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Re: Software cannot be free, but users can be

From: Riley Baird
Subject: Re: Software cannot be free, but users can be
Date: Tue, 06 Jan 2015 10:25:00 +1100
User-agent: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux i686; rv:31.0) Gecko/20100101 Thunderbird/31.3.0

On 06/01/15 03:18, Gergely Varju wrote:
> Hi,
> In an e-mail about LLVM/Clang this email address was provided for those who
> would argue about changing some goals of GNU projects. When you say Free
> Software is a Free a sin Freedom, is the software itself realy free in that
> sense? No. Software itself doesn't have free will, and it would be hard to
> create a self aware AI with free will, that is free. At worst it isn't free,
> because if it goes against our will, we can turn that computer off and
> uninstall it. Users, contributors, developers and the market can be free.
> And there are two possible goals there: maximize this freedom, or reduce it
> by giving more control to a privileged group. The smaller this privileged
> group is, the more control they have, the less freedom everyone else would
> have. 


> Of course the above isn't new to you, but the question is: What kind of
> freedom an end user should have. GNU means GNU is Not Unix. Why? Because
> someone decided about the licensing terms for contributions of other people
> without their consent. And they did it to promote their own interests
> against those contributors. When the exact same thing happens with GNU
> project, you should ask yourself: What went wrong? And you can't claim you
> do it for the right reasons, because developers of UNIX could point to good
> reasons they protect. Like getting paid for your work (as programmer),
> return on investment to make sure investors finance R&D. They have pretty
> good moral reasons, and once you are only against their property, against
> profit your agenda will be a communist agenda, and if you are willing to
> hurt other people to promote it you won't be any better than Stalin. 

I see no problem with people being required to license their
contributions to an already existing project under a license that they
do not like, both in the case of UNIX and GNU. Consider that the
developers of UNIX received a contribution from someone under a license
prohibiting commercial use, or requiring that Bell Labs pay them 90% of
the company's profits. UNIX should be able to say - forget it. If you
don't license your contributions under our license, we'd rather not have
your contribution.

> Stalin had an interpretation of freedom too. And the moment people see that
> you can create any later version of GPL and even if they don't agree with
> it, there can be legal reasons why it is forced on them (old license can
> lose validity due to changes in law) and you ignore them, you are equal to
> Unix. And a lot of people didn't like GPL v3. And the conflict between so
> called Free Software which focuses on political ideas, and Open Source
> software which focuses on better products for everyone shows a lot of people
> are unhappy when you take their work and use it to your political interests.
> Too bad that it doesn't matter how you change GPL in GPL v4 or any future
> version you do it without consent of numerous software developers, and
> without considering interests of the contributors. 

I agree that this is definitely a problem. There is no way that you can
trust that the FSF will always, even in 1000 years time, continue to
make all versions of the GPL what a rational person might consider to be

On the other hand, some form of upgrade mechanism is necessary, in case
some part of a license is held unenforcable (as you mentioned above).
This could be done by democracy, but you still have the problem of
tyranny of the majority.

Note, however, that you can only have a later version of the GPL forced
upon you if you include the "or, at your option, later version"
statement along with your software. Linux, for example, is GPLv2 only.

> You speak about commercial forks for LLVM/Clang. Let me ask a question: Why
> can't GNU project create a GPL fork for it? After all you have a chance to
> do so. And as you can take away everything the non copyleft folks made, but
> they can't take anything GPL folks make, and at that point, you can take
> away some of userbase, contributors, etc. and all the freedoms the original
> developers had, and use them as digital slaves to promote your political
> agenda. As you see that risk is there. 

I can't really comment on this, since I don't really see a problem with
LLVM/Clang. Competition is healthy.

> You might claim it is there for a good reasons. But that would be a lie. As
> you can't make sure that all future decision makers of FSF would have any
> goals you or your supporters would considered noble. And GPL v6 might be a
> nonfree license that allows everything for preferred parties and nothing
> (without an additional license from the preferred party) for anyone else. So
> GPL Is a tool that lets a group to take over works of others. And in the end
> a single small organization gains total control over licensing of project
> they haven't even contributed to. With a goal that say: certain people
> (programmers who make stuff for the public) shouldn't have a right to get
> money for their work. They are free to ask, as slaves were free to ask for
> freedom, money. But they have no right to get it.  And digital slavers
> (People who make distributions and sell support) are free to use and abuse
> this rightless class of people.

How does Red Hat make money? By begging?

> At this point, GPL is bigger risk than the original problem it planned to
> solve, and the original problem didn't work like a virus, there were no
> zealots or crusades spreading it. You see the difference? 

Even though there are problems with the GPL, the problem of an "all
rights reserved" license is much worse. The "all rights reserved"
license is much more of a virus than the GPL, because almost all
creative works in the world are under it, by default.

> You claim GPL is about the freedom you provide. But that freedom is quite
> limited:
> *         You aren't free to decide about what you want to do with your own
> work. Because of copyleft.

Are you opposed to copyleft in general, or just the requirement to give
source code?

> *         You aren't free to decide what to do if the old license gets
> obsolete. Because your license doesn't let them to switch if it is the case.

Ask all contributors to your project to assign copyright to you, and you
can change the license whenever you want to.

> *         You aren't free to back out if you don't like the direction GPL
> takes, as there is no way to back out at new version. 

Linux can never be upgraded to GPL-3, because Torvalds' initial
licensing choice did not include "or, at your option, any later
version". You can do the same.

> *         GPL isn't about a free market, as it works like a virus (see my
> argument for GPL forks) it tries to take over the whole software licensing
> in the world. Without exceptions.

In a truly free market, copyright would not exist. The right to free
speech includes the right to say words that were originally said by
someone else without their permission.

> *         So far linux works, and there are nonfree applications for it. But
> we know that calling Joomla API from SMF bridges was an issue. With free
> software you as end user aren't free to decide which software you use on a
> GPL infested system. Free market and fair competition is impaired.

As far as I can tell, usage of the SMF bridge is fine, but distribution
isn't. Also, having GPL software on your system doesn't infect every
other piece of software on your system. Otherwise, there'd be no Firefox
or VLC for Windows.

> Why? Because you don't want to see developers of the software to decide
> about their own work, but give total control to a third party even if they
> contribute nothing. And because you take over projects without consent of
> the developers and taking away freedoms of users you are no better than
> Unix. 

I've covered this above: For convenience's sake, it is better that
everyone working on the same piece of software use the same license.

> Some of the ideology I heard was simple. It stated that with these rights
> everyone can check the source so the said software will be free of backdoors
> and security holes. Yet we discovered a huge backdoor functionality in bash
> this year. It would be much harder to notice an intentionally created but
> well hidden security hole. Yet everyone has a good chance to submit such
> code. Even the Islamic State, North Korea, etc. 

Security is why I started using FOSS, but having the source does not
magically fix all vulnerabilities. Having many people do a security
audit of the program does. For which the source is needed.

Also, yes, the Islamic State and North Korea could submit such code, and
most likely everyone would reject it.

> All I see from you is more zealotry and  never stopping to ask: "what went
> wrong?" Is it easy to avoid another "Unix" incident? If you believe in free
> market it is. How? If your license doesn't require them to use GPL, but
> require them to grant certain rights to all users with the same requirements
> as the original license if the law allows them to grant those rights that
> could help. In fact it would be easy to create a group of different licenses
> with different requirements that attach different rights to derivative
> works. So certain freedoms could be granted and enforced even for commercial
> software. If you allow commercial software. 

This idea of multiple licenses with different requirements sounds good,
but I'm a bit unsure what you mean. Are you talking about something like
Creative Commons?

> You can say: "you can only use this piece of code in a commercial software
> if you will provide full, original, unobfuscated source code and related
> documentation to your customers and allow them to create derivative work for
> their own use". The market shown the need for commercial software, as most
> people cannot contribute code, they cannot decide if the project will work
> and start financing early. But they can help the project by paying for the
> costs of development and for the work / investment as customers. You can
> protect many freedoms even if you acknowledge this need.

This need does not exist, although I admit that it would make software
development more convenient. Debian has about 57000 packages in main
right now. All under a license that meets the DFSG.

> You can protect freedoms without creating a huge risk to them. There are
> good ways to promote freedom, and to close some of the gap between so called
> Open Source and Free Software movement. It is up to you if you would want to
> go with zealotry or seek a good and working compromise. 

In terms of licensing, the Open Source and Free Software movements are
practically the same.

> With the Bukkit incident a lot of people seen how GPL can stop the fun, they
> will be there to listen to some of these arguments, and learn how friendly
> licenses can protect their freedom with less risks, and they will be happy
> to discuss the problems with GPL. I heard some incident between SMF and
> Joomla. I heard a few cases when people started to go against GPL. More and
> more young developers are okay with any license except GPL. The moment there
> are more anti GPL open source devs who won't touch GPL code, than GPL fans
> who only work under GPL you lost. 

Bitrig, an OpenBSD derivative, is almost entirely free from GPL software
(the exception being texinfo). FreeBSD is almost at that stage. Yet
(except for Sony), companies are still choosing to base their products
on Linux and the GPL. Try to find a consumer router that does not have
firmware based upon the Linux kernel.

> But if you understand what went wrong, create friendly license terms, etc.
> you can still protect key freedoms. It is up to you to decide if you want to
> grow with a really freedom focused path, or continue down the Stalinist road
> to its bitter end. Hope you understand these concerns. 

I can understand these concerns to some degree. Hopefully, by the end of
this conversation, we'll reach some form consensus.

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