The Binary Nature of Freedom

Posted 4 Jul 2002 at 18:52 UTC by beppu Share This

Abstract:
There are subtle lessons about freedom in the GPL, but you'll never find them by just reading the license. Instead, you'll have to read between the lines (so to speak) and try to see what can't be seen. Furthermore, these lessons, despite being deceptively simple, could have a profound impact on human freedom if only people understood them. In a sense, software freedom can be seen as a metaphor for human freedom.

This essay was originally going to be my final contribution to the <u>Power Tools</u> column in Linux Magazine. It would have been published in the September 2002 issue which would have been good timing in light of the 1 year anniversary of 9/11. Unfortunately, the executive editor decided (after a week of thinking) that the message in the essay was inappropriate for the magazine and refused to publish it.

NOTE: While reading this essay, try to imagine that an inspired person is saying these words to you.



Instead of discussing software this month, we are going to take a look at the GPL (GNU General Public License). As most of you know, it is the license used by the Linux kernel as well as an overwhelming majority of the programs packaged with most distributions. Although the GPL is not a program in the traditional sense, it is like a program in that it is a non-trivial set of rules that dictates behavior. However, instead of running on a computer, it runs on the legal system of our society, and its purpose is to establish the preconditions necessary for the existence of a Free Software community.

"Community" is the key word here. No one doubts that Free Software -- software than can be freely used, copied, and modified -- can coexist with proprietary software. It's happening right now. However, without certain legal safeguards, it would be impossible for a substantially large Free Software community to flourish. The GPL is important, because it was the first license in the world to provide these safeguards.

However, in examining the GPL, the mechanics of how the GPL works will be of minor concern. This aspect is already well understood since it has been thoroughly studied by numerous legal experts. Instead, we're going to read between the lines of the GPL to find something hidden.

There is an underlying sense of freedom embodied by the GPL, but it has never been articulated due to its subtle nature. Yet, it's very real and could have a profound impact on human freedom. Best of all, there's nothing complicated about it. Even a child could understand the message, but this is actually sad in some ways. Are you curious yet about what you're missing? Then open your mind and open your heart, because...

"Anything essential is invisible to the eyes."
-- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The Life of a GPL'd Program

Because we are trying to bridge the gap between software freedom and human freedom, the following lessons will personify GPL'd programs in order to help people relate to the ideas being presented.

Programs may not be people, but they are created by people, and as such they reflect the qualities of their creators. People may even be said to live vicariously through their programs as if their programs were an extension of the self. Of course, the software world works under different rules than the physical world, but it is through these differences that we will gain understanding. As you'll see, the rules of the software world make it easier to achieve freedom, but the struggle is fundamentally the same. Thus, one can think of software freedom as a metaphor for human freedom.

With that said, here are 2 lessons to be learned from the GPL. They're not in the text of the license, but they manifest themselves over and over again in the programs covered by the GPL, and they are the true source of its power.

0. Freedom comes from within.

Unlike most humans, a GPL'd program does not wait to be liberated. Upon release, a GPL'd program declares to the world that it is free, and so it is.

Programs are lucky, though. They don't have to go around begging their so-called authority figures for "partial" freedom. For one thing, they don't have any authorities to deal with. They don't have any concept of partial freedom, either. A program is either free or non-free.

Admittedly, humans have a harder challenge, because the stakes are higher. We do have authorities to deal with, and their willingness to use force is frightening. However, this should make it clear that freedom is not something that is granted to you from the outside. There's only one person in the world who can give you freedom, and that person is you.

1. Your freedom is your own responsibility.

When someone tries to take away the freedom of a GPL'd program, it defends itself. This angers some people, but any time you take a stand, it's bound to happen. Regardless, a GPL'd program holds its freedom to be sacred and guards it whenever challenged. Since the GPL's inception, there have been many attempts to make GPL'd code proprietary, but none are known to have succeeded. Makers of proprietary software are very wary of the GPL, because it could make their whole world come down.

The foundation of proprietary software is copyright law which is used to limit one's ability to use, copy, and modify software. Unfortunately for them, RMS (Richard M. Stallman) recognized this and made the GPL so that it had a clause that said: if you use GPL'd code in your software, then your code automatically becomes GPL'd the moment you try to redistribute it. Not so coincidentally, the GPL also uses copyright law as its foundation.

This gives people who are determined to incorporate GPL'd code into their proprietary software two options. They can either GPL their code, or they can try to fight it in court. However, by trying to undermine the GPL, they would have to undermine the whole institution of copyright. But without copyright law, proprietary software could not exist, so either way you look at it, Free Software wins. In chess, this is called checkmate.

However, not all licenses fight as hard as the GPL does. For example, software covered by the modified BSD license is free but has no qualms about being assimilated into proprietary software. This isn't necessarily a bad thing (see The Essential Role of BSD), but there's something to be said for being able to take a stand.

If you find this hard to accept, then think back to your childhood. Do you remember being bullied? If you couldn't stand up for yourself, didn't you wish you could? Experiences like these can change the course of your life -- it definitely changed mine.

Can you see, now, why freedom comes from within and nowhere else? This is the lesson of the GPL.

The Historical Impact of the GPL

Little do people realize how different the world would be had the GPL never existed. To understand this, though, one would have to study the history of the GPL and trace it back to its origins, so consider the following story.

In 1982, James Gosling wrote the first C-based Emacs called Gosmacs. Initially, Gosmacs was Free Software, but Gosling later sold it to a company called UniPress. However, Fen Labalme, a contributor to Gosmacs, told RMS that Gosling had given him special permission to distribute a free version, so RMS incorporated some of that code into GNU Emacs. However, when UniPress heard about this, they told RMS to stop distributing GNU Emacs. They denied that Fen had been given permission, and even worse, Fen had lost the message from Gosling that could have proved otherwise. Thus, RMS had to comply, but he wasn't happy about it. You have to realize that RMS had been working on Emacs since 1975, and then here comes this company out of nowhere, telling him to stop.

If all those years of work could be taken away this easily, RMS realized that the GNU project would be doomed to failure. Therefore, he had to find a way to protect himself and his work. This led to the creation of the Emacs General Public License in 1985 which later evolved into the GNU GPL in 1989.

It's interesting to note that the earliest ChangeLog entries for gcc (the GNU Compiler Collection) also date back to this era. Writing a C compiler is a huge undertaking, and RMS was the only man who was both willing and able to make a free one. But ask yourself: could he have done it were he still fearful of having his code taken away?

The power of the GPL is that it takes away this fear, and with this barrier destroyed, RMS had the peace of mind necessary for writing a free C compiler. And when he released it out to the world, it started a chain reaction which is still in effect today.

Where would GNU/Linux and the BSDs be without gcc? And could the explosion of Free Software and Open Source Software have happened without the widespread availability of free operating systems to work on? Could any of this have happened so quickly without the Web? And where would the Web be if Tim Berners-Lee didn't have a NeXT system to develop software on? The first web server and the first web browser were compiled on a NeXT system using gcc. The list goes on and on, and gcc was what made this all possible. And remember: the GPL was what made gcc possible.

So whether you realize it or not, whether you even use computers or not, your life has been affected by the GPL, because it changed the course of human history. The GPL isn't just powerful -- it's revolutionary. But pull a Windows user out of his chair and ask him about it, and chances are, he won't know what you're talking about.

There is a serious educational crisis here, but we will never solve it if we continue to demonize each other. See GNU Needs More Than Software for a strategy for positive change. Free Software has come a long way, but there is still a long way left to go.

A Fork In The Road Ahead

In the world we live in today, computers have become very important. I'm not always sure whether this is a good thing or not, but it is a fact of reality. Because of that, there is a great burden of responsibility on programmers to be honest, compassionate, and courageous people.

When this is not the case, what do you think happens? You get things like DVD Region Encoding which prevents you from watching a legally purchased DVD on a legally purchased DVD player, because you live in the wrong country. You get Digital Rights Management which might sound great, until the music cuts out after the 10th listen, and the content provider tells you to pay up. You get the U.S. Army making games and giving them away for your children to play. Imagine what kind of educational information is waiting for them. Taken a step further, you even get software that controls the real weapons of mass destruction. None of these exist to help you live a better life.

So why do they exist, then? I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader, and while you reflect on that, let me say a few more things as this is my final contribution to this column.

I love you all from the bottom of my heart, because I know what you can become, and there are two sides to this. You can be free and happy and be the director of your own life, or you can be the complete opposite. Remember that there's no such thing as "partially" free. You're either free or you're not, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either fooling you or worse -- fooling themselves. This is the binary nature of freedom.

Thus, I urge you all to trust your hearts and walk in the right direction no matter how dark the path may be. Do not listen to those people who derisively tell you to get a life, because they have no idea what life is. The only person who can know how to live your life is you, so look within yourself and discover your true potential. And above all, no matter how hard it can be in this world of cruel and sadistic people...

BE PROUD OF WHO YOU ARE.



SIDEBAR 1:
The Essential Role of BSD

Both the modified BSD license and the GPL allow people to freely use, copy, and modify software. Their fundamental difference is in their treatment of proprietary software. While programs licensed under the GPL are protected from becoming proprietary, programs that are covered by the modified BSD license can be incorporated into proprietary software without any problem. From the BSD perspective, this is true freedom.

GPL advocates don't quite see it that way, but they also recognize that the modified BSD license can be the right license to use in certain situations where widespread adoption could be helpful.

Consider the TCP/IP stack from BSD. It's well known that Microsoft took it and used it as the basis for implementing Internet support for Windows. This makes some people cringe and worry, but maybe they shouldn't. Microsoft may think they have the Internet. But maybe the Internet has Microsoft. We'll see what happens.

If the GPL provides the checkmate, then the modified BSD license plays the role of the positional sacrifice. It's a risky but often necessary move.

go back



SIDEBAR 2:
GNU Needs More Than Software

For all of RMS's good qualities -- his honesty, integrity, and courage -- he has areas which might be more successful with slight adjustment. It seems RMS doesn't have a good understanding of human emotions. Perusing his comment history on various forums, mailing lists, and USENET, he is often noted as being abrasive. This doesn't mean he's out to hurt people. To the contrary, he wants to help people, but sometimes he may be trying too hard in the wrong direction.

One example of this is the "GNU/Linux" naming issue. RMS thinks that the GNU project is not getting the credit it deserves, so he goes around asking people to say "GNU/Linux" instead of just "Linux". This angers a lot of people who would otherwise be sympathetic to the GNU project, but RMS chooses to ignore this. The most disturbing part is when people, who are otherwise very supportive of GNU, start flaming RMS and wishing he'd just shut up and go away. However, this is counterproductive.

RMS has helped us tremendously, and for that we should be grateful. Now, it is our turn to help him and not hurt him. Let the following email be an example.

To: Richard Stallman <rms@gnu.org>
From: John Beppu <beppu@cpan.org>

A baby is born, but he can not run right away.
Before he can run, he must learn to walk.
Before he can walk, he must learn to stand.
And before he can stand, he must learn to crawl.
This is the natural order of things.

However, when you ask people to say "GNU/Linux", it's like asking newborn babies to run when they are not equipped to do so. Looking at all the "Linux" distributions, there is only one that is willing to call itself "GNU/Linux" and that is Debian. Not surprisingly, they are steadfast in their commitment to Free Software, and it is precisely for this reason that they are able to say "GNU/Linux" -- not the other way around.

Instead of demanding that people say "GNU/Linux", it might be more productive for you to expend more energy towards elucidating the benefits of Free Software rather than staunchly adhering to "the name issue". The name issue is clearly important, but most people who are intellectually honest will be glad to say "GNU/Linux" once they understand why they should. My suggestion, if you care to consider it, is that you will probably see better results if you find more direct ways of explaining why GNU is important. Perhaps my essay, "The Binary Nature of Freedom", can be helpful to that end.

Peace and Blessings

go back



SIDEBAR 3:
Resources


Gratitude, posted 4 Jul 2002 at 19:05 UTC by beppu » (Journeyer)

Thanks to Pip Stuart and RMS for their helpful comments during the writing of this essay.

I don't see it, posted 4 Jul 2002 at 21:17 UTC by kholmes » (Journeyer)

Maybe its because of the way you choose to word this essay that I don't understand. That freedom comes from the inside? That freedom is binary?

If you are theist, then I can speculate what you mean when you say that software freedom and human freedom are related. That just as software is a tool for people, that people are a tool of God. And the reason people create software is also similar in why God created people -- to do something that the creator can't -- in the case of people, to perform tasks efficiently and automatically, in the case of God, perhaps true free will and a chance to grapple the meaning of the Universe.

But I'm not certain if this is what you meant.

And that freedom comes from within? I don't see. And I think that is a fault of your essay in that you described what you mean, but you didn't provide logic on why this must be so.

While I am an advocate of Free Software and GNU, I don't see it as any kind of humanitarian benefit at all. I just see it as providing the most benefit for the most people.

Not bad, posted 5 Jul 2002 at 02:35 UTC by timcw » (Apprentice)

NOTE: While reading this essay, try to imagine that an inspired person is saying these words to you.

Heh. Methinks inspiration should be implicit in the tone of the essay and the excitement of the author's words.. might be a teeny bit more effective that way ;-)

On a serious note, I'm not sure what to think of this. I've heard certain reasons for the GPL and GNU's existance. For example, RMS is doing this out of his own personal need for free software (IIRC, he had a printer with a broken driver), and not as some altruistic deed. It seems to have grown into an altruistic deed, though. I don't think his intention was ever to influence anything except software, so I'm not sure what kind of springboard for other "freedoms" GNU should be, if any.

I don't like materialistic examples of freedoms being lost. It seems a good number of people have similar issues about these methods of anti-piracy. I'm not seeing the problem in having DVD region encoding, etc. simply because you are not forced into the purchase of any item which takes your "freedom." Therefore, freedom to purchase defeats any "anti-freedom" device sold. It basically amounts to purchasing your own slavery, though only if you want to look at those anti-piracy type devices as taking freedom away. Don't like the device? Don't purchase it. Don't cry about it either, as true freedom comes at a very significant price. Just be glad it's your DVD collection being sacrificed and not your head.

I'd also like to add something else, on this evening of the USA's Independence Day. Who guaranteed that freedom would make the world a better place? ..and who's "better" are we talking about?

If you code free software in the GNU sense, you are working towards RMS' vision of freedom. If you code proprietary software for a business, you are working towards their vision of freedom. Then you have a third entity, who proclaims "Creating software destroys humanity by keeping humans out of touch with each other. True freedom is when we become independent of computers and technological devices which don't really save time or labor!"

freedom, posted 5 Jul 2002 at 04:14 UTC by mslicker » (Journeyer)

If you code proprietary software for a business, you are working towards their vision of freedom.
Freedom of a tiny minority over a majority, this is not freedom but control.

Control which is enforced by the state.

Surely someone should be free to create proprietary software. But people should also be free to circumvent copy protection, and copy at will.

Surely someone should be able to create copy protected DVDs and cripled DVD hardware, but someone should also have the freedom to build DVD hardware which play DVDs unrestricted.

This is true freedom.

Then you have a third entity, who proclaims "Creating software destroys humanity by keeping humans out of touch with each other. True freedom is when we become independent of computers and technological devices which don't really save time or labor!"
Indeed. Software should empower individuals not control them. Proprietary software is built for control, without question.

Some free software is designed to control in a similar way to proprietary software. This is not suprising. You have a whole generation of programmers whose only prior software experience is with proprietary software. Even the GPL is a form of control, and should be recognized as such.

I personally like GPL, but not for reasons you may think. I like the GPL since it really pisses off Microsoft. It's very entertaining to see Microsoft, a large multi-billion dollar corporation, get so worked up from a grass-roots movement. If the GPL is really a threat to Microsoft's current practice, this can only be a good thing. And to this I aplaud GNU and RMS, for the clever invention of the GPL and the destructive potential to proprietary software, and maybe even copyright itself!

Will free-software go away if the GPL went away? Absolutely not. The age of the internet has vastly broken down the barriers of software distribution. With broad-band, even todays mega-software can be downloaded in minutes. With intelligently written software, transfer could be instantaneous, even with slow connections. The GPL is not strictly necessary for free software today, perhaps it was once when distribution was primarily the domain of large corporations. Now, distribution is open to anyone with access to the internet.

Best to concentrate on the known, not the unknown, posted 5 Jul 2002 at 06:08 UTC by tk » (Observer)

Freedom is emphatically not binary. You can choose a certain definition of freedom (which you did), and argue from there whether a person is "free" or "not free". But I can also ask for the freedom to use a different definition of freedom. Question: should this new "freedom" be a freedom?

What I mean is, "freedom" is too vague a concept to be useful, like "national interest" or "computer science" or "intellectual property". Even after all these years since the US Declaration of Independence, the concept of "freedom" has yet to gain a solid foundation. How can one say that freedom is "binary", when no one can even agree on what freedom is?

Better to focus on hard facts, such as the pragmatic benefits of using free software in poor countries.

There are also some other factual gotchas which I'll like to point out:

If all those years of work could be taken away this easily, RMS realized that the GNU project would be doomed to failure. Therefore, he had to find a way to protect himself and his work. This led to the creation of the Emacs General Public License in 1985 which later evolved into the GNU GPL in 1989.

Question: couldn't RMS have got a similar guarantee with a BSDish license? Companies can take what they want, yet the project can still continue. (As it stands, the GPL looks more like an act of revenge -- as in "you don't let me use any of your code, and I won't let you use any of mine" -- than an attempt to guarantee freedom.)

Where would GNU/Linux and the BSDs be without gcc?

BSD had its own C compiler before gcc, based on AT&T's Portable C Compiler (pcc).

to tk, posted 5 Jul 2002 at 09:56 UTC by abraham » (Master)

Question: couldn't RMS have got a similar guarantee with a BSDish license? Companies can take what they want, yet the project can still continue.

Not if they take the developers, like it happened when his peers left MIT to work for Symbolics. The code will be free, but the project will be dead.

BSD had its own C compiler before gcc, based on AT&T's Portable C Compiler (pcc).

But it was not free, and wouldn't have been useful for a free BSD distribution. However, lcc would probably have done the trick.

an act of revenge? not so., posted 6 Jul 2002 at 10:14 UTC by lev » (Journeyer)

Total freedom is good, then why do we have laws? It's obvious that the law is in place to protect the people from those who decides (by exercising his free will) to do harm.

Similarly, GPL is here to protect the interests of the community as a whole. The community should be able to access software derived from software that it has built.

Of course, an ethical person surely will make available his derived work. But remember, there are far more greedy, unethical people out there than we can imagine.

In this imperfect world, GPL does a good job in preserving as much freedom as possible (in terms of open-source software).

GPL and BSD and others + inspired person?, posted 6 Jul 2002 at 16:05 UTC by tk » (Observer)

There is no evidence that the GPL protects the interests of the community more than non-copyleft licenses in practice. (The argument may be sound theoretically, but that's not useful.)

For example, the BSD Unix code has been ripped by both Microsoft and Apple for their own purposes. Microsoft ripped out the TCP/IP code for its Winsock effort (as mentioned in the article). Apple used 4.4BSD as the basis for its Mac OS X kernel. And Microsoft and Apple aren't exactly very ethical companies. Yet the three BSD projects are still as alive as ever.

Even more curiously, Apple is actually sharing its work with the BSD community, as mentioned in its Darwin FAQ:

Q. Why did Apple decide to share all of its modifications with the BSD community?

A. Although the BSD licenses don't require companies to post their sources, divergent code bases are very hard to maintain. We believe that the open source model is the most effective form of development for certain types of software.

[...]

What's more, it can also be argued that copyleft may actually work against the free software movement in some ways; as Reese and Stenberg mentioned in their essay "Working Without Copyleft":

However, the use of copyleft does not guarantee contributions to your project either, as the commercial corporations may decide not to use your project because the scope of the copyleft is too extensive (quodque pro quo).

The Gosmacs incident has been cited as a reason the GPL is needed. However, what RMS did then was closer to releasing his code under the public domain, than releasing it under a BSDish license. There's a big difference here: PD doesn't give any protections, while BSDL/MITL does.

Regarding the "inspired person" bit: Please, don't think that the GNU people are the only ones who `see the light'. I've heard about GNU. I know about GNU. I even believed in it for a period of time. But after reading several essays, including ESR's "Shut Up And Show Them The Code" and the abovementioned "Working Without Copyleft", I'm starting to realize that there's a lot more to the free software issue than what RMS says.

Yet, 2+ years since this realization, I'm still seeing the same arguments from the GNU people, and the same "inspiring" rhetoric.

reply to tk, posted 6 Jul 2002 at 19:28 UTC by mslicker » (Journeyer)

I'm a bit skeptical of anyone who tries to push a certain license as "the true free software license."

GPL, BSD, public domain are all free software. I can think of valid reasons for each. And I have no argument with any of these choices. In my mind the person has already made the correct choice in releasing the software as free software.

The GPL is not vengeful. The terms apply only to distribution. It can freely interoperate with proprietary software. It does not punish the users or distributers of proprietary software.

Reguarding ESR, this windbag represents me no more than RMS does. Free software does not need leaders, it can (and will) conquer the world just fine on it's own. Hardly anyone is fighting it. There is Microsoft, but Microsoft has billions of dollars at stake. Microsoft's fight will ultimately prove fruitless. When compared with collective creative power of the world's free software creators, Microsoft is insignifigant.

Reply Factory, posted 7 Jul 2002 at 05:56 UTC by beppu » (Journeyer)

to kholmes:

That freedom comes from the inside? That freedom is binary? ...

And that freedom comes from within? I don't see. And I think that is a fault of your essay in that you described what you mean, but you didn't provide logic on why this must be so.

I first heard the term "freedom comes from within" about 3 years ago when I bought the album, Delicious Poison by Monday Michiru. I didn't understand the phrase either, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt since it seemed that she had lived an interesting life -- I figured she knew what she was talking about. Thus, assuming she was right, I thought about this phrase off and on for many years, but I never did figure it out using just logical means.

Then, 3 months ago, at the end of March 2002, I had a life changing experience where 14 years of emotional pain disappeared in a second, and I knew exactly what she and so many other musicians were talking about. By complete accident, I discovered a tremendous source of energy inside of me, and my life was never the same again.

Here's a list of what I became capable of:

  • My lung capacity felt like it almost doubled. I'm able to take huge breaths of air, now, but it comes at a price. I have to be good to myself, or my ability to breath becomes short. That means if I eat unhealthily or if I hurt someone's feelings, I can't breathe deeply until I rectify the situation. Thus, my breathing forces me to be good.
  • My endurance became a lot better, and it wasn't because I started exercising more than usual.
  • My physical coordination improved signficantly.
  • I've become very friendly and outgoing whereas I used to be rather quiet.
  • I'm practically fearless. It's a strange feeling, because I used to be a pussy, but no more. I can fight for myself, and I can fight for others should the need arise. Also, people can bad mouth me, and I don't get mad or sad. If I judge their concern to be legitimate, I'll do what I can to learn from my mistakes. However, if they're talking out of their ass, it doesn't hurt.
  • I feel peaceful inside.
  • I stopped smoking pot, because I feel naturally high all the time, now.

This is what I want people to have, and my essay was an attempt to bring you one step closer to achieving it. There was a lot that I wanted to say, but I couldn't, because it would have been extremely off-topic for my column, and also, the shit is pretty crazy. If you heard the story of my life changing experience and didn't believe my it, I wouldn't blame you.

However, if you or anyone else is interested in my life changing experience, feel free to email me at beppu@cpan.org, and I will send you a collection of emails that I wrote. You can mentally patch them together in order to get an idea of what exactly happened to me. To tell you the truth, I'm not exactly sure myself, but I do know that I've never felt better in my life.



to timcw:

NOTE: While reading this essay, try to imagine that an inspired person is saying these words to you.
Heh. Methinks inspiration should be implicit in the tone of the essay and the excitement of the author's words.. might be a teeny bit more effective that way ;-)

That's the thing! There's a lot of emotional information you're not getting when you read typed words. Read a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. and then listen to him give the same speech, and see if you get the same feeling from both. I promise you, the spoken one will be much more powerful, because spoken words are laced with emotion.

On a serious note, I'm not sure what to think of this. I've heard certain reasons for the GPL and GNU's existance. For example, RMS is doing this out of his own personal need for free software (IIRC, he had a printer with a broken driver), and not as some altruistic deed. It seems to have grown into an altruistic deed, though. I don't think his intention was ever to influence anything except software, so I'm not sure what kind of springboard for other "freedoms" GNU should be, if any.

There's a very human side to RMS that's often neglected, but if you read the epilogue of RMS' biography, you'll understand. Note that it's titled "Crushing Loneliness". (Thanks to pip for this info.)

If you code free software in the GNU sense, you are working towards RMS' vision of freedom. If you code proprietary software for a business, you are working towards their vision of freedom. Then you have a third entity, who proclaims "Creating software destroys humanity by keeping humans out of touch with each other. True freedom is when we become independent of computers and technological devices which don't really save time or labor!"

I realized that there were many competing ideas about what freedom meant, so I tried to skirt the issue as best as I could, because I was more interested in the capacity to be free. Software is just the medium for the message as far as I'm concerned. What's really important is that people find out how powerful they really are.



to tk:

Better to focus on hard facts, such as the pragmatic benefits of using free software in poor countries.

Believe it or not, free software was a secondary concern for me while writing this essay. Free software was just the medium for a message. What I really want is for people to be able to tap into the same source of emotional energy that I've found, and this essay was written to prepare its readers for this possibility.



to tk (again):

Yet, 2+ years since this realization, I'm still seeing the same arguments from the GNU people, and the same "inspiring" rhetoric.

When I said "inspired", that's not the way I meant it. If you could hear me speak, your replies would have been different, because you'd be able to sense a lot of the emotional information that can't be transferred through typed text.



to mslicker, abraham, and lev:

Thanks for the back up.

. --- --# ( Peace and Blessings ) #-- --- .

the many faces of the truth, posted 7 Jul 2002 at 11:53 UTC by lev » (Journeyer)

There is no evidence that the GPL protects the interests of the community more than non-copyleft licenses in practice. (The argument may be sound theoretically, but that's not useful.)

with GPL, as long as someone takes the code, build upon it, and distribute it. we can be sure that everyone in this world automatically gets the right to freely access the derived source code at no cost. it's as simple as that.

I've heard about GNU. I know about GNU. I even believed in it for a period of time... <skipped>... I'm starting to realize that there's a lot more to the free software issue than what RMS says.

it's good that you did realize that you shouldn't 'believe' in GNU, or any open-source movement. open-source (or free software, if you prefer) is (and always will) be more than what anyone (or any group of people) says.

GNU, as with other open-source movement like OSI, is merely an imperfect interpretation of the true way of open-source. no one should believe in GNU or OSI, or anything but the true open-source idea. RMS is only doing what he thinks it takes to be true to the way of open-source.

 

there is only one truth regarding something (open-source, in this context), but there are many different minds. everyone has his/her very own interpretation of the truth.

the truth is perfect, but languages aren't, neither are we. more often than not, to crystalize the truth, or near truth, in it's perfect form is beyond the ability of any man.

fortunately, each of us is able to express some part of the truth. by understanding others' interepretations of the truth, then with some luck and time, we might get close enough with the truth.

no man has seen (or will ever see) the whole truth. only through others' interpretation can we see more of the truth than we have seen.

"to understand everything is to understand that we don't understand anything".

..., posted 7 Jul 2002 at 16:20 UTC by tk » (Observer)

lev: As explained in "Working Without Copyleft", the choice of GPL may cause some people and organizations to refrain from making contributions in the first place. It's not all clear-cut.

beppu: I think I get your drift now. I once told a Linux advocate wannabe that all the free software in the world is useless, if the hearts of users aren't free.(*) But in my opinion, the GPL isn't a suitable vehicle for understanding general human freedom: software licenses teach about freedom as much as guns teach about good life.(**) Besides, the target audience doesn't look right. :-(

(*) I didn't define "free" here; I hope its meaning is obvious
(**) yes, I disagree with ESR on this

Re: ..., posted 8 Jul 2002 at 00:38 UTC by lev » (Journeyer)

tk:

the choice of not using GPL may cause some people and organizations to refrain from making contribution as well. those are kind of pointless statements. simply put, we pick the best-fit license (not necessarily GPL) for our software on a case by case basis. it's just that in most cases, we want to _keep_ our software free, forever.

from "working without copyleft"

Instead we are arguing that copyleft should not be the default choice when open source projects select a license;

you've repeatedly mantioned the article, but who said GPL should be the default license? we were merely telling what GPL can do, when we want to put it to work. full stop.

Misunderstanding of the GPL, posted 9 Jul 2002 at 12:41 UTC by gerv » (Master)

if you use GPL'd code in your software, then your code automatically becomes GPL'd the moment you try to redistribute it.

This is a common misconception. If you use GPLed code in your software without following the terms of the GPL, you are committing a violation of the copyright of the author of the GPLed code, because the license under which you are using the code does not permit this use. You can then be sued by that author.

You can fix this problem in one of three ways. The first is to stop redistributing the software altogether. Or, you can clean-room the GPLed code and use that instead. Neither of these options requires releasing your source under the GPL (and, as an aside, neither stops you being sued, either.)

You can also fix it by GPLing your own work - but because your rights under the GPL to the original author's code have been terminated when you infringed the license, you still need "forgiveness" from the original author to continue distributing their code.

So, your code does not "automatically" become GPLed at all.

Gerv

Re to tk, posted 11 Jul 2002 at 21:26 UTC by kholmes » (Journeyer)

Thanks for linking to that ESR article, its been a while since I've read that piece and I remember laughing when I read it. Writing a long article telling RMS to "Shut Up and Show Us the Code" has to be one of the most hypocritical stances I've ever seen. And I've always seen ESR and the Open Source Movement with suspision ever since.

And I've seen my suspisions validated, it seems, from what has happened. Accepting ports of proprietary applications as contributions to the Open Source community simply doesn't make any sense at all. At one time, it seemed to me that the Open Source Movement became whatever the media wanted it to be.

And I think that's the problem with the Open Source Movement as it was considered then. They never knew when to exclude. RMS at least had a number of essays that reasoned why free software is a good thing, and why it is necessary to exclude proprietary software.

Now I agree with mslicker though. There is an "ultimate" philosophy but be humble in that we don't have it entirely correct. And that level of humility is very hard. I wish we could all go around arguing like Plato ("I know nothing, therefore I am the wisest man I know"). And at some level, Stallman is wrong in his philosophy -- but I am not sure where that is.

bleh...talked to long

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