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Re: [Fsfe-uk] Software patent - any action?

From: Chris Croughton
Subject: Re: [Fsfe-uk] Software patent - any action?
Date: Tue, 31 Dec 2002 19:33:44 +0000
User-agent: Mutt/1.2.5i

On Tue, Dec 31, 2002 at 06:07:06PM +0000, Chris Lale wrote:

> Thanks for the comments.

At last I've managed to get a post to the list!

> OK. The EU (and the UK government) claim to promote the use of "open 
> source" software. There is no mention of "free software" in 
> http://www.e-envoy.gov.uk/oee/oee.nsf/sections/
> frameworks-oss-policy/$file/oss-policy.htm. 
> I am trying to make a connection between the two. In what way(s) are 
> "open source" and "free software" similar?

They both give you the source code (hence the name OSS) and in many
(most?) cases they insist that whoever you pass the software on to, in
whatever form, has to also (be able to) get the original source.

Where they often differ is in what you are allowed to do with that
source code.  Both give you the right to compile it into
executables and run it (it wouldn't be any use otherwise!), but OSS may
limit your right to pass on those executables or to charge for them.
Both generally also give you the right to modify the code and build
executables with the modified source, but they may differ on whether you
are allowed to pass those executables (or the modified source) on to
anyone else, whether you have to pass any modifications back to the
author/maintainer, whether you can distribute patches, etc.

Then there are the pseudo-open-source contracts, like the one MS has
been promoting, where you are allowed to look at the source (often for a
fee) but not distribute it or anything built from it.  Those are nasty,
because (a) they are 'take' licences ("you can look at our source so you
can do our debugging for us free, but we won't let you do anything else
with it") and (b) they tend to contaminate the mind of the person
looking at it.  By which I mean that if I look at an MS function to do a
particular job, when I come to write my own to do a similar job I am
likely to trail part of my MS knowledge into my creation, which could in
some cases give them rights over my software.

As an example, I have written a "clean-room" implementation of the GNU
getopt_long module.  I deliberately wrote it with reference only to the
description (in the man page) and the published interfaces, so that my
code would not be at all biassed or copy from the GPL code (I release
under a modified BSD-type licence), and did not look at all at any of
the GPL source.  As a result, if anyone tried to lay claim to my work I
can tell them to get lost, but if I had looked at te GPL code they would
have had a possible point.

> > Free software is always open source.  The reverse is not always true.
> Good point. Easy to understand.

It's about the only thing that is!

In other words, as you said originally the difference is basically one
of philosophy and definitions of words.  The "Free Software" community
has got a specific meaning of the word "free" and often uses it as a
bludgeon against those with a different philosophy.

http://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.html gives a large list of
other licences which the FSF considers to be 'free', and you can see at
http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/why-not-lgpl.html RMS's take on why he
regards other licences as not-good (basically, because they allow
proprietary software to use the code, and he disapproves of all
proprietary software).

Does that help?  I'm afraid that if there is any 'simple' distinction
neither I nor the FSF seem to be able to produce it...

Chris C

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