Hugh Winkler holding forth on computing and the Web

Saturday, April 25, 2009

If RMS has his way, the GPL is dead

The GPL has never made me feel particularly free. Only in a kind of newspeak can you say that constraining the kinds of agreements I can make with people who buy my software enhances my freedom .

I'm not saying I don't like and use GPL software, or that the GPL is unfair. Just don't tell me that handcuffs are extra freedom.

Only copyright law enables GPL to constrain my actions from beyond the grave. In a world without copyright, GPL would be toothless. I would be able to use any freely available software I could get my hands on, incorporate it into my own, and distribute only binaries.

Richard Stallman proposes reducing copyright protection to three years for software. And he admits "It would be necessary to prohibit the use of contracts to apply restrictions on copying that go beyond those of copyright." That prohibition would apply to FOSS too, of course. No copyright after three years; no contract allowing the author to constrain your actions after that.

That would mean that you could link to three year old GPL libraries and ship binaries!


dave said...

I don't think you've read that article correctly. He talks about a standard lapse of copyright for most works but makes an exception for software. I think he's saying that after 3 years all software should be forced by law to be "Free Software" as per his definition.

Also, the reason the GPL has never made you, as a producer of software, feel free is because that is not it's intention. It is clearly based on the freedom's of users of software.

"Free software is a matter of the users' freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the software:"

hughw said...

@dave I agree, RMS is implicitly (not explicityl) suggesting to write the GPL into law. There's no other way he could force publishers to share source code.

Freedom is freedom. Freedom for slaveholders isn't a free society, right? Let's say we abolish copyright altogether -- I'd support that. We'd all be free, then, as consenting adults, to conclude any agreements with the people we deliver software to. No law would force any involuntary conditions on the seller or the buyer, or in the case of Free Software, the receiver or the deliverer. That's freedom.

If RMS says that condition isn't satisfactory, if he proposes to pass additional laws governing what authors and users can agree to, then he's not advocating freedom is he. Lincoln emanciapted the slaves. He didn't force the old masters into slavery. said...

I _think_ that as a programmer, you are free to publish software under as many licenses as you choose to. You CAN publish software under GPL and in the same time, you CAN publish the very same software under any other license. How it's limiting your freedom?