Rchard Stallman vs Darl McBride

Richard Esplin richard-lists at esplins.org
Tue Jul 20 17:02:23 MDT 2010

I want to respond to two different, related posts.

On 07/14/2010 04:21 PM, Levi Pearson wrote:
> Seriously guys, this is a USERS group.  Neither McBride nor Stallman
> would have anything useful to say about USING Linux.  One of them is
> out to make a buck, and happened to end up on the wrong side of a
> lawsuit.  The other is the leader of a social/political movement, and
> seems to be only really interested in advocating that movement.

One of the roles of an open source software users group is to educate users on the rights open source gives them, thereby helping them to value those rights. An open license has value that can be compelling even when the software is not necessarily the best technical fit.

At my current job, our marketing team recently surveyed our customers to determine why they selected our open source software over proprietary alternatives. More than half of our customers listed the open source license as a major reason they selected our product. Many customers reported that the license played a bigger role than the technical fit of the product.

Licenses matter, especially to an open source users group.

On Saturday, July 17, 2010 15:56:31 Levi Pearson <levipearson at gmail.com> wrote:
> What's the big deal about 'getting hijacked by powerful corporate
> interests', anyway?  It was clearly possible to write significant
> software to be released under a BSD license, because BSD did it.
> Certainly lots of noise and many heated arguments were created by the
> GPL, but I'm not convinced that it was a major factor in getting stuff
> written.

I have often been involved in deciding what license a business should use for a new software project. There are trade-offs to each license, and I like Bruce Peren's advice here:


The GPL provides some strong protections for code creators.

* Reciprocity plays to a sense of justice

    I am not going to use my free time working on a project which will
    primarily enrich Bill Gates and his share-holders (or any other

* Reciprocity provides the hope of additional contributions

    When I select the GPL, I am optimistic that someone else will like
    my code enough to contribute to it, and respect the license enough
    that I will benefit from their additions. The BSD provides a warm-
    fuzzy feeling that my code might help someone else, but I have no
    legal expectation that I will benefit in return.

* Share-alike creates more open code

    The legal obligation of reciprocity can act as a multiplier on hobby
    code contributions, because corporations that want to improve the code
    have additional reasons to persuade management to release their

    At two different companies, I have been able to release improvements
    to open source code because the project we wanted to use was licensed
    under the GPL. If it had been BSD licensed, that code would be rotting
    on some small team within the companies.

    The programmers who produced that code were not paid to create it,
    but they benefit from my team being paid to improve it.

* Share-alike protects the programmer

    When I am paid to learn and contribute to GPL code licensed code,
    I know that the time and effort I have invested will be transferable
    to other customers and employers. Other open source licenses have
    much weaker protections.

The GPL might not be the right fit for every line of code you create, but software licenses are important and ignoring the license on code you create or use results in giving up rights that you might prefer to retain or that you should retain on behalf of your company.

Many technical people do not appreciate the role that intellectual property rights play in our society or how the rules surrounding intellectual property factor into business decision making. Technical people are often so focused on the technical quality of an engineering contribution that they do not grasp how that contribution is, or is not, benefiting a business, a profession, or society.

Lawrence Lessig's writings on these matters is very illuminating. _Code_ is a good place to start:


Richard Esplin

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