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Re: Software cannot be free, but users can be

From: Mike Gerwitz
Subject: Re: Software cannot be free, but users can be
Date: Mon, 05 Jan 2015 21:51:34 -0500
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This is a lot of text expressing a pretty strong opinion, but it seems
to demonstrate a lack of understanding of the details of GNU, the GPL,
and free software.

On Mon, Jan 05, 2015 at 17:18:12 +0100, Gergely Varju wrote:
> 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 [...]

Free software is about ensuring that _users_ have four essential


> 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.

There is nothing wrong with selling free software, support for that
software, or services making use of that software.  Your accusations
seem to stem from something personal, because the FSF, nor GNU, has ever
argued against selling free software.


> 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. 

Much of your hostility seems rooted in this idea that the FSF will take
GPL'd software with the "or later" clause (which is recommended, but not
required) and somehow do something bad with it.  Of course, "bad" is
highly relative---GPLv3 is bad to some, even though it is still in lines
with the goals of the FSF and free software.

But to suggest that the community was not consulted is simply wrong:


If you do not trust the FSF, do not use "or later"; but note that you
are then causing problems with future compatibility.  Further, as the
copyright holder, you are free to relicense your software at any point.

In the case of software contributed to the GNU project for which the FSF
holds copyright, the assignment paperwork ensures that the software
will always remain free, regardless of how the GPL might change
maliciously.  So a malicious change to the GPL would not do projects
like GNU much good, because they have other legal requirements.  RMS
originally added this clause to ensure that GNU software could never be
made proprietary in the event that the FSF was somehow acquired or taken
over by a malicious entity.

> You speak about commercial forks for LLVM/Clang. Let me ask a question: Why
> can't GNU project create a GPL fork for it?

Why?  We have GCC.  LLVM is a competitor.

> *         You aren't free to decide about what you want to do with your own
> work. Because of copyleft.

You certainly are.  You are the copyright holder.  You are free to
relicense, or even ignore your own license entirely.  If you license
your code under the GPL, and someone asks you for the source code, and
you refuse to provide it, you have legally done nothing wrong.  You will
have lost trust in the community.

If you are *not* the copyright holder of the GPL'd code, then you are
legally bound by the GPL as a distributor.

> *         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.

Covered above.

> *         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. 

Do not use the "or later" clause, if you are worried.  But again, that's

> *         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.

Can you substantiate this statement?

> 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.

The GPL imposes no restrictions on the software that you run on your system.

> 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. 

This does not differ from "open source".  Indeed, your argument is in
direct support of the concept of "open source".  Free software is always
superior, because it is free:


> So certain freedoms could be granted and enforced even for commercial
> software. If you allow commercial software.

Are you referring to proprietary software?  Software can be both free
and commercial, as I mentioned above.

A free system doesn't disallow running proprietary software.  And many
free GNU/Linux distributions are commercial.

> 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. 

Nothing you have mentioned is new.  Please look over the resources on
GNU's website:


Also consider looking at the history of free software and "open source"
(Wikipedia is a good enough start) to see how each of your above
concerns has been addressed over the years.

- -- 
Mike Gerwitz
Free Software Hacker | GNU Maintainer
FSF Member #5804 | GPG Key ID: 0x8EE30EAB
Version: GnuPG v1


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