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[GNU/FSF Press] The GNU General Public License Protects Software Freedom

From: Bradley M. Kuhn
Subject: [GNU/FSF Press] The GNU General Public License Protects Software Freedoms
Date: Fri, 4 May 2001 12:15:17 -0400
User-agent: Mutt/1.3.15i


Media Contact: Free Software Foundation
               Bradley M. Kuhn <address@hidden>
               Phone: +1-617-542-5942

The GNU General Public License Protects Software Freedoms

Boston, Massachusetts, USA - May 4, 2001 - Richard M. Stallman, president
of the Free Software Foundation, and Professor Eben Moglen, general
counsel for the Free Software Foundation, today issued statements
addressing points raised in yesterday's remarks by Craig Mundie of
Microsoft.  Stallman and Moglen focused on the importance of freedom for
software users and programmers, how the GPL protects those freedoms, and
Microsoft's attempt to cast such freedoms in an unfavorable light.

Stallman, author of the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL), stated:
"Microsoft describes the GNU GPL as an 'open source' license.  To
understand the GNU GPL, you must first be aware that the GPL was not
designed for open source.  The ideas and logic of the GPL stem from the
deeper goals and values of the Free Software Movement".

Stallman explained further: "The Free Software Movement was founded in
1984, but its inspiration comes from the ideals of 1776: freedom,
community, and voluntary cooperation.  This is what leads to free
enterprise, to free speech, and to free software."  Stallman started GNU,
a project to create a free software operating system, along with the Free
Software Movement.  He wrote the first GPL-style licenses for the GNU
project, and released the first version of the GPL itself in 1989.  The
current version of the GPL was released in 1991, and today is used by
thousands of software projects.

Moglen noted that Microsoft's confusion about the GPL's origins is not
surprising.  He said that "taking advice on what the GPL means from
Microsoft is like taking Stalin's word on the meaning of the US
Constitution.  They don't understand and they're not trying to understand:
they're simply trying to scare people out of dealing with a competitor
they can't buy, can't intimidate, and can't stop."

Stallman also addressed the propagating nature of the GPL, saying:
"Whoever wishes to copy parts of our software into his program must let us
use parts of that program in our programs.  Nobody is forced to join our
club, but those who wish to participate must offer us the same cooperation
they receive from us.  That makes the system fair."

"Microsoft surely would like to have the benefit of our code without the
responsibilities.  But it has another, more specific purpose in attacking
the GNU GPL.  Microsoft is known generally for imitation rather than
innovation.  Its purpose is strategic--not to improve computing for its
users, but to close off alternatives for them."

"Hence their campaign to persuade us to abandon the license that protects
our community, the license that won't let them say, 'What's yours is mine,
and what's mine is mine.'  They want us to let them take whatever they
want, without ever giving anything back.  They want us to abandon our
defenses," concluded Stallman.

Finally, Moglen added that Microsoft is threatened by the power of free
software: "Microsoft, which used to say all the time that the software
business was ruthlessly competitive, is now matched against a competitor
whose model of production and distribution is so much better that
Microsoft stands no chance of prevailing in the long run."

Stallman's essay about Microsoft's attacks on the GPL is available online
at  Other comments by
Stallman on Microsoft are available online at  One of Moglen's essays on
the Free Software Movement is available online at

About Richard M. Stallman:

Richard Stallman is the founder of the GNU project, launched in 1984 to
develop the free operating system GNU (an acronym for "GNU's Not Unix"),
and thereby give computer users the freedom that most of them have lost.
GNU is free software: everyone is free to copy it and redistribute it, as
well as to make changes either large or small.

Today, Linux-based variants of the GNU system, based on the kernel
Linux developed by Linus Torvalds, are in widespread use.  There are
estimated to be over 17 million users of GNU/Linux systems today.  These
systems are often mistakenly called just "Linux"; calling them "GNU/Linux"
corrects this confusion.

Stallman received the Grace Hopper Award from the Association for
Computing Machinery for 1991 for his development of the first Emacs editor
in the 1970s.  In 1990 he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation fellowship,
and in 1996 an honorary doctorate from the Royal Institute of Technology
in Sweden.  In 1998 he received the Electronic Frontier Foundation's
Pioneer award along with Linus Torvalds; in 1999 he received the Yuri
Rubinski memorial award.

About Eben Moglen:

Eben Moglen holds a PhD. in history and a J.D. from Yale University.
Moglen is currently a professor of law and legal history at Columbia
University Law School, and serves as general counsel for the Free Software

About the Free Software Foundation:

The Free Software Foundation, founded in 1985, is dedicated to promoting
computer users' right to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute
computer programs.  The FSF promotes the development and use of free (as
in freedom) software---particularly the GNU operating system (used widely
today in its GNU/Linux variant)--- and free documentation.  The FSF also
helps to spread awareness of the ethical and political issues of freedom
in the use of software.  Their web site, located at, is
an important source of information about GNU/Linux.  They are
headquartered in Boston, MA, USA.

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