misunderstanding the GPL

Marco Tabini:

Morally, however, I find the GPL repugnant. Its fight-fire-with-fire principle of forcing anyone who uses a piece of software to disclose all their source code in turn betrays its purported ideals of freedom in a disgusting way.

The GPL does not force users to disclose source code. Source code is only required when distributing GPL software to others. In fact, if you’re only using GPL code you don’t even have to agree to the license (sometimes that’s misunderstood too). That is, you’re free to disagree with the license yet install and use the software. Therefore, the GPL respects your privacy and asks only that when affecting others with copies of your software, you give them the same freedom you have. There’s nothing morally repugnant or disgusting about that.

Via J.B. Nicholson-Owens.

Advertisements

2 Responses to “misunderstanding the GPL”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Hey! It’s unfortunate that so many people misunderstand the GPL — it distracts us from the real issues. I had an anonymous sorta-debate with you in 2006 over the GPL:

    http://gnuosphere.blogspot.com/2006/03/whats-right-question.html

    I left because I thought my second comment (my reply to your reply) hadn’t posted. Just now I stumbled on that page in my bookmarks and saw it did post and you answered me.

    You were very polite considering how undiplomatic of a writer I was at the time! I like you.

    Here’s the response I posted on your old blog today:

    If you look at why people are using the GPL, coercion is rarely the reason. Most people are using it because it’s the most popular license.

    Debian won’t accept any software that doesn’t follow their Free Software Guidelines, and that has pushed a lot of groups to change licenses to accommodate the FSG. One can imagine major projects allowing only public domain code. SQLite (http://sqlite.org/) is public domain; as far as I know there is no non-public domain fork.

    The spectre of something being changed a little and relicensed is almost completely hypothetical. There’s one or two token examples; http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/x.html is an article about some plan to restrict X11, which incidentally notes that the move was reconsidered after the resulting backlash. This points out something more important: As long as users care about freedom and refuse to accept the unfree fork, it won’t do any harm whatsoever. So the GPL is not needed… IF users care about freedom.

    There, then, is your real problem. A lot of people will use proprietary software like Skype and binary-blob Nvidia drivers if it’s convenient. You need to convince those people that freedom is more important than the features/convenience they’d be giving up.

    GPL is an attempt to sidestep that persuasion and basically bully software into being open-source even when users don’t care. Sorry, that optimization doesn’t work. Closed-source software still gets written (and since developers have to redo work that’s been done in GPL code, more money and manpower goes into it), the apathetic still use it, and because of the heavy restrictions in GPL + the fact that you’re deliberately making people redo your work, the message of freedom rings hollow for probably a bigger group of people than you’d expect.

  2. gnuosphere Says:

    If you look at why people are using the GPL, coercion is rarely the reason. Most people are using it because it’s the most popular license.

    It’s certainly the most popular FOSS license. However, I think many choose it because it applies copyleft.

    As long as users care about freedom and refuse to accept the unfree fork, it won’t do any harm whatsoever. So the GPL is not needed… IF users care about freedom.

    I agree. I hope one day we can be rid of copyleft.

    There, then, is your real problem. A lot of people will use proprietary software like Skype and binary-blob Nvidia drivers if it’s convenient. You need to convince those people that freedom is more important than the features/convenience they’d be giving up.

    I agree but don’t see this as 1 solitary problem (i.e. convincing others). There are 2 problems here. One, not enough social inertia in recognizing the importance of freedom, and two, the practical problem of not having enough software to cover everything we need along with proprietary developers who would like to fork free code or simply cannibalize it for other non-free projects. We’ve come a long way in 25 years but there are key pieces still missing. Copyleft actually helps in both regards. Philosophically, it raises awareness of the issue of freedom and practically speaking, it provides developers with the confidence that their code won’t be used against them legally.

    GPL is an attempt to sidestep that persuasion and basically bully software into being open-source even when users don’t care.

    I disagree. I see it as complimentary to persuasion, not a sidestep. As well, I see copyleft as an innovative way to provide incentive for developers who might rightfully argue – “Sure, I want to make a free system but why bother if proprietary developers are going to use my efforts to improve their non-free version which competes directly against my goal?”

    I’m not sure what you mean by “the GPL […] basically bull[ies] software into being open-source”. Proprietary licenses bully users and other interested developers. Free but permissive licenses (like the modified BSD) don’t bully anyone but allow others to use that software to bully. The GPL (like the modified BSD) doesn’t bully anyone but also doesn’t allow others to bully. Are you arguing that preventing others from bullying is bullying in itself? If so, I don’t agree. In a similar sense, I don’t agree that reasonable laws that protect people (e.g. speed limits) take away one’s freedom. One would have to argue that a free society is one where anyone can do anything they want regardless of the effects upon other citizens.

    because of the heavy restrictions in GPL + the fact that you’re deliberately making people redo your work, the message of freedom rings hollow

    If another developer wants to bully others (or at least open up that possibility) then I don’t see what’s wrong with saying, “Then go do it all over again (i.e. write your own similarly functioning code) if that’s your intent. I don’t want to help others bully – not even indirectly.” I actually respect that point of view a lot.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: