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Re: Fedora Freedom and linux-libre

On Jun 14, 2008, Les Mikesell <lesmikesell gmail com> 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?

>>> Aggressors counter each other through competition.
>> And the strongest prevails and can then form a monopoly that achieves
>> the largest possible number of victims.  Good outcome?

> Monopolies can only arise when there is something artificially making
> competition difficult or impossible.

Or when they're established by decree.  As it happens to be the case
of copyright.  "Authors have an exclusive right to..."

> if competitors were allowed to use components from Linux in
> commercial offerings

They are.  Want to see a copy of my paycheck? (disclaimer: this is not
a real offer, the paycheck contains too much personal information :-)

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.

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.

>>>> Failure to resist violence does encourage the aggressor to keep on its
>>>> act, but being overpowered is not the victim's fault.

>>> 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
> delivery mechanism.

No, I was just providing examples in which, in spite of being given
choice, you're still an overpowered victim.

>> 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.

The Free Software Definition is one thing, it encodes four essential
freedoms for software users to be able to live in an ethical society
that values solidarity.  When the four freedoms are respected for a
user, then the software is free for that user.

The GPL is one of the various licenses that are regarded as Free
Software licenses, because they don't disrespect any of the four
freedoms.  Having been granted the permissions in the GPL, in spite of
the restrictions that remain from copyright law and other laws, you
can run the software for any purpose, you can study the software's
source code and adapt it to your needs, you can distribute the
software as you received it, and you can improve the software and
distribute your modifications.  Sure, some of these permissions are
delimited to implement copyleft (which is not a requirement for a
license to qualify as a Free Software license, BTW), i.e., the
delimitation in the permission to distribute that a distributor does
not prevent recipients of the software and derived versions thereof
from enjoying the permissions granted to them both through the
license.  This does not prohibit anyone from distributing the software
in any way.  If you end up unable to distribute a derived work, it's
because you accepted a restriction from some other party that prevents
you from distributing it.

>> If it's just misguided, then it might still be fixable.

> 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.

>>> Do you assume a moral imperative for everyone to always share all
>>> information that they have?

>> No.  It's far more limited than that.  It's more along the lines of
>> keeping information secret to excise control over what was given or
>> sold to others, to thereby excise control over others who were foolish
>> enough to trust the offender and accept the gift or make the purchase.

> 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

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.

> 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
> situations.

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.

>>> Slavery is taking away choices.  So is distributing software that has
>>> choice-limiting restrictions.
>> Slavery actually goes beyond that, it's taking away all choices.
>> That's what makes it far more unacceptable than deprivation of
>> software freedoms.

> Agreed - it is a bad analogy.  But so is freedom in terms of
> restrictions on software.

How about freedom of speech?  Freedom to share?  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?

>>> Yes, but the freedom I want is the freedom to combine components
>>> without restrictions.

>> 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.

If there wasn't copyright law, you would be able to do just that,
regardless of the GPL.  Would we really be in a better place?  I don't
know, and I lean towards thinking that we wouldn't, because the GPL
finds a balance that encourages cooperation and avoids some
particularly harmful forms of free riding.  More details here:

> In a practical sense, there's not much point in separating hardware
> and software since they must work together for any result.

You won't find opposition to that from me.

>> 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.

>> 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.
That, along with the fact that they're harmful, is what makes them

> They might, but whether they do or not is unrelated to their right
> to make them.

Having a right is not a matter of ethics, it's a matter of law.  There
are many things that are legal and immoral or unethical, and there are
many things that are moral and ethical but illegal.

I don't dispute their right to make it (although at times I fight it),
but I consider it unethical for them to do so.

> On the other hand, the imposition that the GPL makes is clearly
> unethical even if having copyright provide the legal right to make
> that imposition.

See?  Since the GPL doesn't make impositions (it merely leaves some of
the impositions of copyright law in place).  So the law, the way it is
worded today, is indeed unethical.

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?

> 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.

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?

>> it would still be mostly impossible for society to create
>> derivative works.  So why grant the monopoly in the first place?

> It isn't that monopolies are inherently a problem


> - there are many cases where having a single standard instance of
> something is a benefit -

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.

And then, they shouldn't be controlled by monopolies.  When they are,
it just amplifies the harmful power of the monopoly.

> it is that they have the power to become a problem by
> creating artificial shortages or unreasonable prices.

Which is why monopolies have to be carefully and closely regulated.
If they become so powerful that they can bend and break rules and
avoid punishment in spite of the law, or even buy "upgrades" to the
law to suit their needs, everyone loses.  And that's unfortunately not
a different story.

> And the way to prevent those problems is not to try to keep them out
> of distribution channels,

I can't quite relate your sentence with what I wrote, and since you
went in what seems to me to be a tangent in after my previous use of
"legal monopoly" to refer to copyrights, I guess you misunderstood
what I mean, and I'm not following what you wrote.

It's not just about commerce that I'm talking about.  The legal
monopolies are about being able to control how something is shared,
used, modified, and yes, also sold.  They're granted by society to
benefit society.  If they don't bring this benefit, they shouldn't be
granted in the first place.

> 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? :-)

Because the GPL doesn't discourage more good things, it only
discourages that good things be used to create bad things.

Alexandre Oliva         http://www.lsd.ic.unicamp.br/~oliva/
Free Software Evangelist  oliva {lsd ic unicamp br, gnu.org}
FSFLA Board Member       ¡Sé Libre! => http://www.fsfla.org/
Red Hat Compiler Engineer   aoliva {redhat com, gcc.gnu.org}

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