Rchard Stallman vs Darl McBride

Levi Pearson levipearson at gmail.com
Tue Jul 20 19:14:43 MDT 2010

On Tue, Jul 20, 2010 at 5:02 PM, Richard Esplin
<richard-lists at esplins.org> wrote:
> I want to respond to two different, related posts.
> On 07/14/2010 04:21 PM, Levi Pearson wrote:
> <snip>
>> 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.
> <snip>
> 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.

Yes, they do matter, and information about how to select an
appropriate license for your needs is actually a valid technical
topic.  Licenses are legal tools to specific ends, and knowing how to
use those tools and what their usage implies is important whether you
subscribe to a particular social view or not.

However, advocating social views, which is RMS's modus operandi these
days, is not the same thing as giving technical instruction/advice on
selecting a license.  Yes, there's an argument that the GPL is an
important license now and thus getting a treatise on the philosophy
behind it and a call to follow that philosophy is appropriate, and
I'll have to concede that it's a somewhat reasonable one that might
appeal to a good portion of the group.  I just don't think it's very
useful, myself.  I'd rather hear a less biased overview.

> On Saturday, July 17, 2010 15:56:31 Levi Pearson <levipearson at gmail.com> wrote:
> <snip>
>> 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.
> <snip>
> 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:
> http://itmanagement.earthweb.com/osrc/article.php/3803101/Bruce-Perens-How-Many-Open-Source-Licenses-Do-You-Need.htm
> 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
>    company).

If you're using your free time to work on a project, presumably you're
primarily enriching yourself.  If it's not personally enriching, you
probably shouldn't be doing it in your free time!  If you don't want
someone else to make money from your efforts, either don't release it,
or release it with a no-commercial-use license.  The GPL doesn't
prohibit selling software, it just obliges people who distribute
modified versions to make source available.  If you're worried about
them taking credit for your work, there are licenses that require that
credit/attribution be given to you.  In other words, I don't see how
the above description of motivations is related to a sense of justice
as much as it is related to compelling other people to do what you
want them to do with their efforts.

> * Reciprocity provides the hope of additional contributions
>    When I select the GPL, I am optimistic that someone else will likeIf
>    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.

GPL provides no expectation of benefit, only an expectation of access
to source code of changes.  There's no reason that the GPL would
compel someone to make changes that would be useful to you or in a
form you would like.  Cooperation can't be compelled by license, and
it makes business sense to cooperate outside of license compulsion.  I
don't think the GPL was required to bring about this understanding,
but that's certainly debatable.

> * 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
>    improvements.
>    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.

I have worked with companies that were extremely hesitant to touch
anything GPL-related due to worries about license contamination of
important IP.  They would not release source related to that IP under
a free license under any circumstance, though they might find it
useful to cooperate with others on non-core software.  GPL would
prevent that non-core cooperation due to the worry of being forced to
release core IP.  The open source projects I have contributed to are
things that we would have contributed to regardless of license,
because cooperation was one of the goals from the beginning.

> * 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.

If you contribute code to a project under an open source license, that
code remains under an open source license.  Some future version may be
released under a different license if you've transferred copyright to
your portions of the work to the project, but the version you
contributed to remains open.  Of course, whoever runs the project
could always rip your code out, GPL or not.  Your effort is never
guaranteed to remain accessible to others in future versions.

> 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.

Giving up the right to not distribute parts of your source code is a
pretty significant right to give up for some pretty dubious
'protection' offered by the GPL.  You can argue that it's a good idea
anyway, but it's far from clear that it's objectively true.  RMS gets
around the question of whether it's worthwhile or not by asserting
that it's just the right thing to do, and not doing it is morally
wrong.  I don't buy it.

I'm okay with the existence of the GPL, and people who like it are
welcome to use it if it represents what they want to achieve with a
license.  I just don't want to be preached to about software freedom.

> 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:
> http://codev2.cc/download+remix/

I'd come to a presentation given by Lawrence Lessig.  I wouldn't come
to one given by RMS.


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