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Re: Fedora Freedom and linux-libre
- From: Les Mikesell <lesmikesell gmail com>
- To: Alexandre Oliva <aoliva redhat com>
- Cc: Development discussions related to Fedora <fedora-devel-list redhat com>
- Subject: Re: Fedora Freedom and linux-libre
- Date: Sat, 14 Jun 2008 20:49:56 -0500
Alexandre Oliva wrote:
Copyright law exists to encourage creation of works and competition
among them. There is nothing wrong with that concept, although the
original short protected life followed by passage to public domain
seems much more in the public interest than the current incarnation.
Looks like we're in full agreement about that. Are we also in
agreement that it's (current) copyright law that imposes restrictions?
That the GPL grants carefully delineated permissions for acts that
would otherwise be restricted by copyright law, enough to ensure the 4
freedoms are respected, but not enough to lift all the restrictions
imposed by copyright law?
Yes, I agree that the initial author of a work has as much right to
impose the harmful GPL as any other copyright holder has to choose a
more or less restrictive license. I'm not so sure about additional
contributors of original work who have this choice taken away in the GPL
case only, though. Having the choice to contribute under the GPL or not
at all resembles that "your money or your life" scenario you presented
if competitors were allowed to use components from Linux in
Not in the general case. It would be unfeasible if not technically
impossible to ship a Linux based OS containing licensed copies of all
the components needed to match the functionality of commercial OS versions.
And competitors could do even more if it weren't because of
restrictions imposed by others, in their licensing offers, which they
can do because of (i) copyright law making certain acts prohibited by
default, (ii) unethical imposition of restrictions, and (iii)
acceptance and passing on of such restrictions from third parties.
Those restrictions are a given, and not necessarily a problem on their
own. Everyone involved may be perfectly happy to meet whatever those
other restrictions might be, yet the GPL's harmful restrictions prevents
the useful combination from being distributed.
Your unsatisfaction with the situation is shared by me, but your
blaming the GPL for unfortunate (and at times unethical) choices made
by others is misguided.
How so? The harm isn't shared by less restrictive licenses.
You aren't a victim when you make your own choices.
Heh. It's not that simple, really.
"Your wallet or your life."
You are confusing the value/moral judgement of the thing itself with a
No, I was just providing examples in which, in spite of being given
choice, you're still an overpowered victim.
But the concept of victim has a preconceived notion of harm, whereas
meeting non-GPL terms may not cause harm at all.
If it's intentionally misleading, this would just make it yet another
case of unethical behavior.
Like the way 'free' is redefined to mean restricted by the GPL?
You appear to be confusing two different topics.
Perhaps, calling restricted software free is confusing.
What's misguided is your conviction that there is a moral value in the
delivery channel at all. The value can only be defined by the
recipient and the effect of the content.
Reordering a bit from your response to show the contradiction:
It's better to give cigarettes to kids at school than to leave them
without anything to put in their mouths at lunch time? :-)
The harm from cigarettes is due to the nature of the product, not the
distribution. The product in question could as easily be milk.
See? If my conviction you disputed above is wrong, then the person
who decides to distribute cigarettes to the kids instead of milk would
be behaving in accordance with moral and ethics.
Do you *really* think so? I mean, seriously, maybe you do, but... I
honestly hope not.
Your reasoning requires you to know that cigarettes are harmful and
there is a body of evidence for that, yet there is no such body of
evidence that all software covered by non-GPL licenses is harmful, and
it's not up to a distributor to make that kind of value judgment. They
must respect the recipients right to make their own choices.
And yet, you make no requirement that has anything to do with the
content. That is, you are apparently perfectly willing to distribute
broken or misleading content that will do much more harm than
something that just works without requiring any other information.
I don't agree that incomplete content would do more harm. Given
information, it could be completed and do good. In the absence of
information, it makes no difference. Whereas including the vendor's
bait in a product would turn me into an accomplice, and it would
extend the long-term harm to more people, for it would be feeding the
You are making a value judgment there not only with no evidence, but one
that's not yours to make. And if there really is an evil monster in the
picture, by helping prevent a usable alternative you drive people
directly to the monster even if it is with the pretense that you aren't
involved at all.
As for misleading content, I'm against that on moral and ethical
grounds. If source code is sufficiently misleading or abridged, it
may indeed disrespect freedom #1, which is why I mentioned drivers
developed under NDA in the message that started this thread.
Ethics and morals are a lot about intentions, even when the practical
end results are the same. If the information is missing because the
developer just "didn't have time to add it in some meaningful format,
here are my notes", that's not unethical.
But if the information is missing because the developer had to sign an
NDA to get the information, "so I can't share it with you", the
developer is a bit of a victim and a vendor's accomplice, and the end
user ends up hurt by the lack of ethics of the vendor in denying the
information on how to make the developer's and end user's devices work
to their own liking.
These out-of-context speculations don't make any sense to me. What if
there is only one such device and the binary driver works perfectly and
never needs a change?
And you are making an uncalled-for value judgment in calling others
foolish who may in fact have made the correct choices for their own
That they chose the best available options doesn't mean they couldn't
have avoided being limited to those options, or negotiated a better
deal, or made a different call for balance between short and long
term. But regardless of the options, I don't see how trusting a
vendor that denies technical information about their product can ever
be a clever thing to do, even if you end up deciding to live with the
product because it's the lesser of various evils.
I don't have any different feelings about trusting a company to build
hardware than to supply software. Nor do I see any reason I should. If
they want to give away the materials needed to duplicate either, great,
but there is no moral difference related to the type of component.
Agreed - it is a bad analogy. But so is freedom in terms of
restrictions on software.
How about freedom of speech? Freedom to share?
Yes, that's the problem. If I write code that links to a GPL library
and to any other library, I can't share it, even with someone who
already has both other libraries.
Freedom to help your
neighbor? Freedom to control what acts on your behalf? Freedom to
decide for yourself what's best for you? Aren't these freedoms?
Aren't they worth fighting for? Don't you see that these are what the
4 essential software freedoms are about?
No, I want the one that would allow me to share that code.
That's not any of the four essential freedoms.
Which is why I think they are entirely misguided. Reusing and
recombining prior work is the basis of all knowledge and progress
and any restrictions to inhibit that are harmful.
It's the "without restriction" that's misguided. You acknowledged the
value of copyright in its original version (which was all about what
you wrote above), yet it's that very copyright that imposes the
restrictions you oppose.
No, it is specifically the GPL's restriction that I oppose. It takes
away your choice about obtaining each component independently or sharing
a combined work.
If the components are indeed separate independent works, copyright law
won't get in your way given the permissions granted by the GPL, at
least as far as the GPLed components are concerned.
But it does. You can't add your own work to a GPL'd part to make it
link against a commercial library with no GPL'd equivalent, and
redistribute that work of your own.
It only does when they aren't "indeed separate independent works". If
one is derived from the other, they're not independent works.
Inasmuch as your work is not derived from the GPLed part, the GPL has
no claims on it. It only does when you combine it with the GPLed part
forming a single derived work.
Please show an example of a non-GPL'd work where there has ever been a
copyright issue related to another original work being combined (linking
in the case of a library) where it was clear that every instance
involved the end user having his own licensed copy of both parts.
Unless you want to accept the unethical impositions from the copyright
holders of the other work, and help them impose them on others (along
with or separately from the GPLed work you'd like to combine with it),
that's what you should do anyway.
I don't accept that the copyright holders of the other works
necessarily make unethical impositions.
They don't necessarily make them. They choose to.
It's their choice.
What choice? How do you determine that someone is harmed?
That, along with the fact that they're harmful, is what makes them
The GPL is harmful too.
Now, ask yourself why you can't say distributed the works you
combined? The GPL doesn't say you can't. It says you can, if you do
so in an ethical manner. On what is based your conclusion that you
cannot distribute the combined work? What stops you from distributing
it the way that is permitted by the GPL?
Why are you complaining about the fix rather than about the problem?
Take the case of the original BSD license. I did/do not consider its
requirement for attribution to be unethical. I do consider the
restriction of the GPL to not permit combinations with items covered by
this license to be harmful and thus unethical. Likewise, I don't
consider all commercial/proprietary distributions to be unethical. Some
provide good value for their terms.
There's no guarantee, but I'm convinced that the restrictions in the
GPL that prevent reuse in competitive works have made more money for
Microsoft than anything Steve Balmer ever did.
You're mistaken to boot. The restrictions are from copyright law, not
the GPL. They didn't stop Microsoft, and I doubt they would have had
a negative impact on Microsoft if they didn't exist.
You are speculating that in the absence of the GPL, no freely
redistributable code would exist. That is rather clearly wrong, given
the proliferation of less restricted code like apache, the *bsd's, MITs
X, etc. The problem is that much of this code and subsequent work has
been hijacked by the GPL which is a one-way trip, so drivers originally
modified from the bsd versions and included in Linux took away the
choice of subsequent contributors to use any other copyright and now
can't be re-used, for example in OpenSolaris. This harms everyone.
For starters, Microsoft's EULAs are not mere copyright licenses,
they're contracts. So the absence of copyright, or a more permissive
GPL, would just enable Microsoft to milk software developers as much
as it does computer users.
And even if the lift had enabled other competitors to surface that
didn't surface because of their commitment/requirement/determination
to not respect their customers' freedoms, would they be any better
than Microsoft, given the commitment?
What good outcome would you expect from this?
Competition, lower prices, better products, more choices.
Single standards don't have to be monopolies; in fact, the whole point
of standardization is to avoid the formation of monopolies, to keep a
level playing field and reduce the entrance barrier.
So how does that work in the case of something like a blu-ray player?
The way to prevent problems is to lower the bar to building
competing alternatives that leave the choices up to the recipients.
As in, more of a bad thing is a good thing? :-)
Absolutely. You aren't going to find perfection, so your best bet is
having choices among imperfect things. As people make those choices,
the bad ones go away.
Because the GPL doesn't discourage more good things, it only
discourages that good things be used to create bad things.
It not only discourages good things, it prohibits a near-infinite number
of combinations of things that could have been good.
lesmikesell gmail com
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