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Re: Fedora Freedom and linux-libre

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

> Having the choice to contribute under the GPL or not at all
> resembles that "your money or your life" scenario you presented
> earlier.

Why do you dislike the idea of respecting others' freedoms just like
yours were respected?  I can see that it might be tempting to take
away from others the rights that were given to you, but have you
thought it through to the point of realizing this position is not only
incoherent, it's immoral (as in, it evidently fails the golden rule,
for starters)

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

>> They are. 

> 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?

> 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?

> 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

>> 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.

> 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.

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.

>> 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
scrutiny.  Good.

> 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
of http://www.fsfla.org/svnwiki/circular/2007-078#1

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.

> 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.

Err...  Sounds like you're saying "sure, go ahead and give the kids
milk and cigarettes!"

I hope you never work at the school my daughter attends :-)

> 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.

And then, it's not like I'd drive people to the monster.  If they're
already prisoners, they might remain so a bit longer (like a former
prisoner in Brazil who wanted to return to prison because life out
there was too painful.  Serious!, it actually happened), or they might
join us in developing and promoting replacements, such that fewer
people end up deciding to give up their freedoms because it's too

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?

(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")

> 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
this?"  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.

> These out-of-context speculations don't make any sense to me.

Drivers under NDA aren't speculations.

> What if there is only one such device and the binary driver works
> perfectly and never needs a change?

And you complain about *my* speculations?  Heh...

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.  It
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 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.

> 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.  However, the practical difference makes the moral difference
less urgent.

>>> 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.

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.  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".

Then you gotta think what it is that stops you from distributing the
other library under the GPL.  There are three possible answers:

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

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

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

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?

> 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.

Such proprietary works are licensed under severe prohibitions.  Nobody
in their right mind would take the risk of trying to subvert the

Now, maybe you're thinking of libraries for developers.  Those are
still licensed under severe prohibitions, and at a premium for you to
be able to create your own derived works.

What are you trying to show here?  What we all already know, that
non-Free Software is evil, so evil that developers simply stay away
from it unless they buy "protection"?

>>>> 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.

> Who does?

The copyright holders of the other works.  They could choose not to
make unethical impositions, but they choose to make them.

>> It's their choice.

> What choice?  How do you determine that someone is harmed?

I know I have been, and I don't see why any other software users would
have been harmed any less.

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

> 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.  And we've already agreed that
current copyright law is harmful.

> 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
GPLed software.

> 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.  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.

>> 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.

No, I think we're failing to communicate.  Such speculation wouldn't
even make sense, given that there was an existing body of Free
Software before even the GNU project started, which preceded the
creation of the GNU GPL.

> So how does that work in the case of something like a blu-ray player?

Don't even get me started on DRM :-)

>>> 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.

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.  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.

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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