to rob or not to rob that convenience store across the street, and that criminals and non-criminals alike are exercising that freedom in different ways.

    The underlying substrate for all human behavior is the freedom to do anything, from donating one's time to worthwy humanitarian causes to commanding troops into heinous acts of genocide. Is that range of choices part of freedom zero?

    Or maybe the real freedom zero substrate is simply the laws of physics.

    Stallman's definition is superior because it doesn't regress into absurd starting points; freedom is defined as a very high level intelligent behavior rooted in certain ethical principles, and that's that. That freedom is supported by lower level freedoms which allow the intelligent substrate to make choices, but these freedoms are not interesting, because these lower freedoms support all human activity alike.
  • by mckelveyf (263317) <mckelveyf@gmailOPENBSD.com minus bsd> on Thursday November 22, 2001 @09:01PM (#2602137)
    What I think I see in the article is an arguement for greater social accountability. Although I'm not as radicalized to the point of out right bans I think there is a value social message in this essay. Through freedom of involvement one promotes the development of a community to properly debate and develop the implications of an idea. Software is an example of this as you cannot debate its merits without access to its code. Without this right one does not have a strong community and does not promote civil involvement.

    I see this especially clear in representive democracies as there closed nature leads to little political participation. Where in the Free Software/Open Source community, with an open forum one has a very strong level of debate. This is fundamental for a proper democracy.

    Now what I see in this article is that Kuhn and Stallman is an argument that one has to ensure that there is a proper forum for civil debate. By defining the licenses of software you are defining their role in the public forum. They are against non-free licenses because they hinder social growth, which is an argument you could say about many governments and countries. They do not provide the tools or encourage proper debate.

    Anyways that my two cents. I hope it makes sense.
  • by coyote-san (38515) on Thursday November 22, 2001 @09:09PM (#2602162)
    If I face a choice between keeping my software private (avoiding the whole issue of freedom vs. power since nobody will ever see the code), or releasing it under the RMS-free license:

    This software may be used by any person other than RMS, and for any reason. RMS may not view this code; hell, he can't even be told it exists. The only restriction on derived works is that it must retain all RMS-free provisions.

    Would this be a free license? Besides the obvious point that the license would become completely free at some point in the future, there's the practical matter that it will not affect RMS's ability to use my code in any way - the alternative to the RMS-free license is that I don't let anyone see the code (or not without explicit compensation in terms of salary or licensing fees). The only people affected are the 6,127,317,984 people who are neither RMS nor I.

    What's the alternative? Is anyone seriously suggesting that I must publish all code I write? If so, why are programmers different from, oh, lawyers? (They must represent anyone who demands their services, without compensation.) Or doctors and dentists? Or taxi drivers. Or anyone else in the service sector?

  • by MoNsTeR (4403) on Thursday November 22, 2001 @09:33PM (#2602203)
    A software license is simply a contract. If the contract says, "in exchange for the use of this software, I agree not to give copies of it away" or whatever, that's not fundamentally different from a contract that says, "in exchange for the use of this software and source code, I agree to publish any changes I make to it".

    In no case are you coerced into agreeing to a software license (and if you were, then the crime against freedom would be the coercion, not the license). If RMS says he's opposed to the freedom to choose a "restrictive" license (as if the GPL weren't restrictive...), then what he means to say is that he's opposed to unlimited freedom of contract.

    I won't even expound on my personal feelings on the matter, I just think RMS should say what he means.
    • I agree, with the exception that I fail to see how click-wrap EULAs can be considered valid contracts. It's done after the sale is completed, it's purely one-sided (the user gets no rights he does not have under standard copyright law), and clicking "OK" in a dialog box is not sufficient to show intent. If software publishers want to enforce additional restrictions beyond those of copyright law, they should require users to sign a real contract before purchasing the software. Of course, they wouldn't like that at all, since it would make it obvious to the users that they're being taken advantage of.
  • by selan (234261) on Thursday November 22, 2001 @09:43PM (#2602235) Journal
    [The following is an idea that I'm just thinking about now. Could be interesting, could be stupid--let's see...]

    It seems to me that the big argument here is about ownership and property rights, which everyone has strong opinions about, pro and con. However, maybe there is another approach that will make some sense to everyone. Maybe we should think of developers as guardians of their code instead of owners.

    The analogy is that of a parent to a child. I don't own my child; she is free to live her own life. But I do have power over her. I gave birth to her and I have the responsibility to raise her until she is old enough to live on her own. As long as I am her guardian, I have the right, in fact the obligation, to make choices that affect her life. I decide what kind of education to give her, what morals to teach her, etc. And it's my right and obligation to protect her in her interactions with others. I set these limits because I want her to become a good, productive,giving member of society.

    My code can be like my child (how many developers think of their code as their "baby"?) I created it and I put effort into improving it. I want it to become useful to others. Might I then also have the right to be its guardian and maintain custody of it when I release it into the world? Do I have the freedom to choose how I want others to use it? What do you think?

    • I like that idea. It definitely needs a lot more discussion, but it's a good start.

      The whole concept of intellectual "property" is flawed. As soon as something is called "property," there are certain rights involved under the 5th Amendment to the US Constitution.

      Then on one side, we have corporations owning something as trivial as Mickey Mouse effectively forever and GPL religious zealots on the other side. That's an argument that can't be won.

      (I can't believe the other poster that replied to this has a +1 bonus!)
  • I don't particularly care for the wording used here. IMO, what they call "freedom" is actually power given to the end-user of the software, and "power" is power given to the producer of said software. From the looks of it, these two would rather have all power rest with the consumer and none with the producer.

    "Freedom" is a bit of an amorphous concept, pretty hard for most people to define. In this case "freedom" should be defined as "free from the abuses of other peoples' power." The consumer should have some freedom to do with the software as they see fit, and the producer should also have similar freedoms. The trick is balancing the two against each other and making sure they both have equal representation in deciding how the software is used.

    (Sounds an awful lot like political theory, don't it?)

    The whole freedom vs. power debate is entirely relative to the position of the observer. To the folks at, say, Microsoft, an OEM license is viewed as Microsoft's "freedom" to distribute their software as they (and perhaps the market) see fit. Being human, they can't help but see the consumer as someone who should give selflessly of themselves to continue to support the producer. Take that last sentence, flip-flop "producer" and "consumer," and you have GNU's viewpoint.

    It's the 21st century. We know that concentrating power entirely with the wealthy resource owners is just as bad as concentrating power entirely with the consumers. We've had over two centuries of wars and tens (if not hundreds) of millions of deaths over this. We should know by now that the best solution is a compromise. The only question that SHOULD remain is where the best compromise lies (something that nation-states are still debating).

    At any rate, this whole "power vs. freedom" line in my opinion ranks right up there with "freedom to innovate." It's called "propoganda." Treat it as such.
  • Funny thing is that the "free" software that Stallman so advocates is so inextricably intertwined with the IP laws he seems to hate. For example, the GPL could not exist without strict intellectual property laws. For example, with no IP you would have no power to insist all derivatives of your work must be bundled with source code. Without IP laws IBM, Microsoft, etc could use your source code with no credit or disclosure. The only thing that gives you the power to control how your source is used or disclosed is your ownership of that source. If your own source code was not legally considered property then the GPL could not exist.

  • by Toodles (60042) on Thursday November 22, 2001 @10:23PM (#2602343) Homepage
    However, one so-called freedom that we do not advocate is the "freedom to choose any license you want for software you write". We reject this because it is really a form of power, not a freedom.

    This just doesn't sit well with me at all. I don't demand that the people who create software I use release under the GPL over whatever license it is currently using. I *will* look for alternatives, with my priorities being cost and opensource, in that order. Remember, this is a 'free software' group speaking, not the 'open source' group; big difference. A manifest destiny declaring all software should be GPL'ed should be met with serious opposition.

    My code, that I work on, is mine. I owe to no one the work that was involved. (Code produced for an employer is different. For now, I mean code I do on my spare time.) *If*, and this is a big If, if I distribute my code in any form to anyone, it is entirely at my descretion. I own my work, and I'll do with it what I please. I am very happy to abide by the GPL in gpl'ed code. The reason is it's *their* code I'm using. These are *their* conditions they want the code used for, and I will keep my end of the bargain in return for their generosity in providing for everyone. If I don't like it, I don't *have* to use their code.

    No one, not even RMS, is going to tell John Carmack that Doom 3 *has* to be released under the GPL. However, if RMS wants to spout that His Immenence Carmack is taking advantage of power, he would cause more harm than good. John Carmack knows the value of the GPL, and has shown this many many times over, with the release of Wolf3d and Doom source code, followed by the GPL of the Doom and Quake source. This has done tremendous things for the home brew gaming community, and while he can't measure in dollars the good he has done, I hope he has even a close approximation of the help he has provided in the releasing GPL. I will follow to the letter every section of the GPL in any work I do based on John's released software; not out of fear for lawyers, but out of respect for John's contribution. His gift.

    No one has the right to say what we can or cannot do with our 'art', code in this case. RMS can spout anything he likes, but the moment he decides that my release of SuperWhizBangTurbo MUST be GPL'd is the exact moment his freedom to swing ends at my nose.

    RMS, we appreciate what you've done, and what you fail to realize is the sheer enormity of code released daily under the GPL. However, what your proposing is not 'increasing the freedoms of computer users everywhere', you are 'taking away the rights of programmers everywhere'. We do, have been, and will continue to release under the GPL at every opportunity. However, we will find something else in protest if any effort is made to force us to do so. Even if its for the greater good, we are stubborn individuals, and will resist any effort to force us into submission.

    Toodles
  • Rank Communism (Score:2, Insightful)

    Stallman and Kahn make the argument that society is better off if the fruits of everyone's labor is given out for free to everyone else. This is rank communism.

    The freedom to do what I want with my creations is just that -- a freedom.

    If I want to write software that I then shred, that's my right. Stallman would force me to give it away.

    Screw Stallman.

  • At least for components that are likely to be used in something else, standardization is a big win. Otherwise, you run into a licensing mess when using open-source components from different sources.

    If it's something you need a compiler to use, it probably should be licensed under the LGPL. Otherwise, unless it's really unique, it's likely to become abandonware.

  • But I've got to reply here - I can't mod everybody down !!!

    What is this attitude? I didn't totally get RMS' argument, sure, but ESR's really made the case final.

    I can only recommend that you read the article by ESR [linuxtoday.com] before you start agreeing with him !!!
  • So, if we don't have the choice of how we release our software, if a "free" license is required (which as many have pointed out, can therefor not be "free") who is going to front the millions of dollars that get sunk into developing a modern commercial game? What about all of the money that goes into the research for scientific programs, etc.? The bottom line is the cost of duplication isn't the only cost involved. It costs very little to copy Titanic, but it cost something like $200 million to MAKE Titanic. The same goes for software, and to a lesser extent music.
  • At the start of his essay he states : "The love of liberty is the love of others; the love of power is the love of ourselves." -- William Hazlitt

    We're 6 billion people on the planet, if I cared about others more than I care about myself, I'll probably be dead by now. The only people I care about is me, my family and my friends. That's it.
  • by magi (91730) on Friday November 23, 2001 @02:20AM (#2602872) Homepage Journal
    What's this software freedom about?

    I've found it very difficult to explain it to those who don't care about it. It's just like trying to explain the importance of western freedom to a stalinist, a chinese, or a religious fanatic. They simply say, "What do I need that freedom for?" Why would a monogamist need freedom for free sex or a muslism for free beer?

    I guess the main problem is that we who appreciate this freedom live in such a different world. We appreciate it because we have experienced it and we don't want to give it away, ever again.

    10 years ago, I had a computer. All of my software was pirated, because I nor my family wasn't exactly filthy rich, so I never could have afforded to buy all the software I needed. I loved programming, but the costs of even cheapest development tools would have been prohibitive.

    But even with enough money, there would still have been inpenetrable barriers of the proprietary software which I could never change or use in any way, except the restricted ways the producers allow me. I was living, from morning to the evening, in a totaliarian world with high walls everywhere.

    5 years ago, I became a Linux user. All the barriers crumbled down, and I could at last breathe freely and freely look at everything in the world in which I live. My world had changed.

    Well, my world has its problems. If I want to buy a computer, Linux may or may not have drivers for its hardware. Not all web pages work any more, because Internet Explorer has become a standard. "The other world" is a threat to my dream world, to my freedom. Then someone thinks I'm a fanatic just because I want to protect my free world from Microsoft, which is a totalitarian regime par taleban or the chinese gov. To them, my free world is The Enemy, because if I live in my world, I don't make them profit, and *gasp* might even seduce other paying customers to my world. They want to take my freedom away.

    But this is me, a programmer, who really *needs* the freedom. Why would anybody else care about this free world?

    Free software isn't just Liber Software, but also gratis beer software. It changes the entire idea that you have to pay for the air you breathe. It decriminalizes all the kids who have a computer and want to explore the world of computing (like playing games).

    But no, I don't believe I could ever explain the splendidness of my world of Free Software or other freedoms to a taleban or a chinese communist or a religious fundamentalist or any other authoritarian person. Such as a Microsoft shareholder.

    Even with my background, it took me a long time to understand the freedom RMS is talking about. He is talking about software freedom, where you can change and distribute any software without being jailed as a thief, not your freedom to take the freedom of others away with (proprietary) licenses.

    Of course RMS is a libertarian in other many senses too. It might be that he sometimes unnecessarily mixes different concepts of liberties, I don't know. But he's perhaps the most influential person for creating the world I live in today, so I'll gladly give him my respect for that.
  • Convoluted. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bwt (68845) on Friday November 23, 2001 @02:44AM (#2602912) Homepage
    I think Kuhn and RMS have a very convoluted view of the nature of individual power.

    First of all, picking a copyright licence, GPL or not is precisly "to make decisions that affect others more than you". Under the GPL, the author grants some, but not all of the "exclusive rights" given to him by the Copyright Act. If Kuhn and RMS believe that retaining exclusive rights is an "exercise of power" per their definition of this term, then they should advocate placing software into the public domain. Instead they retain some of the power to exclude and use it to achieve their particular agenda. That agenda is not a bad one, but the idea that it is the only one that is acceptable is ludicrous.

    In no sense is the exclusion of others from using your software for their own proprietary interests "being able to make decisions that affect mainly you". Who are they talking to when they say "you"? They drift back and forth between the interests of the users, authors, and other developers so it's hard to tell. Their definition of power focuses on "you" being the decision maker, ie the author, so deciding conditions for the exercise of your exclusive rights your code definitely "affects mainly others", since it will be the basis for the exercise of governmental force against them if they violate it.

    The essay really moves to the far far left fringe. I think MS was wrong when they called the GPL "un-American", but with essays like this, they aren't far of the mark. The idea that exercising a "right to exclude" is a "power" (presumed bad) and not a "freedom", is simply contrary to mainstream American values. Isn't property by definition an exclusive right? In fact, all rights involve defining a space of action and giving exclusive moral sanction in that space to somebody and denying it to either the government or others or both.

    Current copyright law places us in the position of power over users of our code, whether we like it or not. The ethical response to this situation is to proclaim freedom for each user, just as the Bill of Rights was supposed to exercise government power by guaranteeing each citizen's freedoms.

    The first sentence is profoundly wrong. If you don't want to be in a "position of power", simply proclaim the software public domain. Of course, the GPL doesn't do this, which compounds the error with hypocracy.

    Next follows the most troubling part of the whole essay: that last quoted sentence is a whopper. The implication that it is unethical to exercise your rights if those involve excluding others is the essence of the communist belief system. The Bill of Rights restricts government from violating individual rights, and most prominent among these is the right to property, which includes proprietary interests in intellectual property as a subset of statutory and contractual assets generally.

    In summary, the essay is a convoluted parade of offsetting errors: the GPL violates the very principle the authors imply is "unethical" (retaining exclusive rights = "power") , but the idea that it is unethical to exclude others from your property is a far worse concept.

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