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Re: Fedora Freedom and linux-libre
- From: Les Mikesell <lesmikesell gmail com>
- To: Development discussions related to Fedora <fedora-devel-list redhat com>
- Subject: Re: Fedora Freedom and linux-libre
- Date: Mon, 16 Jun 2008 15:02:22 -0500
Alexandre Oliva wrote:
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.
Again, you're confused as to what the GPL does. It doesn't take any
such choice away. It's copyright law that does.
But copyright law applies blindly and equally. Applying the GPL is a
deliberate and harmful choice.
BTW, think of how
many proprietary licenses used for non-libraries you know that permit
the creation and distribution of derived works you might be interested
in creating. Just to put things in perspective.
I can't think of any, and I'm not sure they would be legal if they
tried. Wouldn't that be approximately the modchip scenario just ruled
legal in the UK?
Having the choice to contribute under the GPL or not at all
resembles that "your money or your life" scenario you presented
Why do you dislike the idea of respecting others' freedoms just like
yours were respected?
It is neither respect nor freedom to take away all the choices except
the one you happen to like.
if competitors were allowed to use components from Linux in
Not in the general case.
They are. As long as they respect others' freedoms, abiding by the
terms of the license, they can charge as much money as they like for
distributing, supporting, or offering any other service related with
the software, and run a successful commercial business. Why do you
think this is not the case?
I think it's not the case because they can't include other works under
different licenses or patents as is necessary for a general purpose OS.
As for charging money, the GPL prohibits any additional restrictions on
redistribution so your first customer can give copies away or undercut
your prices (although Red Hat seems to ignore this part and attach
contract restrictions to what they distribute anyway).
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.
I'm sorry, I can't make sense of what you're trying to say here. It
appears that you're saying 'licensed copies' to refer to only
proprietary software, and 'commercial OS' as proprietary operating
system, but I wouldn't like to assume that's what you mean, because it
still renders the meaning of your full claim nonsensical. Can you
please try to rephrase what you wanted to say using different terms?
There are patented components that people need and components where the
best implementation is under someone else's copyright. A Linux
distribution can never include those things as part of the kernel even
if the end user is willing to pay any required license fee. The only
scenario where this would be possible is if someone would buy unlimited
rights for unrestricted distribution along with source. But there is no
business model to fund such a process.
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.
You're mistaken. It's copyright law that prevents it, and it's not
because of restrictions from the GPL, it's because of the other
restrictions "everyone may be perfectly happy to meet". Evidently not
everyone, since you're so unhappy about them that you're even trying
to shift the blame onto a license that doesn't prohibit you from doing
I've explained that the GPL prevents me from sharing original work that
links to both GPL and non-GPL libraries. Please stop say it doesn't
prohibit me from doing that.
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.
I think we're miscommunicating. Please try to describe a specific
situation and let's try to figure out what stops you from distributing
the (theoretical) combined work you'd like to distribute.
OK, a real example from the past: the wattcp library provided a TCP/IP
interface for DOS programs with a 'redistributable but not modifiable'
license and an aspi library provided scsi device access, I think with a
'must keep attribution' type license. Both were free of charge and
available in source. I took the gnutar program (at the time not
understanding that it had usurped the pdtar original or the implications
thereof), prototyped it to compile under 16-bit DOS and made it use some
magic device names to access the archive either on scsi tape or remotely
over the network via rsh to another machine. DOS provided no way to
separate these processes so all the code was necessarily linked into one
'work as a whole'. I thought this was a generally useful tool and tried
to give it away, but could not because of the GPL restrictions
prohibiting combinations with other licenses. And please don't try to
say the problem was cause by those other licenses - they did not prevent
anyone else from getting copies, nor would it have been a problem if I
had started with pdtar. It was strictly a harmful effect of the GPL
restrictions that had been applied to the pdtar base. I won't argue
that this was illegal but it was certainly harmful and thus immoral to do.
But the concept of victim has a preconceived notion of harm, whereas
meeting non-GPL terms may not cause harm at all.
That's true. There are many other Free Software licenses. GPL is not
the only one. It's not even the only copyleft license.
You are deliberately avoiding the point that there is proprietary
software which is worth what it costs and where the money paid for it
goes toward improvements.
Now, when you accept a license that deprives you from any of the four
essential freedoms, this harms you *and* everyone around. You're
shooting your own foot, but the shrapnel hurts others.
No, you are just making this up. Show that it is true for every piece
of software or admit it is an overgeneralization.
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.
Your reasoning requires you to know that cigarettes are harmful and
there is a body of evidence for that,
Exactly! So, you now see that your claim that the delivery channel
that makes a decision as to what to deliver is amoral didn't resist
No, I'm saying you have jumped to unwarranted conclusions.
yet there is no such body of evidence that all software covered by
non-GPL licenses is harmful,
And that's how it should be, because, again, there are many Free
Software licenses. GPL is better than others for various reasons, but
this doesn't make other Free Software licenses unethical, immoral or
harmful. You may want to have a look at especially the 5th paragraph
But there is a body of evidence that software that is not Free is
harmful. I wouldn't think this is a place where people would dispute
this, even if they fail to resist such software themselves.
I dispute it, and would go so far as to say most free software has
copied much of its design from commercial/proprietary work (generally a
good thing!), and quite a lot was actually originally developed to be
proprietary work and later had the free license applied. Far from being
harmful, I'd say that without the proprietary works, free software would
barely exist and would have much less chance of future development.
There are all sorts of variations on this theme like the X consortium
producing free software funded by proprietary vendors.
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.
Err... Sounds like you're saying "sure, go ahead and give the kids
milk and cigarettes!"
No, I'm saying that there is a difference between milk and cigarettes
and you are the one not making the distinction correctly since you are
making your decision based on the terms, not the inherent value of the
by helping prevent a usable alternative you drive
people directly to the monster
There's a faulty assumption in your reasoning. What do you assume is
not usable about this 100% Free operating system I've installed on my
computer? Heck, even wireless works.
Can you play Netflix online content? Do you have the optimal video
drivers for all available hardware? Will your wireless work with all
available hardware? Can you play dvds with what was included?
And then, it's not like I'd drive people to the monster.
Ummm, where do you expect them to go?
Besides, it doens't even make sense. How would my preference for
offering people the option of choosing freedom lead them to the
monster any more than not offering them this option would?
As a separate even more restricted option doesn't make a difference.
The GPL keeping many choices impossible, does.
(I do acknowledge that switching from say MS-Windows to say Ubuntu or
Fedora is a step towards freedom, but if it comes along with the
notion that the non-Free Software in there is not something that one
should try to get rid of ASAP, then it not fails to help people
achieve freedom, it actually becomes an impediment for them to do so,
inasmuch as it replaces the dependency on one evil, the completely
non-Free OS, for the dependency on another, the non-Free Software
added to make the OS "usable")
More unwarranted conclusions.
even if it is with the pretense that you aren't involved at all.
I don't understand what you're trying to communicate or imply here.
Do you think this is just a matter of "I don't want to be a part of
Yes, justified by claims that everything that doesn't do it your way is
My personal choice is just a small drop in the ocean. The
moral imperative for me to promote the idea of freedom for all
software users goes far beyond whatever individualism you might be
trying to imply here.
Are you sure you only think this about software - or is this a general
Show me one piece of proprietary software, and you'll have a piece of
software that doesn't work perfectly for all its users, and that at
least some users would like to be able to improve and/or fix it.
How is this morally different from hardware? I have at least as many
problems with hardware but I don't demand that the hardware vendors give
me a factory.
has been like that for me, for every single piece of non-Free Software
I've ever used. Every one of them. And whoever ever met a perfect
piece of software, and still held the same opinion about it 10 years
later, please throw the first rock.
I've had an equal amount of trouble with free software and having source
has not meant that I could fix it.
I don't have any different feelings about trusting a company to build
hardware than to supply software.
Me neither, actually. Unfortunately, there's a significant difference
between hardware and software: hardware may be quite difficult to get
into to improve, because the facilities needed to build it are
extremely expensive. This is beginning to change with FPGAs and home
printers of circuits, but it's still going to be a while until all the
limitations are artificial, as it is with software.
But there's not a moral difference, nor a more or less evil intent in
using the same terms.
How about freedom of speech? Freedom to share?
Agreed - it is a bad analogy. But so is freedom in terms of
restrictions on software.
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.
Who's stopping you from distributing the code? I take it you think
it's the GPL, but it's not. Look for anything in the GPL that tells
you you can't do that.
It says I can't do that.
You won't find it. You'll only find passages
that say "you can distribute it, as long as it's all under the GPL".
Precisely, and I can't put it under the GPL if it uses any other
components. And since I consider applying those restrictions to be
harmful, I wouldn't anyway, given any other choice.
Then you gotta think what it is that stops you from distributing the
other library under the GPL. There are three possible answers:
There are just as many answers as there are other licenses. And it is
the GPL that takes away your freedom to mix these and share them.
1. the other library is licensed to you in a way that grants you some
permissions (and no prohibitions), but none of which are enough to
clear you from the prohibitions established by copyright law that, by
default, won't suffice to enable you distribute the library the way
you know you otherwise could
Yes, nothing wrong with that.
2. you accepted the other library under technical restrictions (such
as lack of source code) that prevent you from distributing it the way
you otherwise could, even if you're not under any legal constraints
that would prevent you from doing so
Yes, nothing wrong with that.
3. you accepted the other library under a contract that prohibits you
from distributing it the way you otherwise could, even if the
copyright license you got over the library would have been enough for
you to do so
Yes, nothing wrong with that. (Hmmm, that one sounds sort of like what
you'd have to accept to get a copy of RHEL, doesn't it?)
So, in cases 1. and 2., you see it's copyright law that gets in your
way. If it weren't for copyright law, you could just put the program
and library together and distribute them under whatever terms you
liked, regardless of what the GPL might say.
In cases 2. and 3., it was your decision to accept giving up your
freedoms that prevents you from distributing the program.
Why do you think any of these are GPL's faults?
Because those others don't prohibit combinations.
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
Such proprietary works are licensed under severe prohibitions. Nobody
in their right mind would take the risk of trying to subvert the
There are no such prohibitions. The point of getting a proprietary
library is to be able to link other code with it.
The GPL is harmful too.
Only under your nonsensical theory that the GPL prohibits you from
doing anything. But we've already seen that it's not the GPL that
prohibits you, it's copyright law.
No, it is the restrictions in the GPL.
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.
Why did you change the wording from "requirement" to "restriction"?
It appears to me that it's this different perception about the
conditions of the two licenses that's driving you to the wrong
conclusion as to what stops you from making the uses you'd like of
My conclusion isn't wrong and it doesn't matter whether you call it a
requirement or restriction. It is only the GPL restriction that
harmfully prohibits combining differently licensed code, taking away the
freedom of the recipient to choose if terms of those other licenses are
acceptable or not.
Likewise, I don't consider all commercial/proprietary distributions
to be unethical. Some provide good value for their terms.
Slavery was also profitable to the slave owners and advantageous to
those who purchased products at lower prices.
So is normal employment - bad analogy.
This doesn't make it
ethical, though. In fact, this reasoning has *zero* to do with
ethics. Bringing more benefit than harm doesn't make something
ethical. It's not bringing intentional harm that does.
Which is why applying the GPL is unethical.
So how does that work in the case of something like a blu-ray player?
Don't even get me started on DRM :-)
You can't avoid it. I'd even say it has a place given that everyone
involved knows that it devalues the product when applied. Without it,
you'd have a hard time making a business model out of streaming content
or low priced subscription/rental access to content with a restricted
time to live. As a consumer I want those options, although I don't want
any usage restrictions on anything sold to me in the guise of a product.
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.
Only when there are good choices to make. Consider blu-ray, or even
the existing DVD DRM. You just can't find a DVD player that isn't
part of the conspiracy.
If by conspiracy you mean legal/licensed terms for intellectual
property, that is correct whether we like it or not.
You have the feeling that you have choice,
but in reality you don't, because no matter what you pick, you always
end up with the same deprivation.
The choice is to participate according to the law and licensing terms
(which may be acceptable) or not. If free software divisively prevents
participation, users will only have the choice of staying with the monopoly.
lesmikesell gmail com
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