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May the source be with you, but remember the KISS principle ;-)
Skepticism and critical thinking is not panacea, but can help to understand the world better
Nikolai Bezroukov. Portraits of Open Source Pioneers
For readers with high sensitivity to grammar errors access to this page is not recommended :-)
The process of radicalization of RMS gradually moved his position in both in licensing and other intellectual property issues toward popular and a very convenient albeit slightly isolated position that is called "my way or highway"(MWOH). Actually MWOH can be called as a synonym for the RMS interpretation of GPL (and the license itself) starting with late 90th.
Programmers generally have different expectations of how their work should be valued, protected, and distributed. This manifests itself in different licensing decisions made by programmers. But RMS position is that all this complex activity and complex, vastly different expectations of the creators of free software should be put into the straitjacket of GPL. After all creator of free/open source software sacrifices they time and often family life and health to create something for mankind to use. Why on earth there should only one right way to license such creations. And if particular product is resounding success why a person can't commercialize it leaving behind free version for people to use and other people to support and develop, or even preserving free "base" version along with 'advanced commercial" version. See some discussion of those complex problems in Labyrinth of Software Freedom. Ch 2: Social Dynamics of Free Software Licenses in the context of the Program Life Cycle.
No, Stallman position that is this is not "pure" GPL this a kind of "unholy activity". And that bring us to the discussion of Stallmanism as a software cult.
|The German sociologist Max Weber
once proposed that all great religions are built upon the "routinization"
or "institutionalization" of charisma. Every successful religion,
Weber argued, converts the charisma or message of the original
religious leader into a social, political, and ethical apparatus
more easily translatable across cultures and time.
Sam Williams in RMS biography
People with a sense of fulfillment think the world is good, while the frustrated blame the world for their failures. Therefore an anarchist mass movement's appeal is not to those intent on bolstering and advancing a cherished self, but to those who crave to be rid of an unwanted self. In a very deep sense FSF zealot (end, later, Linux zealots) cannot be convinced, only converted. That means that to a certain extent movements like FSF strive to impose a fact proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world.
And, it is that faith becomes the screen, the filter of things the fanatic declines to see. And in most case such a mental filter involves the concept of the "devil". That means that Microsoft is really necessary to make FSF belief possible, and that faith manifests itself not in moving mountains, but in not seeing mountains move.
In the context of mass movement's faith should not be judged by its profundity, sublimity, or truth, but by how thoroughly it insulates the individual from himself and the realities of world as it is. All in all GNU project provided all the necessary ingredients for a small "self-contained" cult with Stallman as the chief ideologist and preacher. The cornerstone of the philosophy of "Stallmanism" ((the term was introduced by Eugene Kim, the president of Harvard Computer Society, in 1984[Kim1984]) is the notion that the entire concept of intellectual property is wrong and should be abolished. As a left anarchism-style philosophy, it is very attractive, especially for young people. It readily provides simplistic "black and while" vision for the complex events and developments, which is an immanent feature of any cult (see BSD vs. GPL for details).
But the problem was with the followers (aka "true believers"): starting from 1994 they flocked to another, more commercialized, cult named Linux. The latter was supported by financial heavyweights that realized the crazy IPOs of unprofitable companies can be a very profitable business. See Linus Midas Touch and Linux IPO Casino
In the cover story "Net Money Game: How top financial firms reaped billions, while investors got burned" Business Week noted that for years, venture capitalists declared that their mission was to build sustainable businesses. But when Linux IPO mania hit, they began rushing companies onto the public market with just promising business plans, but not a sustainable business model. Unfortunately both Linus Torvalds and Linux companies were part of the "make money fast" game played on unsuspecting public by investment banks and venture capitalists firms; in this sense Linus was simply a pawn, a patsy in well trained hands of PR staff of investment banks. And companies like Red Hat were a willing conspirators and diligently tried to create a new slightly different cult, the cult that needed RMS neither as a preacher or a follower.
If I make code available under the GPL, I'll lose control of it. The Europeans have this notion of artistic rights, and it seems to me an artist -- the person who creates something -- has some right over the ultimate use of what they do. Artists' rights also allow an artist to get paid on resale of their stuff later. My view is that programmers are like artists. I think there's got to be some economic reward back to the people who do the creative work that turns out to matter.
Bill Joy"The GPL, also known as the copyleft, uses copyright... to counterfeit the phenomena of anarchism"
Eben Moglen, general counsel to FSF
I think that GPL (along with GCC and GNU toolchain) is one of the major, if not the major achievement, of Richard Stallman. Unlike gcc, this is a very controversial achievement. You might even ask was Stallman an agent of some lawyer association and "Was the GPL intended to provide jobs for lawyers instead of programmers?" I doubt that the this was an original intension of RMS, but road to hell is paved with good intensions and yes, now, it really looks that way.
Like his programming crown jewel, gcc, GPL affected millions of people around the globe. Despite being highly controversial (or may be because of it) the license received a significant following from the very beginning. It was adopted by Linus Torvalds for his POSIX-compatible kernel project that eventually overtook GNU project and sent FSF to the dustbin of history.
I analyzed GPL and its connections with software anarchism in a special paper, so here I can be brief. The license was essentially an opening shot in two distinct wars "
The Great Free/Open License War (License Separatism Movement). Currently there are over 60 open source licenses and RMS can generally consider himself as the originator of the movement.
The War of Software Clones. Paradoxically GPL was never about writing the original, new software; from the beginning it was "cloning-friendly" license. The idea behind software cloning is to write a new piece of software that duplicates the appearance and functionality of the original software as closely as possible. "GNU-style" software cloning involves the case when source code for the original software is not available and somebody wants to recreate the same software with source code available simultaneously driving the price of software to zero (Daniel Wallace alleged that this is tantamount to price fixing in his two unsuccessful lawsuits against FSF). Software cloning does not imply source code copying. However, software cloning goes way beyond simply implementing a similar user interface. The goal in cloning is to create a new software program that mimics everything the original software does and the way in which it does it.
This "license separatism" movement that RMS created and the most prominent figure of which he was from the very beginning is probably the most controversial part of RMS heritage. I see GPL as a reaction to the fact that the fair use provisions deteriorated in common software licenses to an unacceptable level. That situation created a distinct need for an aggressive pro-user license and it was that need that was fulfilled by GPL. The license, essentially, became a banner of social movement: software anarchist movement. That's why GPL probably is the most lasting and the most controversial achievements of Richard Stallman that will influence people long after all the code he wrote in GCC and Emacs will be completely rewritten or both of the product superseded by a better and forgotten.
Stallman was one of the first and the most prominent apologist of an "aggressively free/open" software as opposes to BSD "academically free" stance (RMS will definitely disagree with equaling those terms of "open" and "free" but here he really has his political agenda). Therefore I see him not only as a brilliant programmer and a gifted programming manager (of an over controller type), but as an important left (anarchist) philosopher -- software freedom is the topic he consistently, religiously advocate and the concept of free software is the notion that consistently distorts to fit into his movements. He is also a gifted PR spokesmen for the movement. His eccentric personally attracts journalists like flies. He was also probably one of the first who linked free software with the free speech in public minds -- a brilliant socialist-style PR move.
Once you start thinking of computer source code as a human language, you see that this analogy has some grounds, but still it is very shaky. Actually I see it more like a deviation from the concept of academic publishing when a scientists published his invention for the benefit of mankind and does not ask anything instead. This "culture of giving" is the currency of science and of western civilization, the cornerstone of the Western academic tradition dating back to the Romans and Greek. But RMS position is a deviation from the European cultural tradition that advocates artistic rights.
As Bill Joy noted in the quote above, European tradition presuppose that the author's creativity and effort in bringing about a creative work creates a claim that must be recognized because it is only just to do so. Although it is a more European than American law notion, it is not completely foreign to the American law. For example in the US, artists' moral rights have been invoked to prevent the destruction of artistic works. But the assumption of the creator moral rights creates a very serious problem for RMS. Without moral rights, it's much easier to say "copyright is bad, freedom is good".
Only if copyright is an economic bargain favoring the privileged few, it has no intrinsic, independent value. If we assume that copyright has some intrinsic ethical value, this assumption essentially undermines the foundation of GPL and exposes Stallman as Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale ""The Emperor's New Clothes" personage: "But the Emperor has nothing at all on!"
Initially the GNU Project did not have a single license to cover all its software. The idea of GPL (GNU General Public License, now in v.2) that was formulated rather late, and GPL v.2 was published only in 1991 almost ten years after the project started and when both Emacs and gcc were already in pretty mature stages. So it was a kind of post-factum philosophical justification.
The proposed licensing scheme not only made it illegal to hide source code, but in a very seducing way played the "envy" card prohibiting to hide the source from works derived from GPL-based software. GPL allows users to sell, copy, and change covered programs, but you should release all your modifications under GPL if you decided to distribute it (all modification within a particular company can remain proprietary, unless they are distributed as a product to the "external world"; the meaning of distribution in GPL is pretty controversial and may or may not include "hardware appliances" ).
The stimulus to the creation of GNU license was RMS experience with reusing Gosling Emacs code for GNU project. As I mentioned before, Stallman always looked for a base implementation to start any of his GNU products. Gosling initially allowed free distribution of the Gosling Emacs source code and Stallman happily used it for the creating of the first version of GNU Emacs. But Gosling later sold rights to Gosling Emacs to UniPress, and the editor became UniPress Emacs. UniPress asked Stallman to stop distributing the Gosling source code. Essentially he was advised to rewrite those parts. See the Emacs Timeline for details. There was nothing special about this requirement and as Stallman attests himself, the editor only benefited from this rewriting.
Still Stallman wrote the GPL with the explicit aim to prevent similar attempts to force rewriting of the originally freely distributable code after commercialization by commercial companies or the original author. He also managed to catch the spirit of resentment in the academic and larger programming community caused by AT&T lawsuit against Berkeley; in its stupidity instead of going after Berkeley Software Design, Inc.(BSDI), formed in 1992 by several former members of BSD project, which started to sell BSD version of Unix as their own OS, the AT&T sued the university (see AT&T lawsuit helps to launch Linux into mainstream).
My own, and admittedly biased opinion is that the BSD License was and still is better suited for many commercial applications than the GPL, especially in the embedded space. In a way AT&T should be considered to be a co-author of GPL.
In a sense GPL from the beginning had a definite anti-author, anarchistic flavor: the idea was to explicitly deny the rights of the authors to commercialize their software by closing the source code as Gosling did and making them slaves to the Stallman's private charity, which due to huge PR effects of the "central authority" still can sell tapes (later CDs) with free software to support itself. This private charity should be not be too afraid of competitors, as this is the law of jungles (anybody can try, but only strongest and/or already established distributor can survive) and the central, coordinating position is very important for the success. Here is how RMS (mis) described his attempt to merge Gosling EMACS with Multics Emacs in his Speech at the Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden:
In the summer of that year, about two years ago now, a friend of mine told me that because of his work in early development of Gosling Emacs, he had permission from Gosling in a message he had been sent to distribute his version of that. Gosling originally had set up his Emacs and distributed it free and gotten many people to help develop it, under the expectation based on Gosling's own words in his own manual that he was going to follow the same spirit that I started with the original Emacs. Then he stabbed everyone in the back by putting copyrights on it, making people promise not to redistribute it and then selling it to a software-house. My later dealings with him personally showed that he was every bit as cowardly and despicable as you would expect from that history.
But in any case, my friend gave me this program, and my intention was to change the editing commands at the top level to make them compatible with the original Emacs that I was used to. And to make them handle all the combinations of numerical arguments and so on that one might expect that they would handle and have all the features that I wanted. But after a little bit of this, I discovered that the extension language of that editor, which is called MOCKLISP, was not sufficient for the task. I found that that I had to replace it immediately in order to do what I was planning to do. Before I had had the idea of someday perhaps replacing MOCKLISP with real LISP, but what I found out was that it had do be done first. Now, the reason that MOCKLISP is called MOCK, is that it has no kind of structure datatype: it does not have LISP lists; it does not have any kind of array. It also does not have LISP symbols, which are objects with names: for any particular name, there is only one object, so that you can type in the name and you always get the same object back. And this tremendously hampers the writing of many kinds of programs, you have to do things by complicated string-manipulation that don't really go that way.
So I wrote a LISP interpreter and put it in in place of MOCKLISP and in the process I found that I had to rewrite many of the editor's internal data structures because I wanted them to be LISP objects. I wanted the interface between the LISP and the editor to be clean, which means that objects such as editor buffers, sub-processes, windows and buffer-positions, all have to be LISP objects, so that the editor primitives that work on them are actually callable as LISP functions with LISP data. This meant that I had to redesign the data formats of all those objects and rewrite all the functions that worked on them, and the result was that after about six months I had rewritten just about everything in the editor.
In addition, because it is so hard to write things in MOCKLISP, all the things that had been written in MOCKLISP were very unclean and by rewriting them to take advantage of the power of real LISP, I could make them much more powerful and much simpler and much faster. So I did that, and the result was that when I started distributing this program only a small fraction remained from what I had received.
At this point, the company that Gosling thinks he sold the program to challenged my friend's right to distribute it, and the message was on backup tapes, so he couldn't find it. And Gosling denied having given him permission. And then a strange thing happened. He was negotiating with this company, and it seemed that the company mainly was concerned with not having anything distributed that resembled what they were distributing. See, he was still distributing, and the company where he worked, which is Megatest, was still distributing the same thing he had given me, which really was an old version of Gosling Emacs with his changes, and so he was going to make an agreement with them where he would stop distributing that, and would switch to using GNU Emacs, and they would then acknowledge that he really had the permission after all, and then supposedly everyone would be happy. And this company was talking to me about wanting to distribute GNU Emacs, free of course, but also sell various sorts of supporting assistance, and they wanted to hire me to help do the work. So it's sort of strange that they then changed their mind and refused to sign that agreement, and put up a message on the network saying that I wasn't allowed to distribute the program. They didn't actually say that they would do anything, they just said that it wasn't clear whether they might ever someday do something. And this was enough to scare people so that no one would use it any more, which is a sad thing.
(Sometimes I think that perhaps one of the best things I could do with my life is: find a gigantic pile of proprietary software that was a trade secret, and start handing out copies on a street corner so it wouldn't be a trade secret any more, and perhaps that would be a much more efficient way for me to give people new free software than actually writing it myself; but everyone is too cowardly to even take it.)
So I was forced to rewrite all the rest that remained, and I did that, it took me about a week and a half. So they won a tremendous victory. And I certainly wouldn't ever cooperate with them in any fashion after that. "
It's rather strange that one week of rewriting that definitely improved the product is considered by RMS as a major problem. But here we see the RMS already became is kind of "true believer" in his own cult. It not surprising the first version of the GNU license was called the Emacs General Public License. Other similar licenses, with references to particular packages, also existed, such as the Nethack General Public License.
The name GNU General Public License first appeared much later, in the June 1988 issue of the GNU Bulletin:
The copyleft used by the GNU project is made from a combination of a copyright notice and the GNU General Public License. The copyright notice is the usual kind. The General Public License is a copying license which basically says that you have the freedoms we want you to have and that you can't take these freedoms away from anyone else. (The actual document consists of several pages of rather complicated legalbol that our lawyer said we needed.) A copy of the complete license is included in all GNU source code distributions and many manuals, and we will send you a printed copy on request.
The January 1989 issue of the GNU Bulletin the license was generalized to be applicable to any software:
In the past, each copylefted program had to have its own copy of the General Public License contained in it. Often it was necessary to modify the license to mention the name of the program it applied to. Other people who wanted to copyleft programs had to modify the text even more, to replace our name with theirs.
To make it easier to copyleft programs, we have been improving on the legalbol architecture of the General Public License to produce a new version that serves as a general-purpose subroutine: it can apply to any program without modification, no matter who is publishing it. All that's needed is a brief notice in the program itself, to say that the General Public License applies. Directions on doing this accompany the General Public License, so you can easily copyleft your programs.
We've also taken the opportunity to make it explicit that any subsequent changes in future versions the General Public License cannot take away the rights you were previously given...
The result was the GNU General Public License, version 1. The GNU General Public License, version 2, and the GNU Library General Public License, version 2, were released in June 1991, right before the first release of Linux kernel.
Version 2 is the most popular version of the license. The Library General Public License (LGPL) was renamed in a minor update to the GNU Lesser General Public License, version 2.1 in early 1999.
The key idea of GNU license is a specific limitation on derived software and as such affects only developers and not the users. That is often called the viral property of the license. A user can copy it freely, examine and modify the source code, and redistribute the GPLed software to others (free or for profit) as long as the redistributed software is also passed along with the copyleft license e.g. any redistributed software should contain source code and be based of GPL license (GNU virus). This idea -- mandatory GPLed distribution of derivative works -- has been the most controversial (and, potentially the most successful) aspect of GPL license. But this feature of GPL also limits commercial contributors to participate in large projects. But still as experience showed this was not always a limitation (IBM successfully commercialized Linux) and moreover that are ways around it with Cobra as one example.
Paradoxically GNU license can be considered as a consumer protection scheme -- it definitely favors the software user's rights and convenience over the interests of the original developer. It also reflects the belief that free redistribution and modification of software would encourage users to make improvements to it. While this can be true in some areas and with software of certain sizes and written in certain languages it can be wrong in others. Actually the attractiveness (and usefulness) of the source code for modification by the users declines very quickly with the number of lines of the code.
I am convinced that this idea holds best for scripting languages where you can accomplish quite complex things with a few lines of code, but much less for C code. In any case it's developers who suffer. That's why Ousterhout called the GPL a "really bad idea." As he put it,
"If you use the GPL," which compels developers who make improvements to GPL-licensed software to release their changes open source and free of charge to the public, "you are ruling out a class of users."
His company Scriptics provided both free (but not GPLed) and commercial versions of TCL. See BSD vs. GPL for more details.
Software authors look completely unprotected in GPL but there is one additional and quite subtle nuance here: the author is the only one who has the knowledge of internals and (in case there are no significant contributors) can change the license at any time. Theoretically only the principal author can make the software commercial and that discriminates against co-developers. But as soon as he accepted some substantial contributions from other developers even the principal author might have difficulties to do so.
The other serious problem for authors is the possibility of hijacking the software, but in reality that happens mostly when the original author lost his initial momentum and may be even lost all interest in the product. What really protects GPL product is the speed of development not GPL license. Complexity is also a factor. It's difficult to attract co-developers after the project reached some critical level of complexity. If the barrier of entry is high more often than not GPLed project simply quietly dies if original author abandoned it. Actually the most important crisis of any large free/open software development project is the stage when the original developers steps down. In many cases project stagnates.
Than shows that openness is not magic key to the eternal survival in software world, you still need warm bodies doing the hard work to keep the software afloat.
One should not count on the possibility of releasing the same software under a different license for some remuneration from a commercial company too much. Any company that hates GPL can reengineer the software without too much troubles. So not the source code itself, but the speed of development and the author intimate knowledge of internals and design decisions taken (and those rejected along the road) is the only real intellectual asset that really counts. That means that in some cases the author can organize his own company or join some existing firm to continue development of the project that grow beyond the capabilities of the voluntary contributors model.
Paradoxically the most innovative part of free/open software movement -- scripting languages developers were the most critical about GPL. And the first serious backlash against GPL occurred when Perl creator Larry Wall have found a really brilliant way to eliminate GPL viral restriction by using dual licensing with the second license (Artistic) devoid of GPL viral restriction.
Python developers also are very anti-GPL oriented. As Guido van Rossum noted in his Response to Python Licensing Issues Open Source ,Community,Software (Sep 7th, 2000):
In any case we don't want to use *just* the GPL for Python, because there are many proprietary software developers in the Python community who don't want to work with the GPL. Python has always had a BSD'ish license which was perfect for them. I see no reason to suddenly confront everyone in the Python world with the GPL.
As Stallman himself noted:
In his column on September 8, he notes that he tells Guido van Rossum, "Don't give in to Stallman." From the context, it is clear Winer imagines that I am asking--or rather, demanding--that Python be released under the GPL and only the GPL.
As Guido can confirm, that is not the case. I have been pushing for the license of Python to be compatible with the GPL, so that it can be linked with GPL-covered programs as well as with other programs.
If the Python license is incompatible with the most popular free software license, that creates a major practical problem for the[GPL] community. Given the importance of this problem, all my efforts in talking with the Python developers have been aimed at solving it, at trying to propose some solution that they will accept. This isn't easy, and I am not going to make it harder by asking them for something else in addition.
Winer's description of my goals is equally inaccurate. I am not opposed to commercial software. When companies contribute to the Free World by developing free commercial software, I say more power to them. I started a free software business myself in 1985, selling tapes of GNU Emacs; I dropped it when the FSF took over selling these tapes.
In 1990, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation granted Stallman a MacArthur fellowship. The grant, a $240,000 which is more then $500K in 2000 dollars provided Stallman with a source of income and health insurance for five years. That made it less necessary to do consulting work to support himself. Although RMS now can devote more time to the writing GNU software, but actually he was almost 40 and his best years as a programmer were in the past. Programming is a young men game and such grants usually are a clear signs of a starting decay.
Unpleasant surprises followed. As leader of the GNU Project, Stallman experienced the first fork of Emacs in 1991. As we will see below by 1993, the GNU Project's completely lost the initiative due to an inability to deliver a working POSIX kernel. In March, 1993, a Wired magazine article by Simson Garfinkel described the GNU Project as "bogged down". GCC fork occurred a several years later (1997) and was the last straw...
All-in-all after 1996 GNU project was relegated to a mainly political role and stopped hiring developers. Best days of the project were in the past. And it's unsurprising that nobody cared much about the FSF and GNU and all the glory went to the Linux camp. As Stallman recollect himself:
"We discovered that the people who considered themselves Linux users didn't care about the GNU Project," Stallman says. "They said, `Why should I bother doing these things? I don't care about the GNU Project. It's working for me. It's working for us Linux users, and nothing else matters to us.' And that was quite surprising given that people were essentially using a variant of the GNU system, and they cared so little. They cared less than anybody else about GNU."
Politically Stallman's influence started to fade too and Linus Torvalds became the most prominent free/open software star.
In 1985, Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation (FSF), a tax-exempt charity, to provide an umbrella organization for the GNU project. Not much is known about the initial years of the organization, it looks there were some struggles as the following email suggests:
FROM: Michael Zeleny DATE: 11/18/1998 07:01:53 SUBJECT: RE: To Think Some Very Shitty Things About ItKlaus Schilling <<EMAIL: PROTECTED>> wrote: ><EMAIL: PROTECTED> (Michael Zeleny) writes: >>Michael Kagalenko <<EMAIL: PROTECTED>> wrote: >>>Michael Zeleny (<EMAIL: PROTECTED>) wrote >>>>As a personal note, back in 1985, I was deceptively expelled from the >>>>Free Software Foundation, to which I gave its name, by the underhanded >>>>dealing of Richard Stallman, whose allies took exception to my argument >>>>that "Free" meant just what it said. This is a good time to concede >>>>that Linus Torvalds` adoption of the GPL copyleft, which requires that >>>>any derivative software be distributed under the same terms, thankfully >>>>bereft of RMS` ersatz anarchism, has been most effective in preempting >>>>the familiar native Microsoft strategy of embracing and extending the >>>>competition, on which see its response to Java. It is also a good time >>>>to note that the success of free software was assured by a latecomer, >>>>precisely because Linus` development strategy eschewed the controlling >>>>obsessiveness that is second nature to RMS. And in this connection, it >>>>is most gratifying to see the open source movement finally outgrow the >>>>ideology of Frenetics, which was the name RMS had originally favored >>>>for his private charity. >>>Interesting anecdote. I am more sympathetic towards FreeBSD project >>>for the similar reasons; GPL strikes me as creation of a control freak. >>>Also, FreeBSD code is of higher quality, they say.
At the beginning (first 10 years) FSF employed some programmers. That practice seized to exist in 1996 after a walkout (see below)
FSF is not a regular non-profit. It's a very closed organization that guards its secrets probably no less, if not more then any corporate or religious cult headquarters. It's not easy to recreate its history and its ups and downs. Here is some relevant information about early days of FSF from its first vice-president:
developerWorks: How did you get involved in open source and the Free Software Foundation?
Peter Salus: When I left IBM as "visiting faculty," I worked as a consultant for a very brief period, and I then got involved with what I will call the "user groups." I became the executive director of USENIX, which is the largest and oldest of all the Unix user associations. One of the things that USENIX had been doing for about seven years at that point was to have an annual distribution tape of contributed software, so I did that from '86 to '88. We decided at that point that there was sufficient ability to distribute by way of the net and on CD-ROM so that issuing tapes became redundant, and the association discontinued that.
In '89 I jumped ship, I guess might be the word, and became the executive director of the Sun User Group [an independent association of Sun users]. And I did that for several years and then I thought I was going to retire. I was going to sit at home and write, things of this sort. But that only lasted for about 18 months!
Through all of this period I had known Richard Stallman and a lot of the people involved in what was then known as free software, now the open source movement. And I've always been a very strong advocate of freely redistributable software. Or, if you want, I've been against the notion of proprietary and patented programs and operating systems. So Richard asked me to join the FSF. At first I said, "Well, I'll do a few chores for you." And the chores ended up being the first FSF conference, which was held at the very beginning of '96. He then appointed me Vice President of the FSF, and I did that for another year and a half.
dW: What did you do for the Free Software Foundation?
PS: Supervise the office, supervise publications, put together or determine what would appear on the next CD-ROM, try to organize donors to the foundation -- a dreadfully important thing to do -- and people who would receive either code or financial aid from the Foundation in order to produce code. I mean it's fairly straightforward but incredibly complex, because, of course, all the people are spread out over something on the order of 150 countries around the world. You are also dealing with some very large corporate entities, because especially the gcc, the GNU C compiler, is very widely used. You have a number of people who want to be able -- and are able -- to put it onto their machines when they ship. That is to say, the manufacturers. And so the network of people who contribute to the Foundation is very large and very diverse and spread out over the globe.
dW: How does the Free Software Foundation get most of its funding?
PS: FSF gets almost everything through individual or corporate donations.
dW: But they started out getting money from selling CDs?
PS: Yes, and they still do. They get a small amount of money from the CDs and a much larger amount from selling the manuals that they print. But when you compare the royalties on 2000 CDs or 1000 copies of an individual book with the possibility of a flat donation of ten or twenty thousand dollars, it's clear where the largest part of the funds comes from.
And some people have been incredibly fine long-term supporters of the FSF. Don Knuth is one of those. Among other things, he invented "tech" (the type setting system) and he is the author of those wonderful books on the art of computer programming. He's been a great supporter of the FSF over the years, so there you've got an individual who's not doing it as part of a corporate entity, a laudatory example.
Here is some relevant information about FSF from the Net collected by Ciaran O'Riordan :
This document is a collection of information I have gathered about FSF. I've never been on the payroll of FSF, or worked in it's offices so this isn't "insider info", it's just the public info that I've gotten from talking to FSF staff and trawling the www.
NOTE: If your name is mentioned on this page and you feel I am violating your privacy, please email me and I'll replace your name with an obvious pseudonom (eg. Person00). When the content of this page becomes in any way significant, I will mail FSF to ask them for comments and corrections.
Who works for FSF?
FSF usually has 10 employees but with a high staff turnover, it's hard to keep track of the exact number.
The most current list of employees I'm aware of is:
- Bradley Kuhn, Executive Director
- Lisa "Opus" Goldstein, GNU Press & Business Manager
- Ravi Khanna, Business Development
- David "Novalis" Turner, GPL Compliance Officer
- (name?), Treasurer
- Paul Fisher, Sys admin
- Janet Casey, Free Software Directory
- John (something), DigitalSpeech spokesman
- Ted Teah, Copyright Assignment Clerk
Who runs FSF?
Richard Stallman is the President of FSF, he has held this position since the beginning. There is a Board of Directors consisting of:
- Richard Stallman
- Gerald Sussman
- Eben Moglen
- Henri Poole
Richard Stallman has the final say but Bradley Kuhn seems to run the office. I'm not sure what the Board of Directors do.
How much money does FSF have?
All non-profits in America are required to publish a certain amount of financial info on www.guidestar.org. This info is quite out of date but you can see that in 2001 they had $1,056,544.
Sometime around November 2002, digitalspeech.org posted a page that stated FSF had $653,390 and the DigitalSpeech sub-project had $53,267. I'm not sure if the DigitalSpeech funds are counted among the FSF funds or not.
As of June 20th 2003 there are 1222 Associate Members of the FSF. Each member pays either $120 (standard) or $60 (student). If a third are students then FSF have netted $120,000 from this.
The Corporate Patronage Program was launched on the 27th of March 2003, it currently has 28 corporate members. Subscription fees are based on company size. These 28 companies provide an annual revenue of $78,000.
These two initiatives are (to the best of my knowledge) thanks to the work of employees Ravi Khanna and Bradley Kuhn.
Does FSF hire any programmers to work on GNU software?
No. FSF sometimes hires interns to work on small programming tasks.
In the early nineties, FSF had 15 programmers on it's pay roll but since many companies now hire Free Software developers, it's no longer necessary for a medium-sized nonprofit to use donations in this way.
What does RMS do at FSF?
RMS spends very little time in the FSF offices. In 2002, he spent only 116 days in America. He makes some decisions and requests but most people seem to work on their own and answer to Bradley Kuhn.
Who is Bradley Kuhn?
He's the "Executive Director". He took over from Tim Ney in 2000.
Who's Eben Moglen?
Eben serves on the FSF Board of Director, and acts as "General Counsel" for FSF. He works with RMS to write the licenses used in the GNU Project. His background is in Law but he is also a capable programmer. His use of GNU Emacs made him aware of the GNU project. He says that his pro bono work for FSF, is done to pay RMS back for GNU Emacs.
Not much is known about the current executive director of FSF (since March 2002). Here is a standard biographical info:
Bradley M. Kuhn is a supporter of the Free Software Movement: a movement that creates software that can be freely copied, shared, modified, and redistributed, and that brought the popular GNU/Linux operating system into existence. Mr. Kuhn writes, teaches about and documents Free Software and advocates the importance of software freedom. He began working with the Free Software Foundation and the GNU project as a volunteer in the mid-1990s. In February 2001, he was hired full-time as Vice President of the FSF, and was officially named Executive Director in March 2002. When not putting in overtime for his official duties, Mr. Kuhn contributes to GNU software as a volunteer by hacking on various Free Software programs and Free Documentation.
Mr. Kuhn holds a summa cum laude B.S. in Computer Science from Loyola College in Maryland, and an M.S. in Computer Science from University of Cincinnati. Before working full-time for the FSF, he worked as a Free Software consultant in the technology industry.
It's interesting that like in many other cults, the top hierarchy can and want to live lavishly. As was aptly noted in the post to The Joel on Software Forum - Eric Raymond and Richard Stallman
Open source makes the software development world look more like the rock star world:
- a handful of guys (RMS, ESR, Linus, Miguel) get a lot of money and recognition
- the other 99% of the guys barely make a living
In autumn 1996, the Free Software Foundation experienced a full-scale staff defection, blamed in large part on Stallman. Brian Youmans, a FSF staffer hired by Peter Salus (then vice-president of the FSF) in the wake of the resignations, recalls the scene: "At one point, Peter [Salus] was the only staff member working in the office." ( Free as in Freedom ).
The first vice-president of FSF, Peter Salus, best known as the author of Bookworm gossip column for Login magazine (Usenix) and a Usenix historian. He is a pretty interesting figure in itself.
Actually as a historian he can be extremely boring: I was unfortunate enough to sit on one of his talks, when he essentially stole from Kirk McKusick more then an hour (out of two scheduled for BSD history section) with some paternalistic trivia insulting the intelligence of the Usenix audience instead of a short brief introduction he was expected to give; only after he eventually managed to finish, Kirk McKusick made a really interesting, but necessarily short (he had only 50 minutes left :-) presentation about history of BSD project, which was what this session was about.
But history aside, Salus was a very unusual figure among typical "early adopters" of Stallmanism ("true believers"). First of all he was a little bit too old for a member of a high demand cult ;-) Also his biography is very atypical for early adopters of Stallmanism. Here is his (quite glossy) "official biography" taken from Matrix News press release (1998) when he joined this organization as a new Editorial Director:
Peter is one of the foremost chroniclers of computers and of the Internet and other networks. He holds a B.S. (Chemistry), an M.A. (Germanic Languages), and a Ph.D. (Linguistics), all from New York University. After 20 years as an academic (including stints as a chairman, associate dean, and dean), he went to IBM Research as "visiting faculty.'' From there he went into computer user groups, spending a half-dozen years at the USENIX Association and the Sun User Group.
He has been Vice President of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and is currently the Director of The Tcl/Tk Consortium.
IMHO the cult itself was too primitive for anybody who "holds B.S. (Chemistry), an M.A. (Germanic Languages), and a Ph.D. (Linguistics)". It unsurprising that he did not last long (less then two years) in his capacity of vice-president of FSF (as later he recollected "Richard is quite mad in an unfortunate sense of the word, hard to get along with and all the rest of that.") Anyway, Salus might be one of the earliest known example of what we can call "free/open source bureaucracy", or as Alan Cox called it "The committee for the administration of the structural planning of the Linux kernel" the role later (and with more success) played in FSF by Bradley Kuhn.
Later, with Linux schism, when Stallmanism was split into two parts: Orthodox Stallmanism and Reform Raymondism (the development of commercial GPL-based software is just a new, better way of creating software, not as an issue of personal freedom; see my first Monday papers on the subject), Salus defected to the Raymondism camp and even became a founder of at least one startup. Judging from his opinion about my First Monday Paper, it looks like in mid-2004 this "Usenix historian" was still a fun of (completely ahistorical) CatB (his remark reproduced below was posted on Groklaw, which at this time probably converted itself from a useful site informing people about details of the SCO lawsuit from the point of view of OSS community to a propaganda site that expresses extreme zealot-style view on any OSS-related issues both connected and disconnected with the SCO lawsuit):
The mixed success of FSF as a primary copyright holder for all GPL software soon became politically problematic for Stallman. Meanwhile he created another important organization League for Programming Freedom. This is organization that fights software patents and after all those years it looks much more positively that FSF. Actually it was League for Programming Freedom not FSF or GNU project that was sited in the MacArthur Foundation fellowship(1990):
Richard M. Stallman, president of the League for Programming Freedom and a former employee of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, has been awarded a $240,000 fellowship by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Although he has severed all official ties with MIT, Stallman still works in offices at the AI lab. He describes himself as a "squatter" on the MIT campus.
Stallman is best known at MIT for having written the Emacs word processor, but he is also gaining prominence as an outspoken critic of software patents and copyrights on user interfaces. He founded the LPF about one year ago as a "grass-roots political organization, to fight for the freedom of programmers to implement what the users want."
The LPF is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to warn the public about encroaching monopolies in the software industry, and to develop countermeasures against them, according to the LPF's corporate charter. The LPF's major activities at present involve lobbying against Lotus Development Corp., developers of 1-2-3, and Apple Computer Inc., because of the user-interface copyright infringement lawsuits they have filed against their competitors.
The MacArthur fellowships, known as "genius grants," are awarded annually to exceptionally talented and creative people. This year's recipients include artists, human rights activists, mathematicians, and astronomers.
Prizes range from $150,000 to $375,000 in value, and include health insurance for the recipient. The grants have no strings attached and are disbursed over a five year period.
According to RMS, software patents are harmful to everyone except for a few large corporations. In hardware, he sees a clear role for patents, but with software they are very disturbing. Patents restrict how people can program, and, although patents can be licensed, it doesn't mean that companies will not do their best to eliminate competition by charging unreasonable fees or by just refusing to license a particular patent. RMS voiced his concern about the US situation with software patterns extending to Europe. He explicitly calls for protesting Europe software patterns laws and called for support of Luuk van Dijk's efforts to fight Euro software patents.
RMS extends this approach to software interfaces to hardware that are implemented in drivers. He is firmly against binary-only drivers. The problem here is that you pay for the hardware, but the vendor hides from you the interfaces to the product in the driver. Basically, you cannot use your legally bought hardware from your own software if the company does not provide a driver for this system. In this respect, RMS often mentioned the fact that over 20 million people are free software users. This is a significant market force. In RMS opinion many people do not realize the power of rejecting a hardware product that is not "free software ready". That why he advocates a selective buying, even if that means buying something less advanced or a little bit more expensive.
"That crazy guy from Boston, Richard Stallman"
The initial phase of mass movements are usually dominated by a true believer, a man of fanatical faith who is ready to sacrifice his life for a holy cause. Later opportunists hijack the idea and use it for achieving their, not exactly unselfish goals. That's exactly the situation that happened with GNU project after Linux moved to the front stage of events.
Linux proved to be so successful that like a Russian revolutionary erased from a photograph, RMS and GNU project is being written out of history. With Linux as a major open OS, Stallman lost the battle for credit. Linus Torvalds became the banner on the movement, and Stallman has became a prophet that nobody recognize in his own country.
Also his philosophy of "software freedom" was replaced with a revisionism version that we will call Raymond's. The essence of Raymondism was analyzed by me elsewhere (see Raymondism FAQ and Raymondism Critique ). Shlomi Fish the author of The "In for Free Beer" Manifesto summarized them in his essay "Open Source", "Free Software" and other beasts as following:
Stallmanism. Proprietary software is legal but illegitimate and immoral. Manufacturing and using proprietary software causes a lot of unhappy social and psychological side-effects. The knowledge that a software cannot be shared causes people to become reluctant to sharing, which is a natural and good part of living in a human society. The inability of people to modify software for their own needs, makes them feel helpless, and at the mercy of external software. Free software, on the other hand, is the natural conclusion derived from the basic facts of information, computing and software, and is highly moral. People, companies and other organizations can modify it, customize it and distribute it for their own use should the need arise, and so it actually benefits them.
Raymondism. Proprietary software is not illegitimate, just problematic from the economic sense. Open Source software gives many advantages to the end-users and is a generally a good thing. Copyleft licenses are important in making sure certain software is not abused. It is not immoral to use proprietary software, it’s just risky. Using or producing software that is not 100% open-source but pretty close, can be a good idea, depending on its license and the general attitude of its developers.
Here is how "open-source sympathetic" press describes the role of FSF in creation and success of Linux:
You sort of have to feel sorry for Richard Stallman. Poor old RMS, sitting in his dingy office in the comp sci building at MIT, issuing proclamations about the difference between free software and open source software, and insisting that everyone call Linux "GNU/Linux", worrying that the efforts of the GNU Project might be forgotten.
But paradoxically in "free vs open source discussion" I am on the RMS side (Stalmanism side, if you wish ;-) and I think that RMS is right by saying that he's not sure to what extent the Free Software is compatible with corporate desire for profit. It's much more straightforward and truthful to say it that way, rather than jump over the head trying to sell open source projects to the highest bidder as ESR attempts.
There is one terminological problem: some people (RMS is one example) distinguish free software ("free software"="GPL-based software" in RMS interpretation ;-) from Open Source (umbrella term that includes BSD license, Artistic license and LGPL, among others), some do not. Open source is snappier, clearer, less ambiguous, and close enough to the same thing. As such it's preferable to the 99% of people. I know that RMS disagree, but so be it. And actually if you are language semantic fundamentalist you can see the GPL has problems with coercing the word "free" (that's why so much material on GNU site is devoted to it ;-). BSD license is more free that GPL in both "free like in beer" and "free like in freedom" meanings of this word.
The principal advantage of open source means that for simple programs the possibility of adapting program for your needs largely compensates for the shortcomings of this program. Of course you need to be a programmer to use this advantage, but the programming code is useful for adaptation only if it is really short and simple. You can convert any open source project into an analogy of closed source project just by overcomplicating the code base. That means that commercializing of open source ("Linus revolution") is internally contradictive undertaking as Red Hat behavior clearly demonstrates. As RMS said:
... I would choose a bare-bones unreliable free program rather than ... reliable proprietary program...
Again the key advantage of open source for me that "bare-bone" open source program does have additional value that might compensate for many other real or perceived faults. This opportunity is not automatic and to a large extent disappear with the growth of the size of the program. So KISS principle is of paramount importance for open source.
Again it's important to understand that the principal advantage of open source exists only up to certain amount of lines in a program. That's why scripting languages are so important and Perl, TCL, PHP and Python, not Linux can be considered to be flagships of open source. Linux is a pretty conservative reimplementation of Unix that introduced almost nothing new into operating system kernel design. And BTW Unix introduced at least seven: C language as system programming language, hierarchical filesystem, pipes and a set of pipes friendly utilities/filters, regular expressions, devices as files, shell as the mother of all modern scripting languages, first built-in TCP/IP stack). If one compares Linux with BE OS, Inferno or even with OS/2 and Amiga one can see that in major design decisions Linux is an extremely conservative OS. As Rob Pike noted in his "Systems Software Research is Irrelevant" (http://plan9.bell-labs.com/cm/cs/who/rob/utah2000.pdf) Linux can be considered as a sign that computer science research became irrelevant and he claimed that the whole situation in OS design is generally bad and requires action.
Raymondism statement that open-source software is a new economic force for producing software that is inherently or inevitably superior to alternatives is very close to Vulgar Marxism (Economism). As I mentioned in My responce to the letter by Paolo Pumilia to the FM:
I would like to reiterate that ERS's views on the economic superiority of open source are close to vulgar Marxism with it's economic determinism. Contrary to your impression "vulgar Marxism " is a legitimate scientific term. As Professor Robert M. Young stated in his work "Marxism and the history of science" [see R.C. Olby, G.N. Cantor, J.R.R. Christie and M.J.S. Hodge (editors), Companion to the History of Modern Science. (1996), pp. 77-86.]:
"The defining feature of Marxist approaches to the history of science is that the history of scientific ideas, of research priorities, of concepts of nature and of the parameters of discoveries are all rooted in historical forces which are, in the last instance, socio-economic. There are variations in how literally this is taken and various Marxist-inspired and Marxist-related positions define the interrelations among science and other historical forces more or less loosely. There is a continuum of positions. The most orthodox provides one-to-one correlations between the socio-economic base and the intellectual superstructure. This is referred to as economism or vulgar Marxism."
All in all, I am trying here to communicating a more objective message that can mobilize free/open source developers by giving them a clear sense of what OSS is about, what are major ideological faction. You are encouraged to read BSD vs. GPL and my first Monday papers for more information.
Returning to effect of CatB on the movement, this new "philosophy/religion" of Raymondism radically changed the place of FSF in the free/open software universe, moving it toward periphery. Soon Stallman had difficulties with funding GNU project. The fact that Stallman was the lighting rod of the free-software movement and that gcc is the basis of writing free/open software is difficult to see when Linux and Linus Torvalds got all the ink. And all the ink means all the money. In the article Linux's Forgotten Man/Wired News by Leander Kahney she wrote:
... Does he not wish he were getting more recognition?
"I hope not. But how can I know for sure? I've got an ego like everyone else. I'm sure my ego wants me to be more famous. I don't know." In a nutshell, Stallman believes that software must be free, not necessarily available for nothing, but free to be copied, modified, distributed, shared, and fixed. "I'm not against commercial anything," Stallman said. "I'm against proprietary software that divides and conquers the users."
Unlike commercial software, which is proprietary, free-software programmers don't have to solve the same problems over and over. They keep improving on the work that came before, like the scientific methodology. However, in Stallman's eyes, the programming community is more interested in talking about practical issues, like performance -- an anathema to Stallman. And this conflict is partly why Stallman is marginalized. Most people don't want to talk about freedom. There's been a splintering of the movement: away from free software created by ideologues to open-source software created by business-friendly pragmatists like Torvalds.
"[Torvalds] is basically an engineer," Stallman said. "He likes free software, but isn't concerned with issues of freedom. That's why I'm unhappy when the GNU system is called Linux.... People are no longer exposed to the philosophical views of the GNU project." Does nomenclature matter to the geeks on the show floor? A number of showgoers say they felt in their hearts the correct name was GNU/Linux, but it was easier just to call it Linux.
"I recognize it as GNU/Linux but I don't call it GNU/Linux because I'm lazy," says one attendee. "I agree that Stallman didn't get the recognition he deserves, but that's partly because of his abrasive personality."
The situation in which RMS is marginalized in the new world of Open Source is a self-inflicted wound and is partially rooted in his anarchist agenda and the luck of diplomatic skills. The rule of the diplomatic game is respect for one's peers, a characteristic sadly lacking in some of RMS's public commentaries. For example, the fragment of the article above, he refers to Linus Torvalds as someone who "isn't concerned with issues of freedom." Apparently, releasing code under GPL, spending thousands of hours debugging it and working as the main configuration manager for the kernel code for almost a decade is a pretty good advocacy of freedom by any imaginable standard. His motives might not be as pure, but still his concern about software freedom is probably undeniable. He managed somehow to adapt himself to a new situation:
For Richard Stallman, time may not heal all wounds, but it does provide a convenient ally.
Four years after " The Cathedral and the Bazaar," Stallman still chafes over the Raymond critique. He also grumbles over Linus Torvalds' elevation to the role of world's most famous hacker. He recalls a popular T-shirt that began showing at Linux tradeshows around 1999. Designed to mimic the original promotional poster for Star Wars, the shirt depicted Torvalds brandishing a lightsaber like Luke Skywalker, while Stallman's face rides atop R2D2. The shirt still grates on Stallmans nerves not only because it depicts him as a Torvalds' sidekick, but also because it elevates Torvalds to the leadership role in the free software/open source community, a role even Torvalds himself is loath to accept. "It's ironic," says Stallman mournfully. "Picking up that sword is exactly what Linus refuses to do. He gets everybody focusing on him as the symbol of the movement, and then he won't fight. What good is it?"
Then again, it is that same unwillingness to "pick up the sword," on Torvalds part, that has left the door open for Stallman to bolster his reputation as the hacker community's ethical arbiter. Despite his grievances, Stallman has to admit that the last few years have been quite good, both to himself and to his organization. Relegated to the periphery by the unforeseen success of GNU/Linux, Stallman has nonetheless successfully recaptured the initiative. His speaking schedule between January 2000 and December 2001 included stops on six continents and visits to countries where the notion of software freedom carries heavy overtones-China and India, for example.
GPL is only one of several successful models of free software development, although in late 90th it became the second most popular license after BSD license. It's important to understand that BSD license predates GPL and BSD style licensed software constitutes the majority of open source (if we use open source as an umbrella term), but GPL played a significant role in the "free/open software revolution" of late 90th. And as with any revolution at some point "comrades" are displaced by profiteers or tyrants (revolutions ten to eat its children).
At the same time competition between BSD license and GPL positively influenced both BSD and GPL products and sometimes helped to move GPL products to more liberal licensing schemes. I am saying "more liberal" deliberately, because with all due respect for GPL one should understand that there are many things that the GPL itself does not allow for; part of this is solved within LGPL, but much of it revolves around RMS personal attitude towards patent, copyright, commercial applications, and towards what constitutes "derivation". Actually from the historical perspective LGPL can be considered as the first "revisionist" GPL-inspired software licenses (see SlashdotRMS Forum Transcript Online for an interesting discussion.)
The second popular form of open software development is when along with open sourced software, there is a closed source proprietary version. In this case a part of revenue from selling the latter funds the development of open source version. TCL, Ghostscript and several other products represent this important trend. See You say open source I say freeware ( SunWorld, September 1998) for an interesting discussion.
In 1998 an eclectic attempt to merge several existing types of open source software in a form of a umbrella term open source and became quite popular. It was largely based on Debian GNU/Linux distribution experience and includes the following conditions:
1. Free Redistribution The license may not restrict any party from selling or giving away the software as a component of an aggregate software distribution containing programs from several different sources. The license may not require a royalty or other fee for such sale.
2. Source Code The program must include source code, and must allow distribution in source code as well as compiled form. Where some form of a product is not distributed with source code, there must be a well-publicized means of downloading the source code, without charge, via the Internet. The source code must be the preferred form in which a programmer would modify the program. Deliberately obfuscated source code is not allowed. Intermediate forms such as the output of a preprocessor or translator are not allowed.
3. Derived Works. The license must allow modifications and derived works, and must allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software. [Please note the work allow - not require as in GPL -- BNN]
4. Integrity of The Author's Source Code. The license may restrict source-code from being distributed in modified form only if the license allows the distribution of "patch files" with the source code for the purpose of modifying the program at build time. The license must explicitly permit distribution of software built from modified source code. The license may require derived works to carry a different name or version number from the original software.
5. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups. The license must not discriminate against any person or group of persons [BTW that rules out an important class of licenses that permit free non-commercial use -BNN]
6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor. The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research. [That demand rules out frequently used clause "free for educational use only" -- BNN]
7. Distribution of License. The rights attached to the program must apply to all to whom the program is redistributed without the need for execution of an additional license by those parties. [this presuppose the right to change the license, similar to BSD license - BNN]
8. License Must Not Be Specific to a Product. The rights attached to the program must not depend on the program's being part of a particular software distribution. If the program is extracted from that distribution and used or distributed within the terms of the program's license, all parties to whom the program is redistributed should have the same rights as those that are granted in conjunction with the original software distribution.
9. License Must Not Contaminate Other Software. The license must not place restrictions on other software that is distributed along with the licensed software. For example, the license must not insist that all other programs distributed on the same medium must be open-source software [that permits distribution as part of commercial product and essentially rules out GPL as an open source license -BNN].
Although I like the term "open source" as a more clear term than the original Stallman's term "free software" I must admit that historically open source served mostly as a successful remarketing slogan for commercial repackaging of GPL software (see also my Critique of Vulgar Raymondism) and IMHO it does not introduce any important or interesting ideas. Politically OSL looks rather eclectic attempt to bring left (GPL) and right (BSD) parts of the free software movement under one (commercial) roof. The authors of open source license claim that it includes as variants:
GPL (already described above). IMHO this is not true. GPL is more radical than open source license because the latter lucks the explicit prohibition of closed source derived works. Stallman explicitly refused to endorse open source software license.
Artistic license (used in Perl) is a very interesting license that permits distribution of modified package without source, if it is accompanied by the standard version or the source of modification is freely available.
1. You may make and give away verbatim copies of the source form of the Standard Version of this Package without restriction, provided that you duplicate all of the original copyright notices and associated disclaimers.
2. You may apply bug fixes, portability fixes and other modifications derived from the Public Domain or from the Copyright Holder. A Package modified in such a way shall still be considered the Standard Version.
3. You may otherwise modify your copy of this Package in any way, provided that you insert a prominent notice in each changed file stating how and when you changed that file, and provided that you do at least ONE of the following:
a) place your modifications in the Public Domain or otherwise make them Freely Available, such as by posting said modifications to Usenet or an equivalent medium, or placing the modifications on a major archive site such as ftp.uu.net, or by allowing the Copyright Holder to include your modifications in the Standard Version of the Package.
b) use the modified Package only within your corporation or organization.
c) rename any non-standard executables so the names do not conflict with standard executables, which must also be provided, and provide a separate manual page for each non-standard executable that clearly documents how it differs from the Standard Version.
d) make other distribution arrangements with the Copyright Holder.
4. You may distribute the programs of this Package in object code or executable form, provided that you do at least ONE of the following:
a) distribute a Standard Version of the executables and library files, together with instructions (in the manual page or equivalent) on where to get the Standard Version.
b) accompany the distribution with the machine-readable source of the Package with your modifications.
c) accompany any non-standard executables with their corresponding Standard Version executables, giving the non-standard executables non-standard names, and clearly documenting the differences in manual pages (or equivalent), together with instructions on where to get the Standard Version.
d) make other distribution arrangements with the Copyright Holder.
5. You may charge a reasonable copying fee for any distribution of this Package. You may charge any fee you choose for support of this Package. You may not charge a fee for this Package itself. However, you may distribute this Package in aggregate with other (possibly commercial) programs as part of a larger (possibly commercial) software distribution provided that you do not advertise this Package as a product of your own.
6. The scripts and library files supplied as input to or produced as output from the programs of this Package do not automatically fall under the copyright of this Package, but belong to whomever generated them, and may be sold commercially, and may be aggregated with this Package.
7. C or perl subroutines supplied by you and linked into this Package shall not be considered part of this Package.
8. The name of the Copyright Holder may not be used to endorse or promote products derived from this software without specific prior written permission.
BSD license (has several flavors but generally permits redistribution of any derived product with or without sources and require just display of the original copyright notice and essentially prohibit only suing the author for damages; if advertising clause is present that explicit acknowledgment of the fact that that the original product was used is required -- a pretty sound demand that is absent in GPL):
Redistribution and use in source and binary forms, with or without modification, are permitted provided that the following conditions are met:
- Redistributions of source code must retain the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer.
- Redistributions in binary form must reproduce the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer in the documentation and/or other materials provided with the distribution.
- All advertising materials mentioning features or use of this software must display the following acknowledgement:
This product includes software developed by the University of California, Berkeley and its contributors.
- Neither name of the University nor the names of its contributors may be used to endorse or promote products derived from this software without specific prior written permission.
THIS SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED BY THE REGENTS AND CONTRIBUTORS ``AS IS'' AND ANY EXPRESS OR IMPLIED WARRANTIES, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE ARE DISCLAIMED. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE REGENTS OR CONTRIBUTORS BE LIABLE FOR ANY DIRECT, INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, EXEMPLARY, OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES (INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, PROCUREMENT OF SUBSTITUTE GOODS OR SERVICES; LOSS OF USE, DATA, OR PROFITS; OR BUSINESS INTERRUPTION) HOWEVER CAUSED AND ON ANY THEORY OF LIABILITY, WHETHER IN CONTRACT, STRICT LIABILITY, OR TORT (INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE OR OTHERWISE) ARISING IN ANY WAY OUT OF THE USE OF THIS SOFTWARE, EVEN IF ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGE.
X Consortium (MIT license). It's the most liberal license that permit proprietary redistribution with or without sources and with or without modifications:
Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the "Software"), to deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions:
The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.
THE SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED "AS IS", WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO THE WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND NONINFRINGEMENT. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE AUTHORS OR COPYRIGHT HOLDERS BE LIABLE FOR ANY CLAIM, DAMAGES OR OTHER LIABILITY, WHETHER IN AN ACTION OF CONTRACT, TORT OR OTHERWISE, ARISING FROM, OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE SOFTWARE OR THE USE OR OTHER DEALINGS IN THE SOFTWARE.
I believe that claims of open source software definition can bring these under one roof are unwarranted and does not bring us any further. It looks like there two different and equally influential wings within the free software developer community and those two wings have different view on what is good and what is bad for the free software. Stallman was and still is an apostle of the left (anarchistic) wing of the movement.
Again, I would like to reiterate that essentially the main problem with GPL is connected with the fact that it without dual licensing it inhibits a proven software model when the author produce both free and commercial version of the same product and use money derived from commercial version to finance development of both commercial and free versions. That source of funding is distinct from donations which are the main source of income for FSF. The latter was a successful model that is used by several products ( TCL, Sendmail, Ghostscript, etc.) and we probably need to accept the existence of this additional model.
|Back in the mid-15th century, the Dominicans and Franciscans, those two great rival mendicant religious orders, went at each other hammer and tong over whether the blood that Christ shed while he hung on the cross was still hypostatically united to the Godhead and therefore worthy of adoration or whether, because the blood was outside Christ's body, it had ceased to be divine and therefore could not be adored. The friars raised such a ruckus that they drove the pope, Pius II, the only pope, I might add, to write his autobiography, to utter distraction. Things got so bad that Pius had to shelve his crusade against the Turks, who were pressing in on the West, to mediate the dispute.|
Sun Finds & Exploits Hole in the Precious GPL
With Linux they stole the fame and with Raymondism they stole the name ;-). It's now no longer free software, it's now "open source." Since Jan. 1998 Eric Raymond successfully promoted "open source" as a distinct and slightly anti-Stallman philosophy. See for example his interview with Smart Reseller Straight From The Source where Eric was called a Godfather of Linux ;-) Note how skillfully an anti-Stallman stance was injected -- GPL essentially permit commercial use and that is probably the core reason of Linux popularity (after Linus permit commercial distribution of the kernel; that happened before CatB was published):
SR: Some of our readers may be confused by the "open source" movement you represent, which is significantly different from Richard Stallman's (a.k.a. RMS, founder of the Free Software Foundation and the GNU Project) "free software" statements. Open source is not the same thing as Stallman's "free software," right?
Raymond: The distinction between the open-source movement and what RMS is doing is that we push utility arguments while he publishes moralistic ones. RMS's basic stance is that intellectual property is evil and, therefore, sources must be open. Ours is that we want what gives the best engineering results, and that's open source.
First is was fuzzy messages like "we want what gives the best engineering results, and that's open source." Later Raymonsim philosophy became more well-defined. In a quote below taken from the article Freedom's forgotten prophet (October9, 2000) by Judy Steed (Toronto Star) ESR seems to attacks RMS explicitly claiming that the technical superiority ("better software") of the open source software is the main reason of Linux popularity:
However, Torvalds' acolytes blame Stallman for his own displacement. "Richard could have been the leader of free software in the world, but he's standing in his own way,'' says Jon Hall, executive director of Linux International, an association of companies that promotes and develops "open source'' software.
"Linus came along, and he's one of the nicest, sweetest, friendliest people you could ever meet,'' says Hall, a godfather to Torvalds' two children. "People want to deal with him.''
Stallman failed in a number of ways, says Eric Raymond, a board member of VA Linux Systems (which sells work stations loaded with Red Hat Linux). "Richard is one of the best programmers to ever walk this earth, (he is) an innovative genius of design, but . . . His rhetoric didn't work. It turned off business. The term 'free software' is ambiguous. And he didn't produce a kernel.''
Raymond dislikes Stallman's ideology.
``Unlike Richard, we (in the open source movement) like capitalism, we don't think there's anything intrinsically wrong with proprietary software. We think people should have a choice, but we believe open source is better software, because of the process.''
The superiority of free software's evolutionary development was illuminated by Raymond's article, ``The Cathedral and the Bazaar,'' in which he writes: ``No quiet, reverential cathedral building here - rather, the Linux community resembles a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches.''
Raymond also calls free/open source hackers, ``the native culture of the Internet. We built it and we largely still run it.''
At a Linux conference in Toronto earlier this year, Torvalds was mobbed by sales executives and hackers, who treated him with a reverence usually reserved for rock stars.
``People think I'm a poor, monk-like person living in squalor,'' Torvalds said, evoking Stallman's image. ``It's not true. I'm doing very well. Linux companies have given me stock options.'' (Stallman turns down stock options.)
Torvalds is employed at Transmeta Corp., a hot California start-up that provides Linux operating systems for Gateway Inc. and America Online Inc. When and if Transmeta goes public, Torvalds will likely make a fortune.
Yet Torvalds continues to acknowledge the man who fathered the system. ``Richard Stallman has been doing open source for 25 years,'' he told his Toronto fans. ``He built a lot of the tools used to develop Linux. I adopted the same (General Public) license that he came up with.''
Torvalds describes Stallman as ``the idealist, the black and white person. If you're not with him, you're evil, almost. He's utterly impractical.''
And in the second part of 1998 "open source" became a standard umbrella term encompassing commercialized GPL-based software and first of all major commercial Linux distributions (Caldera, Red Hat, Slackware, Suse, etc). Still like is often is the case in religious schisms, Raymodism overtake of Stallmanism was not complete and Eric Raymond had run into his own PR problems with his unsuccessful attempt to grab an "open source" trademark, that generated a lot of resentment in the community. Later his "surprised by wealth" letter undermined his role of influential evangelist of "open source is the best economical model for the development of the software" message. He became an object of pretty nasty jokes, but that does not help RMS to restore the role of FSF.
At the end of 1998 the term "open source" largely replaced old RMS term "free software" and FSF as a public organization promoting open source software was undermined by Raymond's puppet organization OSI (Open Software Initiative). See also Whence the Source Untangling the Open SourceFree Software Debate that compares RMS and Eric Raymond positions. But generally "Embrace, extend, extinguish" approach by Raymond, who did a lot of politically motivated self-marketing was pretty successful in eliminating FSF visibility.
This is a strange situation. I understand that "free software" is probably more accurate term ( "free speech" not "free beer"), but this very important association with free speech got lost very early in favor of the second one, and it looks like the main association is with "free beer", which is actually not bad in its own right ;-). The reason I prefer the term "open source" to "free software" is that the term "open source" stresses giving everyone access to the source and to the future modifications.
But the programs themselves no matter how well written are not unique and need to evolve to survive the introduction of new hardware and new OSes. GPL does it at the expense of developer, but paradoxically this "first make a self-sacrifice, then came and get some IPO money" aspect of Raymondism interpretation of GPL proved to be an important marketing advantage that helped Linux in its epic struggle with BSD camp: indeed, Torvalds once said that adopting GPL license was the best decision he ever made. Essentially it was a political struggle in which technically inferior product won and GPL played important part in this battle. See Linus Torvalds biography for details.
And like with Hollywood stars there is noticeable backlash against Linux "new riches" that somewhat increases exposure for RMS and FSF and provides for RMS a nice opportunity to travel around the globe.
At the same time in a bid to preserve his influence RMS's developed a growing appetite for interpreting GPL license. As one Slashdot reader put it:
It seems to be an axiomatic thing about politics, most visibly demonstrated by the behavior of the US Republican party under Clinton: the more the moderates rule the roost, the more extreme the standard bearers of the wings become. Linus Torvalds has created a system that uses the GPL to its fullest advantage, yet repudiates the ivory-tower extremism of the FSF: give it away or sell it, just don't think you can own it. Companies like RedHat and SuSE are proving that this can work.
The problem is that this leaves Richard Stallman on the fringe, no longer in control of the philosophical movement he created. So he does the human thing: he backlashes. He tries to force the GNU/Linux issue. He rails against the corporatization of Linux, forgetting that commercial acceptance is critical to its future. He slams the open source movement because it doesn't do things the GNU way (check out his comments about APSL, for example). He has even demoted the Library GPL to Lesser GPL.
It would be wrong to say that RMS doesn't have a point. But I'm not one of those people who agree with the phrase "extremism in defense of liberty is no vice" -- extremism is always a vice as it a) does not allow for the possibility of redefining a position if such proves to be necessary and b) tends to turn off those who you most have to reach -- those darned moderates again. Stallman is an extremist, and therefore (by *my* definition anyway, and that subjectivity should be very much acknowledged here) a crackpot.
In any case, I've often felt that RMS likes to play the same embrace-and-extend game as Microsoft with no purpose other than to lock people into GNU. I've felt that way for a long time, ever since I read the part of the GCC manual that talks about the purpose of other compilers being to compile GCC. The creation of GUILE is another example; IMHO its only reasons for existence are that a) Stallman is not fond of tcl/tk and b) Stallman is a scheme junkie. Not because another tool was needed, but because *RMS wants it that way*. The Apple boycott of years past is another thing -- the FSF was punishing A/UX and MacOS users for Apple's behavior, no matter that the Mac people might have as much to contribute as anyone else. In their own way, the FSF is no different from the commercial establishment they're fighting; it's like Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates. The question is not whether one is worse than the other, it's a matter of who's holding the hammer at the moment.
Actually, just as an exercise I'd like to see someone create a diminished-GNU linux distro. I don't think it would be especially popular, since GNU programs tend to be the best in their class, but someone should try it on principle. The FSF to me has long resembled a child who comes to a party with a game idea, but then wants to take it and go home when other kids start adding rules, the kicker being that they've already given it away! (Though at least the gcc->egcs->gcc split-countersplit indicates they're smart enough to know when there's a better way sometimes...)
Do I think open-source is a good thing? Yer damn straight. It's made a penguin-lover out of this longtime Machead. Do I think RMS should be honored for creating and managing the GNU project? Yes. The movement came before him and will outlast him, but he's the philosophical nexus. But do I think his behavior is a bit outlandish because of his unyielding philosophical positions?
The License Police, they live inside of the net;
The License Police, as dogmatic as they can get...
The License Police, they'll come and judge your code
Well I can't write code 'cause they're lookin' at me...
And when I fall asleep bet they're griping 'bout me...
'Cause they're yelling at me, unbundling me...
They're driiivin' me insane.....
...Those men at Deb-i-annnn....
(with apologies to Cheap Trick)
I admire Stallman as a programmer (he is not a hacker as he likes to claim, he is a professional of a very high caliber). But recently he undergone a process of radicalization and more and more reminds me of some figures from the recent history ;-(. And some of his recent letters look like they have been written by a medieval theologian.
Historically, GPL-licensing schemes have been usually applied to software that was built from small, rather humble beginnings, and grown from there (GCC, Linux, but not Star Office), whereas BSD-licensed products often come from a university or some research company as a result of a finished research project that university/company cannot support any longer, but wanted a community to grow around it and take over the administration and development.
Putting a large pre-existing project under GPL is a mixed blessing because in many commercial projects there are large sections of code that have been used in other projects (although Sun for political reasons decided to put StarOffice under GPL as a second license); the "cookoo egg" (sometimes called viral) quality of GPL makes derivatives that use the same codebase easy targets for "negative marketing attacks" even if legally company can defend itself.
This is why generally GPL is not very attractive for larger software development companies: in most cases it's simply not practical for them to use GPL. Tiny software company often are so paranoid of their larger competitors that GPL can be quite attractive option that at least partially can protect them for most often fake threat of stealing of the product.
Although GPL was successful beyond widest RMS dreams, BSD -- an earlier license still remains the most important and the most widely used free/open source software license. It leads both in quantity and the quality of software that was produced under it and it's derivatives, and it is definitely a superior license for large software companies. It's better for them due to its simplicity and inambiguity, not necessary because "viral quality" is unacceptable (but paradoxically makes sole products quite suitable for marketing purposes, as IBM demonstrated to the surprised world).
The main underling problem in that GPL was never tested in courts and as such is interpreted mainly by RMS himself and the group of his trusted lieutenants. But GPL is a long and complex license and its not very friendly to the other dominant license BSDL. Actually Stallman complained a lot about advertising close in BSD license that blocked BSD-licensed products from GPLed products and reached success in removing this restriction providing one-side advantages for GPL-based projects ;-)
But BSD allows companies to grow a development community consisting of both commercial and academic software developers (I include non-paid developers into academic category) while GPL makes the participation of commercial developers at least problematic unless they are rebels that try to create something that is not officially approved by their management (in this latter case GPL is quite attractive and paradoxically serve well the purpose).
But only if the product enjoy an active development community you can outsource the application's development, while maintaining the application forever is a curse of GPLed products). Only if a company can appropriate certain proprietary pieces of the code and to squeeze a few dollars out of their development costs the commercial company would support software development project. After all it should have a return of investment probably slowly reducing the company's financial commitment to some useful components, development tools, etc. Outside tools (gcc is a good example of pretty popular among commercial developers tool) GPL has no such ability, since there is some risk that any reuse might lead to the situation where the there are PR losses due to negative marketing, for example a pressure to open an application as a whole that uses some GPLed components.
Generally as the project mature the value of GPL diminishes and for successful projects GPL became more of a burden than an advantage. That's probably why Linus Torvalds no longer repeat that putting Linux under GPL was the smartest decision that he ever made, although it still probably the smartest decision that he ever made in view of competition with much technically stronger FreeBSD project ;-). Here is a characteristic opinion expressed by PHP developers Andi Gutmans and Zeev Suraski: in LG interview :
LM: What were the motives behind changing the license between PHP 3 and PHP 4?
Suraski: There were several reasons. The main concern with the GPL was that commercial companies, such as IBM and others, avoid GPL'd code like the plague. The fact that the GPL is "contagious" discouraged many companies from putting effort into projects that are distributed under it. If we take a look at the few open source projects that IBM endorses, we would find Apache, Jakarta and PHP - none of which is released under the GPL, and we believe it is not a coincidence. These licenses are less restrictive, and we believe they work better in the real world. We also felt PHP was mature enough to let everyone use it, without having to ask for our permission, which is why the permission clause was dropped. Other than that, the license stayed pretty much the same.
With the emergence of "open source" movement as encompassing several different licenses it became clear that Stallman and GPL supporting community are synonymous with the radical left wing. At the same time BSD style license represent more moderate and in many cases more practical approach.
But at some point especially after some GPL players became "absurdly rich" due to IPOs there was a radical backlash -- the fundamentalist elements in the community ware reinforced and radicalized. Radicalization of GPL community was increased by emergence of evangelists like Bruce Perens that used to switch into "jihad" mode seeing any transgressions. And here RMS himself played a role with his KDE GPL-compliance saga (see below). Balance is important both in case proprietary software and in the case of GPLed software. There is a cultural space in the software movement that is similar to free press and where people have the right to share ideas and systems. In this "free software space" GPL represent a left wing and because it was never tested in courts it looks not only like a document, but more like a political doctrine that is interpreted by its "high priest" RMS.
One of the first manifestation of this growing "GPL jihad" was appearance of GNU zealot test on Slashdot:
You might be a GNU zealot if:
1. All your software is GPL, or RMS says its ok to use.
2. You don't use software that RMS says it's not OK to use.
3. The license of a piece of software is more important than the software itself.
4. You get mad when you hear Linus say "He who writes the code chooses the license", and speculate that someone may have tricked him into saying that.
5. Anyone who doesn't philosophically agree with the FSF is just "spreading FUD"
6. Your skin crawls when somebody uses the term "Open Source"
Here is another pretty telling quote [No GNU for me thanks, I'm driving...]:
The following short essay is a piece I wrote in a Slashdot discussion about an interview with Mr. GNU himself, Richard Stallman. Although I appreciate what he has done for the hacker community and applaud the existence of the FSF and GNU, I feel that the point has arrived where Stallman's extreme insistence on his personal politics of freedom is doing more harm than good to the open source movement.
Above all, I believe what I have to say on the issue is a commentary about political extremism in general as much as it is a screed against one man's crusade. I do have issues with the FSF's behavior (most mentioned below), but the greater issue is what I point out below about how moderate dominance tends to push the true believers to the edge.
For the record, this was moderated up to "2;Interesting". My /. karma is very happy with me right now.
29 March 2000
Stallman *is* a crackpot, IMHO, but not because he's wrong. It's because he's too radical for most people's tastes.
It seems to be an axiomatic thing about politics, most visibly demonstrated by the behavior of the US Republican party under Clinton: the more the moderates rule the roost, the more extreme the standard bearers of the wings become. Linus Torvalds has created a system that uses the GPL to its fullest advantage, yet repudiates the ivory-tower extremism of the FSF: give it away or sell it, just don't think you can own it. Companies like RedHat and SuSE are proving that this can work.
The problem is that this leaves Richard Stallman on the fringe, no longer in control of the philosophical movement he created. So he does the human thing: he backlashes. He tries to force the GNU/Linux issue. He rails against the corporatization of Linux, forgetting that commercial acceptance is critical to its future. He slams the open source movement because it doesn't do things the GNU way (check out his comments about APSL, for example). He has even demoted the Library GPL to Lesser GPL.
It would be wrong to say that rms doesn't have a point. But I'm not one of those people who agree with the phrase "extremism in defense of liberty is no vice" -- extremism is always a vice as it a) does not allow for the possibility of redefining a position if such proves to be necessary and b) tends to turn off those who you most have to reach -- those darned moderates again. Stallman is an extremist, and therefore (by *my* definition anyway, and that subjectivity should be very much acknowledged here) a crackpot.
In any case, I've often felt that rms likes to play the same embrace-and-extend game as Microsoft with no purpose other than to lock people into GNU. I've felt that way for a long time, ever since I read the part of the GCC manual that talks about the purpose of other compilers being to compile GCC. The creation of GUILE is another example; IMHO its only reasons for existence are that a) Stallman is not fond of tcl/tk and b) Stallman is a scheme junkie. Not because another tool was needed, but because *rms wants it that way*. The Apple boycott of years past is another thing -- the FSF was punishing A/UX and MacOS users for Apple's behavior, no matter that the Mac people might have as much to contribute as anyone else. In their own way, the FSF is no different from the commercial establishment they're fighting; it's like Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates. The question is not whether one is worse than the other, it's a matter of who's holding the hammer at the moment.
Actually, just as an exercise I'd like to see someone create a diminished-GNU linux distro. I don't think it would be especially popular, since GNU programs tend to be the best in their class, but someone should try it on principle. The FSF to me has long resembled a child who comes to a party with a game idea, but then wants to take it and go home when other kids start adding rules, the kicker being that they've already given it away! (Though at least the gcc->egcs->gcc split-countersplit indicates they're smart enough to know when there's a better way sometimes...)
Do I think open-source is a good thing? Yer damn straight. It's made a penguin-lover out of this longtime Machead. Do I think rms should be honored for creating and managing the GNU project? Yes. The movement came before him and will outlast him, but he's the philosophical nexus. But do I think his behavior is a bit outlandish because of his unyielding philosophical positions?
See, as I said, Linus has set the precedent for a kinder, gentler open source movement. IMHO it's time for rms to get in line and debate with some flexibility or just shut up and keep writing good software.
But the truth is that despite all this (often self-promotional) fights for "GPLed software purity" if you need to use a GPLed product in a large corporation which is unfavorable to GPL's basic premises, there are several perfectly legal ways to avoid "the GPL trap" (see the story about Sun driver kit below). GPL is essentially advocates "the law of jungles" and it does not represent a legal problem, if you have enough resources. After all how many top lawyers FSF have or can afford to complete with legal departments and bank accounts of IBM, Microsoft or Sun ?
But politically GPL is a dangerous unpredictable beast that can do a lot of PR damage and that's why commercial developers usually try to avoid it (with IBM as the only known to me exception). Actually the only set of developers for which GPL might be an obstacle are poor commercial start-up developers and developers who use of some GPLed components or (god forbid) GPL-ed libraries. Rich well-funded developers can always find a way to bypass GPL because source code is available and at least can serve as a free prototype (you can improve almost any software by rewriting it). More often then not you can find a commercial product with same or better functionality or commercial product that served a prototype for the GPLed product. Or you can pay people to rewrite the product preserving and extending the key functionality that is important for your project and omitting non-essential parts. Or you can owrk with the author to issue the product under the dual licensing. Perl, for example, have two licenses (and you can chose any of them to comply with) and in this sense it was a major breakthrough.
I would like to stress that in case the money are on the table there are multiple viable approaches of bypassing GPL.
For smaller product an effective strategy to avoid GPL trap is to reverse engineer the product in a new language or use dynamic linking to the product. BTW translating the product say from C to C++ or C# or from Perl to Python usually naturally lead to a substantial architecture changes (as well as potential improvements in quality) that will make defending any GPL-based claims a difficult uphill legal battle. Also with dynamic linking, there is no single binary to point to as the derived work. Instead, there are many separate object files that interact dynamically, each with their own license intact, get delivered to the user, and only get combined when the program is actually run. And running the program is not a creating of a derivative work...
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
a sig from Slashdot postings
RMS role of the "high priest" of GPL lead to the problem that his interpretation fluctuates in time and space and these interpretations sometimes has a definite "minute considerations" agenda.
Moreover, despite what the FSF tries to imply that GPL is universal (global) license, it is too much American (just its length is frightening for many Europeans ;-). And it really was written in the US by American lawyers for American lawyers which makes it an American contract which may or may be not valid even under American law. That means that GPL might have serious problems in European jurisdictions, because of the European concept that the author has some immanent rights to his creation.
KDE purity sage is a very sad page of RMS biography . In this case RMS actually discriminated against other small software developers with similar philosophies, not rich multinational corporations. It led to growing understanding that GPL is incompatible with almost all other licenses in existence. In this story Stallman looked much like a Taliban official. In addition to his attacks on the Qt , RMS seems to find in KDE a favorite object of pointing to impure software sins ;-).
Now let's return to the KDE jihad story. In 1997, RMS formally objected to the inclusion of Qt in the then-new KDE desktop interface which for some reason developers decided to release as GPLed software. Because Qt did not qualify as GPLed software (like most other software), Stallman and a couple of other GPL evangelists (notable Bruce Perens) declared that Qt existence within an GPLed components violate GPL. Back then, Qt was available under a proprietary license that allowed developers to use it for free, but retained Trolltech's control of the original source code.
From the beginning there was some complex intrigue behind all this noise: very quickly Red Hat launched an alternative "pure" software project Gnome, that was essentially a GPLed alternative to the KDE desktop.
In response to the growing outcry from the radical GPL supporters camp, Trolltech re-licensed the software under the Qt public license (QPL), which it considered compatible with the open source definition. But GPL advocates considered it "less free" because of a few remaining restrictions. Unlike the GPL, which allows developers to freely modify a program and redistribute it as a "derivative work," the original QPL demanded that users segregate their modifications from the original Qt library and redistribute them as software "patches."In late 2000 Trolltech decided go even further and decided to license its popular Qt graphical tools library under the dual licenses with one of them GPL. For Trolltech, it was more a matter of fatigue and frustration than anything else.
The Qt controversy lasts three years, was instilled mainly by RMS and radical pro-GPL camp and really inflicted substantial PR damages on both Trolltech and KDE project. To celebrate victory RMS wrote his infamous letter in which he couldn't resist stoking the flames of the Gnome/KDE rivalry:
GNOME and KDE will remain two rival desktops, unless some day they can be merged in some way. Until then, the GNU Project is going to support its own team vigorously. Go Get 'em, gnomes!
In this case RMS in a perfect ESR manner failed to check facts. Actually KDE is licensed mainly under LGPL license (and only LGPL was used in parts that links to Qt). The KDE team response pointed out to RMS that KDE parts uses different licenses and those that link to Qt are under LGPL was too obvious (and too obviously right from the beginning) for him to miss. There was also one subtle factor connected with the donations to FSF discussed below.
All-in-all KDE developers suffered a lot PR damage from this political game. RMS was not seriously concerned about the legal difficulties he mentioned: several of his letters demonstrated that he never checked the facts. He just used this jihad opportunity as a self promotional campaign to remind the community of his significance as the "supreme GPL interpreter."
Especially funny were his claims that it's important to start Gnome project in order to stop non-free software from taking root. In reality, it was more Red Hat well-disguised attempt to dominate Linux distributions ;-) I, like probably all other observers that more than 18 years old, suspect a non-free software took root long time ago before Gnome and actually can point out that RMS to a large extent owns his political career to the existence of Microsoft :-).
I also think that there are very few people using nothing but GPLed software. I also don't remember a top-priority effort to replace evil and (in GPL sense) unfree products like XFree86, Apache, Perl and Python. Not surprisingly user responses to RMS letter both on Linux Today and Slashdot were devastating for RMS reputation (with one response titled "RMS needs to grow up"):
by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 06, @12:33AM EDT (#22)
I am a commercial software developer. At the same time I do appreciate the idea of open source. Being able to share cool stuff with others is educative and desirable. But I am not so sure if GPL is what I want. It curtails my freedom to use open source code in commercial code. I prefer a BSD style of license where everyone is open to contribute an reuse stuff out of free choice
Lockdown34 - Subject: RMS' ever changing "requirements" ( Sep 6, 2000, 01:37:50 ) Tripwire Security abused their rights to redistribute glibc for 6 month but when Tripwire Security claimed they would GPL the Tripwire product, RMS sang prases to Tripwire Security for doing so. At no point did he claim that Tripwire Security needed retro-active permission to violate the LGPL for 6 months.
Likewise, Corel violated the GPL and LGPL on some 400 packages for the first 6 months of this year. Again, RMS has not at any point claimed that authors should provide retro-active permission of this violation to Corel Corp. or that Corel Corp. has permentally forfitted their rights.
Rather, RMS has decided to pick on the little guys and turn the other check when it comes to the big guys purposing continuing to violate for a period of 6 months. What type of enforcement scheme is this?! Before you continue nit-picking the KDE development team, why don't you try going after companies like Corel Corp. that violated the distribution terms for 400 packages over 6 consecutive months and continues to declare distribution rights on that same code?? Why is it that it is ok for Corel Corp but KDE gets the RMS finger?
Well, Mr. Stallman... that is just wrong. It doesn't matter what the KDE team writes because the GPL IS NOT ENFORCED. Corel went on Road Tour to prove demonstrate that they could violate the GPL. They handed out packets where the only written notice was that a "nurf-like" blue cube is "not a toy." The required written notice of source code availability for the binary only GPL covered packages that they where distributing was not provided! And they continued doing that for 6 months. Have they lost their rights to distribute that code? Have they lost rights to redistribute gcc? Have they lost rights to redistribute emacs? NO! They haven't lost their right to whatever the hell they want because they know that RMS' rules of enforcement only applies to the little developers. Corel is a self-declared "important" contributor to open source and can wave whatever requirements they want whenever they want. Just as Tripwire Security is now an important contributor because someday (they haven't yet), they might actually get around to releasing an open source Tripwire for Linux. And Tripwire's perment rights to glibc? That ain't going away any time soon. They passed the RMS' "big enough" rule for being able to wave LGPL requirements.
Say whatever you want RMS. Do whatever you want. Beat up on all the little guys you want. But at the end of the day, don't be surprised when we stop listening to you. Yelling at little Bobby about eating one of the cookies from the cookie jar is bad form when his older brother is walking off with the entire jar.
Re:Give the man a break!
by werdna (werdna at mucow dot com) on Wednesday September 06, @06:38AM EDT (#288)
(User #39029 Info) http://www.netwolves.com
Now it's been argued that his last editorial is absurd. Here's what I have to say: RMS has probably a lot more legal background than most people at KDE and on Slashdot (including me). Unless you are a lawyer specialized in Copyrights, just shut up and give him a break!
As a lawyer with the credentials you describe, I'm here to state that the previous postings, criticizing RMS remarks as hypertechnical and petty, were fair accounts. RMS response clearly sets forth more of a personal preference for Gnome than a legal argument in opposition to the use of KDE/Qt.
This was no subtle legal defense of GPL, and to the extent it was, it was more than adequately answered by the KDE author's response. It requires no subtle expertise in computer law to understand these arguments -- pettiness is as pettiness does.
It's a shame
by |DaBuzz| (email@example.com) on Wednesday September 06, @12:34AM EDT (#24)
(User #33869 Info) http://www.dabuzz.net
It's a shame that while folks like those on the KDE team are busy elevating Linux to a level where it is actually viable as a mainstream desktop OS, arrogant, self righteous people like GNU/Richard GNU/Stallman are trying to keep them down.
It's people like him that have simultaneously raised awareness of free software projects like Linux while making the entire "movement" seem like it is simply a bunch of irrational fanatics who have infinite axes to grind.
RMS should just go GNU/away and let *today's* developers have the accolades they deserve instead of acting childish just because he's not getting all of the GNU/recognition he thinks he deserves right now.
(Disclaimer: Yes, I'm a relative outsider looking in but it doesn't take a genius to see non-productive back-biting when it stares you right in the face.)
RMS needs to grow up.
by costas (firstname.lastname@example.org) on Wednesday September 06, @12:46AM EDT (#47)
(User #38724 Info) http://malamas.com/
I never thought I would be saying this about a guy who wrote emacs, for crying out loud --maybe I did; I use vi :-)...-- but RMS needs to grow up.
I've asked this before: why the leaders of other, more successful OSS projects than anything FSF has thrown together have managed to pump out great code without alienating more than half of the community? Why isn't Linus despised by a good chunk of developers (even BSDers :-)? why can Larry Wall command respect even by people who don't like Perl? I believe the reason is that those guys are sociable, gracious guys who can obviously both inspire people and manage a large project successfully.
Would you like Linus as your boss? Larry Wall as your supervisor? Brian Behendorf as your team leader? Now, would you like RMS as your co-worker?
engineers never lie; we just approximate the truth.
When will the FSF apologise?
by Pseudonym on Wednesday September 06, @01:11AM EDT (#100)
(User #62607 Info)
I have a copy of the source of glibc-2.0.105 sitting on my hard drive. In inet/rexec.c (amongst other files) what do I see but a file under the BSD license including the advertising clause. Clearly I have no rights to this code since it cannot be distributed under the GPL.
Thankfully, in 2.1, the advertising clause has been removed. But nonetheless, I expect a full apology from the FSF for breaking the terms of the original BSD license and forgiveness from the Regents of the University of California so that I can be assured that I may use glibc2 without let or hindrance.
I await my apology.
Does anyone remember the Emacs/Xemacs saga?
by Epeeist (Colin@murorum.demon.co.uk) on Wednesday September 06, @03:59AM EDT (#231)
(User #2682 Info) http://www.murorum.demon.co.uk
The flamefest at the technical level between RMS and JWZ was enough to provide heat, light and power for the whole of a small town. And this was over a piece of software that was pure GPL.
It is often said that the payback from Open/Free software development is in terms of kudos to the author and boost to the ego.
In this case it would seem that ego is at the forefront of the discussion as much as quibbles about licenses or software quality.
Thank you, KDE! (Score:2)
by kris (email@example.com) on Wednesday September 06, @04:02AM EDT (#232)
(User #824 Info) http://www.koehntopp.de/kris/
KDE and Qt jointly worked to remove even the last licensing problems had with the KDE project by putting Qt 2.2 under the GPL. RMS managed to dis that, again.
The KDE people have every right to be pissed, now. But their answer is one of the most mature reactions I have seen from an Open Source project. They even went through the pain to compile a detailed list of licenses and authors of their whole project for reference.
Thank you, KDE, for your grown up and professional response to criticism from a person who contributed an important meme to our community, but now behaves like a spoiled child.
"All animals are equal ... but some are more equal than others."
"... Four legs good, Two legs bad."
George Orwell, Animal Farm
The GNU versus proprietary license class war reminds me a little George Orwell's ``Animal Farm'', in which the pigs lead the revolt against the farmer and create a seemingly utopian world in which all animals share the labor and the fruits of that labor, but gradually become more oppressive than the humans who used to run the farm. Although FSF managed to stand apart from Linux gold rush and related financial scandals, there were some indication that questions similar to question made by US Today on May 3, 2001 about financial dealings in Kidwish and several other ill children "Make-A-Wish" style charities (see Special report Some wish-granting charities take, but don't give. Donations pay for expenses, not ailing kids' dreams) are applicable to FSF. Moreover additional question about possible conflict of interests is perfectly applicable too.
It looks like FSF accepted generous donations from Eazel. At the same time outspoken Eazel's co-founder, Miguel de Icaza sits on the board of directors of the Free Software Foundation. At this point RMS words "Go Get 'em, gnomes!" appear to have a quite different, more troubling meaning. As Denis Powell noted in his paper Wanna Invest in a Bridge Okay, How About a Donation :
...Because, you see, it seems as if not all information wants to be free. The financial records of the Free Software Foundation, for instance. I've repeatedly requested them, and those requests have gone unanswered. It is a peculiar irony that I can easily learn far more about the financial dealings of Microsoft Corp., than I can about the Free Software Foundation, where information wants to be free so long as it's other people's information.
... ... ...
I'm additionally perplexed by the idea that sending money to the Free Software Foundation somehow helps Eazel, a private, for-profit company. Eazel's job is the survival of Eazel, not the survival of Nautilus. They may not like it, but when they accepted investor money, that's the promise they were making. Right now it looks very much as if investors were shaken down to the tune of many millions of dollars to finance development of a product (and finance God knows what else -- we're talking a lot of money here) that because it's GPLed will accrue to the community anyway, whether the company in which they invested lives or dies. The Napster-loving segment of the community might think this is awfully cute. But it will pay unanticipated dividends when companies seeking to develop for Linux discover that they won't be able to get financing for GPLed projects, so those projects will either go undone or be closed. (And it would make an interesting case, GPLed code as an asset in a bankruptcy proceeding, wouldn't it? There is something symmetrically ironic about the GPL's first court test taking place in that milieu.)
If the FSF is so interested in free information, it could contribute materially to that goal by publishing on the web its complete financials -- every penny that comes in, and from whom, and every penny paid out, and to whom. Indeed, it should be proud to do so. It would assist people around the world in making informed decisions as to whether or not they want to exercise their freedom to donate. It would bare any potential conflicts of interest. It would answer many questions.
I am not alleging impropriety here. It could be that it's all mere coincidence. But it is absolutely undeniable that the FSF has thrown its support behind a desktop controlled by two for-profit companies, one of which has an officer who sits on the FSF's board; the same company has purchased advertising aimed at confounding those who are seeking a desktop that is truly free in every rational sense of the word; and the other company has suggested that users can assist its product in surviving but help it avoid paying its bills by donating to the Free Software Foundation, or else an officer of that company has flung down and danced upon his fiduciary responsibilities by saying, in a communication that is part of his corporate function, that people might want to send money to the FSF instead of the company. And they all do it, evangelists as they are for "free" software, with a holier-than-thou air.
It has inspired me. I'm thinking of opening an account for the newly formed Brooklyn Bridge Appreciation Foundation, the goal of which is to increase my appreciation of the Brooklyn Bridge's status as a symbol of the gullible, which goal would be better achieved if people were to send me money just because I enjoy having and spending it. And all those who send money will be able to gaze upon and appreciate the Brooklyn Bridge with a clean conscience whenever they're in New York. Sorry, I have no T-shirts or stuffed monkeys to offer, though the first person to "invest" $13-million will get a tote bag, in black, which honors the Brooklyn Bridge with the word "Eazel."
Believe it or not, there was once a time when that would have sounded ridiculous.
The vulnerability and political dangers of GPL-purity campaign become evident pretty soon. But there were two main events that undermined any real possibility to successfully continue the GPL-purity campaign: Napster and Sun driver kit.
Sun's driver kit takes any Linux drivers and converts them into Solaris binaries. Some drivers are under GPL license, but that' perfectly legal to process them with an automatic tool (compiler). It even does not matter if this tool is freely available or proprietary. The driver kit is pretty similar to GCC in this respect and it no more "encourages" license violations than GCC does. Of course, one needs to distribute the source to GPLed drivers if it distributes binaries of them (for any system), but that's the user problem, not Sun's problem. For Sun it's important that the kit is helping hardware vendors by giving them a bigger market for their products and helping out developers by letting them write drivers once but use them on two operating systems. Formally kit is just a tool and anyone using its kit is responsible for ensuring that how they're used doesn't violate licenses.
When Sun started showing the kit to developers, Becker (the author of good portion of drivers in Linux, who later was excommunicated by Linus Torvalds) was one of the first to get it and for some reason he became so upset by the discovery that the kit used the Linux eepro100 and Tulip drivers as examples (and thus IMHO is protected by fair use doctrine) that he wrote a letter of protest in the mail charging Sun with releasing a kit that "was both contributory infringement, and an inducement to infringe" the GPL. Note the level of legalize in wording that suggests pretty evolved stage of GPL purity debates ;-). The GPL, Becker says, does not permit distributing the ported drivers as part of non-GPLed code for commercial use. But he was completely wrong.
After he consulted "GPL-gurus" including Bruce Perens it become more and more clear that Sun acted perfectly legally as there are explicit exceptions in the GPL allowing for Sun's ported drivers "as long as the drivers are runtime loading and are not distributed with the kernel." This is a case somewhat similar to the Napster, but in the domain of kernel drivers. Remember, that the GPL enthusiasts in general and RMS in particular believe that it's not Napster's problem that users violate copyright with the service.
But all this letters just proved that GPL-purity enthusiasts sometimes use double standard. It's a very dangerous game to pretend to be a copyright purist and use GPL at the same time. And I doubt that any high-level GPL enthusiasts in Sun survived this attack, even if we assume that there were some (remember StarOffice was released under dual licensing with GPL as a second license by nobody else but Sun).
OK let's assume that it was not Xerox's problem that people photocopy copyrighted works on machines. And that it's not Napster's fault, to create a channel for unauthorized distribution of copyrighted works. Then Sun cannot possibly be held accountable for what people do with their software. Any other position looks like a pure hypocrisy.
Disinfect the GNU General Public Virus!
sig found in Slashdot posting
Many people suspect that Unix renaissance was indirectly caused by strong Microsoft feelings and that Linux success was direct consequence of this situation. In a sense Microsoft by the mere fact of its existence as a dominant force produced a strong counter-reaction and lead to a gold rain to various Linux startup. All Linux startups were seeded with Microsoft competitors money.
For many year Microsoft served as a passive object of numerous attacks of open source/free software evangelists. But in Feb. 2001 Jim Allchin's comments on government support for open source an important question was raised by Microsoft that resonate well within the movement and outside it: can government sponsored/developed software be released under the terms of GPL:
''Open source is an intellectual-property destroyer,'' Allchin said. ''I can't imagine something that could be worse than this for the software business and the intellectual-property business.''
Microsoft distributes some of its programs without charge to customers, although it generally doesn't release its programming code, and it retains the ownership rights to that code. Linux is the most widely known open-source product, though other programs including the popular Apache system for Web server computers also are developed the same way.
Allchin said he's concerned that the open-source business model could stifle initiative in the computer industry.
''I'm an American, I believe in the American Way,'' he said. ''I worry if the government encourages open source, and I don't think we've done enough education of policy makers to understand the threat.''
As Tim O'Reilly noted what essentially he stated was: "...Microsoft is an American company. We pay taxes. I don't see why government-funded software should be put out under a license that prevents us from using that software." In this sense other licenses like the BSD or Apache license are more government-friendly, because they provide the "software commons" for both sectors. And the ability of commercial companies to add value to open source software is a good thing that GPL inhibits..
It looks like Allchin has some reasonable basis for his comments if he clearly limits them to saying that government sponsored software should be released under such a software license that allows both free software and proprietary software to use the code on equal basis. And the trend to release some government-sponsored software exclusively under GPL does exist. In the February 24, 2001 Slashdot discussion a case, in which a software author, working under the government contact, managed to release the software under the GPL license, was discussed. This discussion illustrates pretty well the reasons why government agencies might be concerned about the GPL and should probably use a less Anarchistic BSD or Apache-style license, license because GPL places discriminated against some of the citizens who paid for it. Based on this discussion it's probably understandable that no government software should be released under the GPL license. Even if there is a government project to extend GPLed software, it probably should release all software and patches under dual licensing, not just GPL.
Open source should be about giving away things voluntarily.
you force someone to give you something, it's no longer giving, it's
stealing. Persons of leisurely moral growth often confuse giving with
-- Larry Wall
But an important point raised in Allchin's comments remains. I would call it Allchin's hypothesis and it states that GPLed software can negatively affect innovation, especially innovation driven by commercial software development.
This is one of the most controversial topic surrounding GPL and here we need to see both sides of the coins. The positive side of the coin is that GPLed software can help to keep prices on proprietary software more reasonable and thus can have some pro-consumer and pro-research (many researchers are poor) value even it does make the life of commercial software developers more difficult. As many researcher works for universities the net effect on innovation can be positive even if GPL effect on commercial development is negative.
At the same time the mere possibility of creating an international team of software developers that are cloning your proprietary program interface to create a GPLed alternative to your product can be pretty alarming and might be inhibiting to commercial software developers. Here Allchin's hypothesis might have some traction. Let's consider a GPLed reimplementation of a popular commercial program: the Photoshop. There is no secret that GIMP is an attempt of GPLed based reimplementation of Photoshop. Yes, there are still a huge gap and a lot of things that that Photoshop can do are either difficult or impossible in the current version of GIMP. But the ice is broken and this program is now a direct threat for Photoshop developers. Think how a customer will justify for himself paying $600 for just missing capabilities/features. The question that arises immediately is: "How many of those additional features customer wants so badly that he really pay six hundred dollars for the license?" In this sense GPLed software provides a kind of "baseline" for the comparison of commercial software and if it is "good enough" that spells trouble for proprietary software sales (and prices) and that means it spells trouble for the further development.
But if GIPM development is subsided by government that would be really unfair to Adobe. For many people after certain point, the price of Photoshop (or CorelDraw) would immediately became out of line with what it really does for them. Even if they could use and benefit from the software, they will not feel that the price is justified. That can undermine Adobe business model by forcing it to lower prices to the level that might negatively affect funding of research and thus stifle innovation.
At the same time not all software developers prefer GPL model. For example the negative effect of "GPL-based discrimination" of commercial software developers was definitely noticed by scripting language software developers. One can see that that none of major scripting languages that got widespread acceptance (Perl, Python, TCL and PHP) uses GPL license. That fact can be explained in the inhibiting the cooperation between volunteer developers and commercial programmers that is an implicit feature of GPL. Here BSD definitely has an edge and here Jim Allchin's comments "that the open-source business model (read GPL -BNN) could stifle initiative in the computer industry" might be not that far from reality. So it’s important to understand that GPL has it’s own cost. and this cost is an increased probability of the stagnation of the product.
But stagnation of the commercial software products because a weaker (but with excellent price/performance ratio ;-) GPLed product was introduced is not the only possible negative effect of GPL. There is a danger of stagnation for the GPLed projects as well. Especially project were the principal developer is a volunteer (as we all know Linux is not such a project, neither is Gnome). As I already mentioned in my First Monday paper A second look at The Cathedral and The Bazaar GPL tends to overload the principal developer and as a result many GPLed products are stalled and development ended after main developer became exhausted and dropped the ball (look at the list of FSF products, but bash is a good example here). The survival rate of GPL projects after the leading developer leaves is really low. And the danger of overload and burnout of the leading developer is too real to ignore. That’s probably why Linus Torvalds recently stopped mentioning that GPLing of the kernel was the most clever move he ever made in his interviews, the comment that he often made in mid 90th (1996-1998).
It is interesting to note that in his response to Allchin's comments (The GNU GPL and the American Way) Richard Stallman's almost completely missed both points made by Allchin. All he tried to do is to defend GPL against the accusation in "anti-Americanism":
Microsoft describes the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL) as an "open source" license, and says it is against the American Way. To understand the GNU GPL, and recognize how it embodies the American Way, you must first be aware that the GPL was not designed for open source.
And he managed to do this rather unconvincingly if we think about closeness of GPL to Anarchism that I mentioned:
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.
As in "free enterprise" and "free speech", the "free" in "free software" refers to freedom, not price; specifically, it means that you have the freedom to study, change, and redistribute the software you use. These freedoms permit citizens to help themselves and help each other, and thus participate in a community. This contrasts with the more common proprietary software, which keeps users helpless and divided: the inner workings are secret, and you are prohibited from sharing the program with your neighbor. Powerful, reliable software and improved technology are useful byproducts of freedom, but the freedom to have a community is important in its own right.
We could not establish a community of freedom in the land of proprietary software where each program had its lord. We had to build a new land in cyberspace--the free software GNU operating system, which we started writing in 1984. In 1991, when GNU was almost finished, the kernel Linux written by Linus Torvalds filled the last gap; soon the free GNU/Linux system was available. Today millions of users use GNU/Linux and enjoy the benefits of freedom and community.
I designed the GNU GPL to uphold and defend the freedoms that define free software--to use the words of 1776, it establishes them as inalienable rights for programs released under the GPL. It ensures that you have the freedom to study, change, and redistribute the program, by saying that nobody is authorized to take these freedoms away from you by redistributing the program.
For the sake of cooperation, we encourage others to modify and extend the programs that we publish. For the sake of freedom, we set the condition that these modified versions of our programs must respect your freedom just like the original version. We encourage two-way cooperation by rejecting parasites: 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.
While his point have merit, that does not get us closer to the understanding which license is most suitable for what and where is the limit to which GPLed software can mimic the successful proprietary software, diluting it's value. And as innovation by commercial developers is an important part of the American culture, GPL cloning can be considered "un-American" and this concern should be addressed.
The fact that software interface is uncopyritable (BTW provided to free software developers due to Microsoft famous victory over Apple as well as Lotus vs. Borland lawsuit) makes cloning of commercial product by GPLed product a pretty appealing. And the fact is, that such an undertaking in a current climate can receive a financial support both because of the fashion and on the basis of the possibility to generate a support revenue. Again, Allchin's comments does not deny the fact that GPL is an important alternative license. I would like to stress it again that GPLed software can have an important educational value, it also can have a value in providing the customer an additional choice (especially in developing countries), the necessary diversity into the licensing field and to a certain extent in civilizing the behaviors of commercial publishers. And it might be one of the reasons of a more sound valuation of Microsoft stock – a valuation that Bill Gates wanted himself in 1998 and about which he now complains. But where is the line between providing customer with additional choice and undermining a proprietary software development, especially a commercial software startups. Paradoxically in this sense free software development might be inhibiting for a software innovation in a similar way as the existence of a dominant software player like Microsoft. And this might drive software more into hardware, the trend that is already noticeable in Linux marketplace. The question is: "To what extent this is a positive development ?"
From this point of view, if Linux is a revolution, paradoxically, it can be considered as a conservative revolution -- a re-implementation of the re-existing commercial operating system driving their cost down. And there is some subtle and ironic symmetry between Allchin's comments and Linux camp accusations of Microsoft in undermining innovation.
There is one other factor that may greatly contribute to the "GPL-induced stagnation" -- this factor was already discussed under the name "power of negative marketing". And even my pretty superficial my analysis suggests this is pretty powerful weapon that GPL extremists definitely can abuse as was the case in "KDE jihad". Please remember RMS crusade against KDE. It should remind everybody that much like “surprised by wealth” Eric Raymond, RMS is a rather controversial figure and that recently his views can sometime become dangerously extreme. As I suggested in "KDE jihad" case that may partially be due to the fact that Linux almost completely eliminated FSF former status as a "Supreme Committee" of the free software development community.
A fanatic is a person who can't change his mind
and won't change the subject.
- Winston Churchill
Gradually (and partially due to his carpal syndrome injury) Stallman abandoned his role in software development and became plain vanilla political activist, the first cyber space professional revolutionary, if you want. But in his April 2001 London conference appearances he had found one serious problem with preaching his beloved ideas of software liberty, the problem that is an important part of the European cultural and legal tradition -- the reference to an author's moral rights.
European tradition presuppose that the author's creativity and effort in bringing about a creative work creates a claim that must be recognized because it is only just to do so. Although it is a more European than American law notion, it is not completely foreign to the American law. For example in the US, artists' moral rights have been invoked to prevent the destruction of artistic works.
But the assumption of the creator moral rights creates a very serious problem for RMS. Without moral rights, it's much easier to say "copyright is bad, freedom is good". Only if copyright is an economic bargain favoring the privileged few, it has no intrinsic, independent value. If we assume that copyright has some intrinsic value, this assumption essentially undermines the foundation of GPL.
In best traditions of revolutionaries that threat was sometimes taken RMS too emotionally. Here is one pretty telling example from his April 2001 London appearance on the CODE (Collaboration and Ownership in the Digital Environment) conference as it was reported by the Register (the publication that one cannot suspect of being antiStallman or antiLinux):
Foot and Mouth, BSE and the Hatfield rail crash could all have been avoided if the British government had the right approach to information sharing, at least according to Richard Stallman. He reckons that all three disasters were largely to do with bad attitudes to data, and that if ministers understood how free software works then they would not be in such a mess now, writes Bill Thompson in Cambridge.
.. ... ...
The tension between intellectual property rights, the urge to creativity and the capitalist system certainly needs to be explored, although there was a definite sense in the morning sessions - somewhere amidst the sociological, anthropological and linguistic bullshit that passes for analysis in the more rarefied corridors of the academy - that the hardcore programmers had gone out and built a brave new world of free software and now the academics and lawyers wanted to move in and check out the view.
... ... ...
Wearing socks but no shoes, brown canvas trousers and a red polo shirt, Stallman is not as other people. Although his pitch was not new - and he admitted as much - it was probably the first time the academics, artists and lawyers who made up most of the audience had heard it expressed so directly. Pausing only for the obligatory swipe at the UK Government, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and the Private Security Industry Bill (and tipping his hat to FIPR's Caspar Bowden, also in the audience) Stallman went on a gentle meander through the history of copyright, ending at the present day when the media companies own most copyrights and also (he alleges) own the politicians who make the laws that maintain the system.
He reserved most venom for the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act - the Act that makes DeCSS illegal - pointing out that the effect of the DMCA is to give the force of criminal law to the license conditions that publishers decide to put on their products, because breaking encryption schemes to get at the data is an offence. 'There is no limit to how much brutality the owners of information will use to keep control', he said, comparing the DMCA with the state police in the old USSR in their approach to copyright infringement.
Even the highly-paid patent lawyers were applauding at the end, after he said that Napster had finally convinced him that public non-commercial distribution of copyright material should be legal. After all, he argued, copyright law is a bargain between the state and the creator or rights holder, and so far the rights holder has all the advantages.
If there was a problem it was that Stallman takes a totally American view of copyright, seeing it as a set of rules to encourage people to share the products of creativity. He does not discuss - or seem particularly aware of - the European approach in which authors have moral rights which transcend economic factors.
... ... ...
But the real excitement was reserved for the afternoon, when copyright lawyer Justin Watts made a reasoned and well-argued presentation on the patent protection, pointing out that while the US system was 'broken' the European approach had its merits.
This provoked Stallman into an extended rant against the whole idea of patenting software, and ended in him leaving the room to shout in the corridor while Professor Bill Cornish, who was chairing, tried to resume the discussion.
While Justin Watts was cool about the interruption, describing it later as 'fun', Stallman did not seem to generate a great deal of sympathy. Tony Nixon from the Open University said that his claims did not seem convincing, and although he spoke from the heart he was not making a coherent case.
Another interesing desctiption of the event can be found in Leonardo Reviews, a scholarly review service published by MIT Press and the International Society for Arts, Sciences, and Technology.
A SECOND ENCLOSURE MOVEMENT
After a rather lavish lunch, the law session loomed before us like - well, like the opportunity for nodding off a bit, to be honest. However, all sleepiness was soon done away with as James Boyle (law professor at the Duke Law School, North Carolina) managed a speech that was funny, fluent and far-reaching.
He began by cataloguing the extraordinary expansion of IPR over the last 15 years: biotech patents, business method patents, length of copyright terms, all of which add up to a kind of 'second enclosure movement'. The economic rationalisation behind these moves is that an incentive is needed for the creation of new products; the incentive in this case being a monopoly. "The Internet has exacerbated this situation," observed Boyle. "It's seen as a giant vacuum cleaner, consuming all the content in the world. No wonder there's been an over-reaction."
Boyle went on to argue for empirical studies to show whether IPR works - while clearly suspecting that it doesn't. A monopolistic market, he explained, must have price discrimination (as in the ludicrous variation in airline ticket prices), and this is behind Bill Gates' famous remark to the effect that Open Source is an un-American activity. Open Source, after all, undermines the ecology in which price discrimination can flourish. With Gates' shadow still falling across the podium, Boyle's conclusion was powerful: "A sophisticated critique of the state of affairs is needed . . . we are about to construct digital culture on the basis of the business plan of a monopolist, which would be a tragedy."
The next speaker, Bruce Perrens, another Open Source leading light, is an interesting case-study in the evolution of the movement; he started out writing free software in his employer's time, then became a 'volunteer' programmer before joining HP as they were taking Open Source onboard. As he said himself, "I started out as an isolated lunatic and am now three people from CEO."
Justin Watts, an IP lawyer, must have known he wouldn't be the most popular speaker to take the floor when he got up to follow Perens, but he probably had not expected the attacks which came his way. The trouble started when Watts remarked that Open Source programmers could to some extent ignore the threat of patents, as in true Open Source there is no central figure, no 'gatekeeper' who can be sued by the patentee.
STALLMAN STORMS OUT
Richard Stallman leapt up at this point to state that the mere threat of being sued would be enough to stop a developer; he went on to state how developers need to protect themselves. This could be done, he said, with counterstrikes, collective actions, and the backing of big companies like IBM and HP.
Although repeatedly asked to allow Watts to finish, Stallman eventually became incensed enough to dissociate himself from the Open Source movement altogether, which on an ideological level he clearly regards as a sell-out of Free Software principles. He stormed out, with all the drama and hair-tossing one would have expected of a true Romantic.
This was great theatre with which to end the first day. Stallman's appearance at the formal dinner that night was a PR coup for the conference organisers; but he looked cross as he sat through Glynn Moody's after-dinner speech, in which he compared Stallman once more to a musical genius (only this time it was Bach, while Linus Torvalds was cast as Mozart).
More myth-making followed that evening with the screening of the Finnish film in which the Open Source crew featured as an aggregate of solitary geniuses. The absence of women developers was accentuated by the appearance of mothers and wives, earnestly exhorting their dedicated menfolk to stop coding in order to eat: a role rather reminiscent of Wordsworth's housekeeping sister Dorothy.
The next morning dawned with Tim Hubbards, of the Human Genome Project, recounting the scary story of Celera's attempted hijacking of the project for monopolistic ends - an attempt which very nearly succeeded. Hubbard summed up the conceptual collapse of the US patent system with a simple analogy: "If you have a patent on a mousetrap, rivals can still make a better mousetrap. This isn't true in the case of genomics. If someone patents a gene, they have a real monopoly - the company that owns BRAC1 (the breast cancer gene) is already shutting down 'rival' diagnostic labs." Awarding patents for genomics clearly does not increase competition.
"Patents should be only for inventions, not ideas," elaborated next speaker Bob Young - the CEO of Red Hat, the company which assembles the (free) Linux kernel into (paid-for) Linux-based operating systems. "The software industry still adheres to a feudal model," he said. "Their clients are victims, not partners."
DATA EXPLOSION Roger Molina, the astronomer and editor of art magazine Leonardo, who followed him, drew attention, as Tim Hubbards had also done, to the enormous proliferation of raw data in his discipline: 40,000 CD-ROMs every year, with this amount due to triple within a few years. With such an explosion of data, IPR makes little sense - limiting access means slowing analysis.
So, very sensibly, astronomers have given up the individual property rights (which were enshrined in data-poor times) for a kind of astronomical commons, the International Virtual Observatory Project. Data is in the public domain, there is public involvement, and new forms of collaboration are evolving. There are lessons for many other areas of knowledge here.
The artists took the platform next, with Antoine Moreau (founder of Copyleft) arguing very eloquently that the fusion of art, Open Source and the Internet is a force for transforming society. V2's Anne Nighten then recounted her practical experience of cultural Open Source projects, usefully highlighting the problems which documentation, production costs, maintenance and unsuitable service-based income models present for non-tech organisations - and which had hitherto been largely glossed over.
Artist Alok Nandi presented his vision of the computer as both narrative device and as monomedia carrying different types of content: his 'architextures' appeared to be a computer equivalent of montage. He urged collaboration at all levels of creativity and consumption, with cuisine as the guiding metaphor for this. His own project, at www.urbicande.be, started with text and images which were given for free; but 'payment' has been received in the form of contributions from visitors which have allowed the imaginary universe of the project to grow.
He was followed by Drazen Pantic, who made the observation that, "The Internet has a quantum mechanical effect. By observing something, you change it." In this fluid, quantum mechanical world, it would seem that copyright goes against a basic, universal process. Thus when SlashDot (the first successful example of open source publishing) removes a document from its site because it is threatened with legal action, the quantum world of the Net is being subjected to Newtonian laws, and two different universes are brought into contact - and conflict.
Allchin's comments were later followed by a PR attack on GPL in the NYT phone interview and a speech at the Stern School of Business at New York University (Thursday, May 8, 2001) by Craig Mundie, a senior vice president at Microsoft and one of its software strategists. From 1992 until almost the end of 1998, Mundie had ran the consumer platforms division at Microsoft, which he formed to develop the company's non-PC platform and service offerings. In August 2000, President Clinton named Mundie to the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee. That means that his words has a certain weight in the top echelons of large IS shops.
The main point was the announcement Microsoft's Shared Source Initiative. There are not much technically interesting things in Linux that Microsoft can "embrace and extend" (after all Linux is a Unix reimplementation and at one point Microsoft owned SCO Unix and produced Xenix) but Microsoft became concerned that the movement continue to gather momentum in PR space and it looks like this Shared Source Initiative was designed to counter this threat. In a sense that was triumph of open source movement that demonstrated its ability to influence a powerful software guest. But if Microsoft speak a lot of people listen and Microsoft consistent critique of GPL created serious difficulties for Stallman. Craig Mundie speech essentially deligitemize GPL's business use and was a powerful blow to IBM's flirting with open source. As Tom Adelstein noted:
Microsoft feels little threat from Linux companies and the Linux community in general. Why should they? Linux Community projects war among themselves. Microsoft can simply watch the Jihad and laugh.
With IBM in the Linux picture, however, Microsoft has begun one of their infamous propaganda campaigns. Can Microsoft take on IBM headfirst? Even the hairball behind the desk knows not to stir a sleeping giant. In the past, Microsoft conquered, destroyed or put at bay any company that threatened it. In the PC wars, Microsoft helped cripple IBM. If you don't recall, IBM shrunk from a Company with over 400,000 employees to around 200,000 in the early 1990's.
Microsoft made a mistake with IBM. Microsoft forgot one of Machiavelli's cardinal rules: "Never leave an enemy wounded, either annihilate them or embrace them". Microsoft did neither and a kinder, gentler IBM emerged. With IBM firmly in the Linux camp, suddenly Microsoft sees Microsoft as mortal.
Neither interview nor speech were very coherent but this is not a top priority for a PR effort. Like in any PR presentation things were simplified and, for example, GPL was presented as a potential trap that undercuts the commercial software business (is this an indirect attack on IBM consulting business that is eating lunch of Linux companies?).
But some points were pretty convincing and potentially damaging for Linux and open source based startups including VA Linux and Red Hat. Stocks of those companies were already at historical lows the last thing they need are additional problems. For example on May 9, 2001 VA Linux closed at $4.81 and Red Hat at $5.86.
In his speech Craig Mundie stressed that GPL mirrors some of the worst practices of dot-com businesses, in which goods were given away in an effort to attract visitors to Web sites. In other words, the free software model is just as bad a business model as the dot.coms that just tanked or completely disappeared from the stock market. And taking into account VA Linux, Caldera and Red Hat stock curves that sounds more or less convincing. Here is a relevant quote from the speech:
Some of the most successful OSS technology is licensed under the GNU General Public License or GPL. The GPL mandates that any software that incorporates source code already licensed under the GPL will itself become subject to the GPL. When the resulting software product is distributed, its creator must make the entire source code base freely available to everyone, at no additional charge. This viral aspect of the GPL poses a threat to the intellectual property of any organization making use of it. It also fundamentally undermines the independent commercial software sector because it effectively makes it impossible to distribute software on a basis where recipients pay for the product rather than just the cost of distribution.
In this sense, open source software based on the GPL mirrors the .com business models that proved the least successful during the past year. They ask software developers to give away for free the very thing they create that is of greatest value in the hope that somehow they’ll make money selling something else. In effect, it puts at risk the continued vitality of the independent software sector. The business model for OSS may well be attractive for software as an adjunct to hardware – the model of the ‘60s and ‘70s – or for service businesses that do not generate the revenue needed for major investments in technology. But as history has shown, while this type of model may have a place, it isn’t successful in building a mass market and making powerful, easy-to-use software broadly accessible to consumers.
In contrast, two decades of experience have shown that an economic model that protects intellectual property and a business model that recoups research and development costs have shown repeatedly that they can create impressive economic benefits and distribute them very broadly.
Finally, the fact that we believe strongly in the value of IP protection doesn’t mean that we discount the importance of contributing to and supporting the public domain of knowledge as well. We believe that interaction between the public domain and the IP-based sector needs to be based on mutual responsibility and respect.
There is an important and longstanding tradition for the public domain of knowledge, or "intellectual commons." This is reflected in many ways, including federal support for basic research, the limitations on IP rights reflected in the law and, more recently, the broad practice of contributing technology to public standards groups for the continued development of the Internet. We support this and want to continue to be a constructive and responsible participant in this community, including making contributions to public standards. There is an equally important tradition of commercial companies having the opportunity to benefit from and apply this public knowledge, including by developing commercial products that are protected by IP rights. There are many examples of this, including the many products that grew from research in the space program and the advances in speech recognition technology that followed work done at pre-eminent institutions such as Carnegie Mellon.
The GPL asserts that any product derived from source code licensed under it becomes subject to the GPL itself. When the resulting software product is distributed, the creator must make all of the source code available, at no additional charge. This effectively makes it impossible for commercial software companies to include source code that is licensed under the GPL into their products, since by doing so, they are constrained to give away the fruits of their labor. As we think about technology, IP rights, and the public sector of knowledge, we need an intellectual model that encourages interaction, not a model that drives them apart. We believe that a shared source model, coupled with continuing contributions to public standards, provides a path that is preferable to the open source approach founded on the GPL.
But the truth is that GPL is ideologically biased, and marketing value of free redistribution is just a side effect of this ideological bias. But this is an interesting thought that can probably explain why some startups are so GPL-friendly. But if this is a marketing tactics than it's good only as long as a firm did not burn all funding and that really associates GPL with "IPO as a business plan" model.
At the same time while Microsoft is not concerned about threat from Linux/open source on the US market the threat is perceived another markets are different. And especially alarming/damaging for Microsoft is a trend against "made in USA" commercial software with Microsoft as a flagship of this market. The year salary/price ratio of Microsoft software really looks absurd in some developing countries with MS Office price exceeding a programmer year salary and there is a real possibility of strong backlash. In his opinion several (unnamed) countries already created open source initiatives that are perceived by Microsoft as threatening:
"This viral aspect of the G.P.L. poses a threat to the intellectual property of any organization making use of it," Mr. Mundie said in a telephone interview.
"We have been going around the industry talking to people," Mr. Mundie said, "and have been startled to find that people aren't very sophisticated about the implications of what open source means." He acknowledged that the open-source movement was making inroads.
"The news here is that Microsoft is engaging in a serious way in this discussion," he said. "The open-source movement has continued to gather momentum in a P.R. sense and a product sense."
He said Microsoft was particularly concerned about the inroads that the open-source idea was making in other countries.
"It's happening very, very broadly in a way that is troubling to us," he said. "I could highlight a dozen countries around the world who have open-source initiatives."
Mr. Mundie said that in his speech, he would break the open-source strategy into five categories: community, standards, business model, investment and licensing model. Microsoft, he said, in support of the community ideal, already has what he called a shared-source philosophy, which makes its source code available to hardware makers, software developers, scientists, researchers and government agencies.
Microsoft would expand its sharing initiatives, he said. But he added that the company's proprietary business model was a more effective way to support industry standards than the open-source approach, which he said could lead to a "forking" of the software base resulting in the development of multiple incompatible versions of standard programs.
He cited the history of Unix, which has been replete with incompatible versions. Although he acknowledged that the open-source approach had created new technologies, he said that business models using the open-source community were suspect.
"It is innovation that really drives growth," Mr. Mundie said, arguing that without the sustained investment made possible by commercial software, real innovation would not be possible.
He reserved his harshest criticism in the text of his speech for the G.P.L., a software licensing model defined by programmer Richard M. Stallman in 1984.
"This is not understood by many sophisticated people," Mr. Mundie said. "The goal of the G.P.L. is sweeping up all of the intellectual property that has been contributed. That creates many problems downstream, many of which haven't come home to roost yet."
In his other interview he even managed to assert that Linux will not be able to produce any real next-generation products and sited Napster as an example of true innovation. At the same time he dismiss the legitimate concern that Microsoft software is too expensive for many developing countries and that localized versions of Microsoft products should be priced based on financial capacity of a particular market:
Q: According to several participants on a Linux panel at Comdex, Linux will usurp Windows as the key operating system in the Internet era, especially overseas. What's your response?
A: I think to some extent it's going to be hard to find how resources in the open source environment are going to get mustered to develop tools for next-generation services. If people are satisfied living in the browser model and they want to buy free software, then Linux will be a choice. But we don't think that's going to be a long-term model that predominates in the Internet era.
Q: Linux advocates claim the open-source operating system will usurp Windows in high-growth areas such as second and third world countries that are increasingly adopting technology but can't afford Windows. Are there any plans to change pricing to address the economics in these growing markets?
A: We haven't had tiered pricing and I doubt the company would try to institute that, where we price based on the financial capacity of a particular set of users.
... ... ...
Q: What do you think of Napster and how does Microsoft plan to do application development over the Net?
A: Napster is an interesting phenomenon. It created a revolution in how people shared music and portends a new distribution model for sharing music. In a way, yes, the [Microsoft] XML store is a way to help people with those types of applications, but we don't know what the [killer] applications will be. We're trying to write a few. Microsoft is betting [that] in the next generation of the Internet, there will be a new batch of applications. I think of them in three buckets: productivity and convenience, communication, and entertainment. All of these could be Napsterized. What Napster did for music, some clever kid will figure out how to do for video. Ray Ozzie just launched Groove, which is going down this path. You look at Napster and Groove as early warning indications that creative people will find ways to exploit the capabilities of the Internet, not just in PCs, but across an army of other intelligent devices
Mundie speech demonstrated growing concern about Linux and GPL inside Microsoft top brass. Of course with all its limitations and problems there is no reason why GPL should be always unacceptable to all commercial software developers. In some cases GPL probably can leas a sustainable business model for small companies (for example Slackware distribution always was profitable, Cygnus, before it was eaten by Red Hat can also can be considered as a pretty convincing counterexample). But the real question is to what extent GPL-based business model is scalable and that commercial developers probably need to supplement GPL with BSD license. We now know that it is possible to create a sustainable business model on the base of GCC compiler. Linux distribution can probably be profitable too.
It's not clear why GPL-based model will not be able to recoup research and development costs in some cases and why it cannot be a successful niche model including small individual and medium scale cooperative projects. The latter possibility was demonstrated by Gnome Consortium. If it will be able to produce a viable desktop environment (and I believe it will, although may be not in version 2.0 but later) it will be a strong counterargument. It looks like GPL can be the base of cooperative projects of several firms that deeply mistrust each other (and tend to act in best "You should not belong to anybody" tradition ;-) But as a business model it still very questionable, especially as you scale you business model up, GPL engine starts to misfire and here commercial developers of applications might have a substantial edge. Just look at Oracle -- such a big supporter of free/open software movement who in his blind anti-Microsoft feelings indirectly finance his low end competitor -- PostgreSQL project (and may someday get what he deserve ;-).
At the same time reaction of open source community to those comments were as inspiring as comments itself ;-) first published responses including the response of Linus Torvalds luck any depth. Most of the comments so far have been pretty Slashdot-ish: kneejerk reactions to any questions raised about the sacred license. Some were pretty funny: the Free Software Foundation issued their obligatory press release in response to Mundie's statements. If you equates GPLed software with "open source," you will get an obligatory corrective statement from the FSF or Richard Stallman or both. It can be called "the law of corrective FSF response" ;-).
The first reasonable response to this critique of GPL that I found was Alan Cox's comment (this was a really interesting and insightful response) but it address manly Allchin's critique of GPL:
One area where in part I agree with Craig is that the GPL may not always be the right way to release works funded as research for all to benefit from. There the BSD license may be more appropriate. Of course the GPL offers some interesting options - it provides a model for releasing research code for free to the benefit of all those who contribute back to the original work. At the same time it allows a research institution to sell that work to people who do not wish to contribute back to the common good - thus generating funding for further investment. To some this is a very appealing model - share alike and share freely, be it under the GPL by sharing code and ideas or in dollars by giving back some of the money made on their research.
The other interesting critique of Mundie speech came from the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA). It questioned the implicit assumption that Microsoft is the most important center of software innovation and stressed that there is no "one size fits all" solution for the software production:
"Microsoft is once again publicly making the case that innovation in the software industry should happen only at the discretion and direction of Microsoft," said Ken Wasch, SIIA president. "There is no 'one size fits all' solution for the software needs of corporations throughout the world. Yet Microsoft is employing public relations tactics to incite fear among businesses that are considering migrating to the Open Source model."
"Furthermore, Microsoft's assertions that its business model embodies the open-source movement through current practices of sharing source code is incredulous," continued Wasch. "While it is certainly reasonable for a software publisher to maintain proprietary practices regarding the sharing of source code, it is safe to say that Microsoft shares certain, but not all, Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), and only does so when it is in the best interests of the company, not in the interest of dynamic innovation within the industry."
"If we could offer some friendly advice to the Microsoft PR effort, we would suggest an approach such as 'We [Microsoft] welcome competition from the Open Source movement, and through that competition, customers will recognize the superiority of our [Microsoft's] solution.' Instead, they seem to be saying, 'we win when customers have no choices.'"
The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) is the principal trade association of the software code and information content industries. SIIA represents more than 1,000 leading high-tech companies that develop and market software and electronic content for business, education, consumers and the Internet. For further information, visit http://www.siia.net.
Enthusiastic men were easily found during this era,
but not men who were competent.
About Jacobins period of French revolution
I think this KDE saga was the crucial moment for RMS where he face the choice of either becomes more flexible or risk alienating the remaining few developers who still rally around him and his ideas. I mean for crying out loud the KDE team that is not even suggesting using non free code was the act of political self-destruction.
Soon after Craig Mundie speech Caldera that announced about introduction of modified open-source license. As Mary Jo Foley reported for ZDnet on May 9, 2001:
Some open-source advocates considered Microsoft Corp.'s recent public flaming of the GNU General Public License equivalent to criticizing motherhood and apple pie. But not Ransome Love, CEO of Caldera Systems.
Love said he thinks Microsoft was right in its claim that the GPL doesn't make much business sense. Consequently, Caldera is likely to add a non-GPL licensing mechanism -- most likely one based on the BSD license -- to its repertoire in the coming months.
"Microsoft is attacking open source at its weakest point: the GPL," said Love in an interview this week with Ziff Davis.
Love said that Microsoft has raised a valid point in questioning whether companies can build valid, supportable business models around the Free Software Foundation's GPL.
Microsoft Senior Vice President Craig Mundie outlined Microsoft's objections to the GPL and open source in general last week during a speech at New York University. Mundie questioned the wisdom of commercial and government entities embracing GPL'd software, claiming that by doing so, they could find their own intellectual property no longer protected by law.
Caldera has some similar misgivings -- not about the GPL model being the optimal one for open-source development, but about how appropriate the GPL is for open-source software that is sold commercially, Love acknowledged.
As a result, Caldera is "seriously looking at and considering different licensing models," he said. Caldera is considering BSD and "other licensing models" that "would be truly open source but still allow folks to influence the (development) process," Love added.
... ... ...
According to the Free Software Foundation Web site, the so-called modified BSD license is considered GPL-compatible, but the original BSD license, because of an advertising clause, is not. Other free software licenses not considered fully GPL compatible by the Free Software Foundation include the Apache license, the Mozilla Public License, the IBM Public License and the Sun Public License.
Exactly when and how Caldera might introduce a new licensing model is uncertain, Love said. "You'd need to make sure to have clean interfaces between GPL and non-GPL protected code," he noted.
But he added that companies like Sun Microsystems Inc. and Microsoft already have found ways to offer different, compatible operating system kernels (such as embedded, desktop, server and the like) based on a common set of interfaces. So Caldera would not be hard pressed to do something similar, Love said.
"We would back the GPL as the preferred development-model license," Love said, "but we would back different models for other purposes." At the same time, Love explained, "we would continue to develop and publicly license pieces of technology under the GPL."
Stallman reaction was pretty predictable and wrong (using the words coined by Napoleon's minister of police Fouché, 'this is worse than a crime - this is a mistake'.) In his May, 20001 speech at New York University's Stern School of Business he made the following salvo in best KDE jihad tradition calling Caldera "parasite". this is as close to a political suiside as one can get, because if Caldera is a parasite then all talks about that it's ok to see GPLed software is pure hypocrisy and we see "Red Richard" in the full grace:
"Caldera's not a free software company at all. They are just a parasite," Stallman claimed in a press conference following his talk. "Who in the world is Ransom Love to have any ideas about what's good for our community?"
As Mirabeau once said, "Jacobins who become ministers are no longer Jacobin ministers" and that's perfectly applicable to Linux startup executives. It is never a good idea to frighten away companies (that even without such remarks have a lot of problems with GPL) with noisy rhetoric that simply isn't true (Caldera contributed a lot to open source, for example, the first user-friendly Linux installer that everybody imitated, RPM, etc.). Here is one typical negative reaction from the LinuxToday forum:
David Johnson - Subject: Show your true feelings, Richard... ( May 30, 2001, 00:50:01 ) "Who in the world is Ransom Love to have any ideas about what's good for our community?"
And who are you, Richard, that you get to decide whose ideas are worthy of the community. Let the community decide! Let the free market of ideas operate. If Ransom's ideas are truly not good for the community, then the community will reject them regardless of your approval or disproval. Freedom works if you only let it!
So what if Ransom doesn't like the GPL? Since when did freedom require adherence to your personal philosophy, anyway? Why do you keep insisting that it should? I'm sick to death of this "us versus them" war, and I'm sick to death of you deciding who gets to be "us" and who gets to be "them".
Dean Pannell (a.k.a. dinotrac) - Subject: Hubris-induced dementia? ( May 30, 2001, 00:30:26 ) Caldera is a parasite because Ransom Love questions whether the GPL is good for business?
I've often wondered what RMS means by free, as in speech, when he refers to the GPL.
I now wonder what he means by free, as in speech, when he refers to speech.
My oft-repeated take on the real reasons for RMS's GNU/Linux rants is starting to look a little better now.
I don't believe that Love ever presumed to speak for the free/open software community so much as for Caldera. He does, however, have every right to speak as a member of the free/open software community and he has every right to take a view different from RMS. Caldera has produced a fine Linux distro for some time now. They made one of the more notable early attempts to woo Windows users with Lizard and other doodads. They have provided their share of GPL'd administrative tools.
It's one thing to say they are not the best or most open distro, company, vision, whatever.
Isn't that what Microsoft is for?
The next step in the debate was made by Bruce Perens, a pretty naive GPL evangelist, whom John Taschek recently characterized as ".. arrogant ... open-source movement henchman", who recently managed to ask "the biggest vendors -- IBM and Hewlett-Packard -- to return some of the intellectual property that the vendors created by using open-source technologies, including Linux". The ridiculous shrieking style and the embarrassing lack of political sophistication are two of the most unpleasant things about the so-called "hacker mentality". Now he wrote a "petition" It was signed (or more correctly "under the gun" signing was organized by Bruce ;-) by a strange group that contains real innovators including Guido van Rossum and Larry Wall, several prominent "Linux-heads" including Linus Torvalds himself, and surprise, surprise, several beneficiaries of Linux gold rush ("Linix mandarins", members of "Linux cash community") including Bob Young and Larry Augustin who are now are investigated for investment fraud. In view of Linux IPO gold rush that raised several billions of dollars it's pretty funny to read about little funding for poor open source projects ;-). Bruce Perens probably also forgot about the his salary from HP as well as about multimillion investments on Intel, IBM, Sun, Novell and that those investment mainly were dictated by anti-Microsoft sentiments and decided to attack a goose who brought free software movement so many gold eggs (actually Microsoft (via ActiveState) even supports selected open source projects):
Microsoft deceptively compares Open Source to failed dot-com business models. Perhaps they misunderstand the term Free Software. Remember that Free refers to liberty, not price. The dot-coms gave away goods and services as loss-leaders, in unsuccessful efforts to build their market share. In contrast, the business model of Open Source is to reduce the cost of software development and maintenance by distributing it among many collaborators.
The success of the Open Source model arises from copyright holders relaxing their control in exchange for more and better collaboration. Developers allow their software to be freely redistributed and modified, asking only for the same privileges in return.
There is much software that is essential to a business, but which does not differentiate that business from its competitors. Even companies that have not fully embraced the Open Source model can justify collaboration on Free Software projects for this non-differentiating software, because of the money they will save. And such collaborations are often overwhelmingly successful: for example, the project that produces the market-leading Apache web server was started by a group of users who agreed to share the work of maintaining a piece of software that each of their businesses depended on.
With very little funding, the GNU/Linux system has become a significant player in many major markets, from internet servers to embedded devices. Our GUI desktop projects have astounded the software industry by going from zero to being comparable with or superior to others in only 4 years. Workstation manufacturers like Sun and HP have selected our desktops to replace their own consortium projects, because our work was better. An entire industry has been built around Free Software, and is growing rapidly despite an unfavorable market. The success of software companies like Red Hat, and the benefits to vendors such as Dell and IBM, demonstrate that Free Software is not at all incompatible with business.
The Free Software license singled out for abuse by Microsoft is the GNU General Public License, or GNU GPL. This license is the computer equivalent of share and share alike. But this does not mean, as Microsoft claims, that a company using these programs is legally obliged to make all its software and data free. We make all GPL software available in source form for incorporation as a building block in new programs. This is the secret of how we have been able to create so much good software, so quickly.
If you do choose to incorporate GPL code into a program, you will be required to make the entire program Free Software. This is a fair exchange of our code for yours, and one that will continue as you reap the benefit of improvements contributed by the community. However, the legal requirements of the GPL apply only to programs which incorporate some of the GPL-covered code - not to other programs on the same system, and not to the data files that the programs operate upon.
Although Microsoft raises the issue of GPL violations, that is a classic red herring. Many more people find themselves in violation of Microsoft licenses, because Microsoft doesn't allow copying, modification, and redistribution as the GPL does. Microsoft license violations have resulted in civil suits and imprisonment. Accidental GPL violations are easily remedied, and rarely get to court.
It's the share and share alike feature of the GPL that intimidates Microsoft, because it defeats their Embrace and Extend strategy. Microsoft tries to retain control of the market by taking the result of open projects and standards, and adding incompatible Microsoft-only features in closed-source. Adding an incompatible feature to a server, for example, then requires a similarly-incompatible client, which forces users to "upgrade". Microsoft uses this deliberate-incompatibility strategy to force its way through the marketplace. But if Microsoft were to attempt to "embrace and extend" GPL software, they would be required to make each incompatible "enhancement" public and available to its competitors. Thus, the GPL threatens the strategy that Microsoft uses to maintain its monopoly.
Microsoft claims that Free Software fosters incompatible "code forking", but Microsoft is the real motor of incompatibility: they deliberately make new versions incompatible with old ones, to force users to purchase each upgrade. How many times have users had to upgrade Office because the Word file format changed? Microsoft claims that our software is insecure, but security experts say you shouldn't trust anything but Free Software for critical security functions. It is Microsoft's programs that are known for snooping on users, vulnerability to viruses, and the possibility of hidden "back doors".
Microsoft's Shared Source program recognizes that there are many benefits to the openness, community involvement, and innovation of the Open Source model. But the most important component of that model, the one that makes all of the others work, is freedom. By attacking the one license that is specifically designed to fend off their customer and developer lock-in strategy, they hope to get the benefits of Free Software without sharing those benefits with those who participate in creating them.
We urge Microsoft to go the rest of the way in embracing the Open Source software development paradigm. Stop asking for one-way sharing, and accept the responsibility to share and share alike that comes with the benefits of Open Source. Acknowledge that it is compatible with business.
Free Software is a great way to build a common foundation of software that encourages innovation and fair competition. Microsoft, it's time for you to join us.
What is really interesting is that among people that
signed Bruce Perens "petition" none shares each other views and most of
the participants are mildly hostile to GPL.
The third effect of Mundie attack was that it stressed a valid observation that GPL is close to Anarchism; that means that businesses adopting GPLed product face a lot of challenges derived from the political philosophy of the license. For example mixing GPL products with commercial products became politically difficult (Caldera) and can lead to negative PR attacks by GPL evangelists. And here Microsoft made a valid statement that cannot be refuted by any number of "signed by luminaries statements" ;-)
I think that "all in all" it lead to reevaluation by many developers that value of BSD license or other simple "pro-bono" licenses. GPL did a good job but it's probably the thing of the last century.
At the beginning it looks like Mundie PR attack was mixed success and that like any large corporation Microsoft will behave clumsy and incoherent and that might permit more nimble opponent to ripe some PR benefits or their own. But in this particular case Microsoft again defied the rules of behaviors for the large corporations ;-). On May 3 Microsoft legal department produced a very interesting set of questions about GPL for reporters attending Richard Stallman's speech at New York University. Among them were several well-thought questions:
From Microsoft's press sheet, handed out before the speech:
As you are probably aware, on Tuesday May 29, Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation is going to speak at New York University on how the General Public License facilitates sharing, cooperation and freedom. Microsoft is pleased to see NYU continue to examine the source licensing issue. We encourage you as journalists to take a moment prior to the speech to read through these questions and to look at the GNU GPL FAQ located at <<http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl-faq.html>>
The Free Software Foundation's General Public License is the license that covers the Linux operating system. Microsoft has publicly stated concerns with the license and its implications at <<http://www.microsoft.com/sharedsource>>
Having reviewed the new GNU GPL FAQ, and in anticipation of Mr. Stallman's speech, we wish to raise several additional questions:
1. Lack of proportionality and profit-making business models. Does the all-or-nothing viral approach of the GPL severely limit business flexibility?
Proportionality: If a proprietary program uses a GPL library (as described in the GNU FAQ #29) or combines with a GPL plug-in or module (as described in the GNU FAQ #31 and #37), the combined program is subject to the GPL. In this case, a proprietary program of 1,000,000 lines of code that uses a small GPL library or links to a GPL plug-in as described above, will then be subject to the GPL and its terms. This is not a proportional relationship.
Conflict with profit-making business models: Companies that have made significant investments in building proprietary value in their code are in an untenable competitive position if they include GPL technology in their solution. The situation can be made significantly worse if the principals of a company are unaware of the inclusion of GPL code in their product due to the actions of their developers or of individuals who have licensed the source code of their technology.
2. Uncertainty about interacting with GPL code. How does a firm know with certainty whether its developers' interaction with GPL code subjects the firm's proprietary code to the GPL?
The new "GNU General Public License FAQ" addresses a number of complex scenarios involving the combination of proprietary software with programs, modules, or libraries covered by the GPL or the LGPL. Not only is the license itself vague about these complex scenarios, but the FAQ uses ambiguous language in describing them--for example:
#33: "If the program dynamically links plug-ins, but the communication between them is limited to invoking the `main' function of the plug-in with some options and waiting for it to return, that is a borderline case."
#37: "If modules are designed to run linked together in a shared address space, that almost surely means combining them into one program.
By contrast, pipes, sockets and command-line arguments are communication mechanisms normally used between two separate programs. So when they are used for communication, the modules normally are separate programs. But if the semantics of the communication are intimate enough, exchanging complex internal data structures, that too could be a basis to consider the two parts as combined into a larger program."
#47: "However, in many cases you can distribute the GPL-covered software alongside your proprietary system. To do this validly, you must make sure that the free and non-free programs communicate at arms length, that that they are not combined in a way that would make them effectively a single program."
3. Lack of any definitive method for resolving questions about GPL coverage. If a firm has a question about whether the use of a GPL program in a proprietary software project, or the interaction between a proprietary program and a GPL program, module or library, subjects the proprietary software to the GPL, how does it resolve this question? Does it contact FSF? What if the GPL program is not copyrighted by FSF? Does the firm contact all of the individuals who contributed to the GPL program? How does it know if it has identified all of them or whether each contributor holds a copyright to the portion of the program to which he or she contributed? What if there is conflict among the contributors or between the contributors and FSF? Who resolves such conflicts?
That set of question was followed by no less famous anti-Gpl_faq, a set that contains 24 rather well-thought questions:
- Have your lawyers read the GPL (and the LGPL)? Because the GPL is so frequently misunderstood and because it attempts, under certain circumstances, to impose significant obligations on licensees and their intellectual property rights, no responsible business should use GPL software without ensuring that its lawyers have read the license and explained the business’ rights and obligations. They should also review and explain the Lesser General Public License, or LGPL, a related license that is sometimes used with open source libraries.
- How are you using GPL software and what obligations does it impose? The obligations associated with the GPL vary substantially depending upon the way in which GPL code is used. Even limited or relatively obscure uses (e.g., including a few lines of GPL code in a commercial product or linking directly or indirectly to a GPL library) may have a dramatic effect on your legal rights and obligations. To understand the potential implications of the GPL, you need to have a detailed understanding of your use of GPL code. Basing any analysis upon a superficial understanding may present serious risks.
- How does your use of GPL software affect your intellectual property rights? One of the most significant impacts of the GPL is its potential effect on your intellectual property rights. The GPL is widely referred to as “viral” because it attempts to subject independently-created code (and associated intellectual property) to the terms of the GPL if it is used in certain ways together with GPL code (see Sections 2 and 3 of the GPL). For example, a business that combines and distributes GPL code with its own proprietary code may be obligated to share with the rest of the world valuable intellectual property (including patent) rights in both code bases on a royalty free basis. Other uses of GPL code may also create obligations for the user. It is important to perform a careful legal and technical review of this issue before using GPL software.
- What if you are simply a “customer,” acquiring GPL software from other businesses? Does the GPL have any effect on your rights and obligations? Section 0 of the GPL says “[a]ctivities other than copying, distribution and modification are not covered by this License; they are outside its scope. The act of running the Program is not restricted.” So, a customer who only runs the Program should have no obligations to the author of the code under the GPL. As discussed below, however, such a customer also has no rights from the author (e.g., no assurance that the code is even free from “known” copyright infringement problems) and may have liabilities to third parties. If, on the other hand, the customer’s use of GPL code involves even limited modification, copying or distribution of the code, the GPL arguably does impose obligations to the author, discussed above and below. In assessing this possibility, customers should carefully consider what the GPL means by “copying, modifying and distribution.”
- Can you develop applications for a GPL program, like Linux, without subjecting those applications to the GPL? This is a particularly important question. The answer will almost certainly depend upon a detailed analysis of the way in which the application was developed and distributed and will be subject to caveats regarding the interpretation and enforceability of the GPL. For example, the analysis will presumably involve a careful review of your development team’s exposure to and use of GPL code during the development process, especially whether the application incorporated any such code or was otherwise derived from it. The analysis would also likely consider what libraries are used; how are they used (e.g., statically linked or dynamically linked); whether they, in turn, link to other libraries; and which licenses (GPL or LGPL) govern all of these various libraries. Similarly, the analysis would probably consider what header files are used; whether they, in turn, include other headers; and which licenses govern these various headers. In addition, the analysis would presumably consider whether the application is distributed with GPL code and, if so, how it is distributed and by whom.
- Can distribution of your code with GPL code require you to license your code under the GPL? Have you combined your own code with code licensed under the GPL? The GPL attempts to address these questions directly. Section 2 of the GPL says that identifiable sections of a work that are not derived from a GPL program and that “can be reasonably considered independent and separate” are not subject to the GPL when distributed as separate works. But if these separate sections are distributed “as part of a whole which is a work based on” a GPL program, then this distribution of the “work as a whole” is subject to the GPL. Section 2 also says that a “mere aggregation of another work not based on the [GPL] Program on a volume of a storage or distribution medium does not bring the other work under the scope of this License.” A licensee is left with the difficult task of deciding whether a particular combination is a “work as a whole” (GPL infection apparently intended) or a “mere aggregation” (GPL infection disclaimed).
- If your software becomes “infected” by the GPL, do you have to give it away for free? Section 3 of the GPL says that you can copy and distribute a GPL program (or a work based on such a program) in object code or executable form, subject to several restrictions. You are supposed to make the corresponding source code available, for example, by including the source code with the object code or offering to distribute it to any third party (Section 3). Section 1 says that you “may charge a fee for the physical act of transferring a copy,” but Section 2 says that you “must cause any work that you distribute or publish, that in whole or in part contains or is derived from [a GPL] Program or any part thereof, to be licensed as a whole at no charge to all third parties under the terms of this License.” The net effect is, apparently, that you are able to charge a fee for your software, but that right is significantly undercut by your obligation to give others (including your competitors) the right to distribute your software for free.
- Are your obligations under the GPL “flexible” or “proportional” to your use of GPL code? Suppose Business A uses a few hundred lines of GPL code in its existing 500,000-line proprietary program and makes copies for its own employees or distributes ten copies of the modified program as a collective work. Suppose Business B combines 500,000 lines of GPL code with an existing 1000-line proprietary program and distributes 500,000 copies of the modified program as a collective work. The GPL may be read as to require both businesses to share the source code for their modified programs (including their existing commercial programs) and allow royalty-free redistribution of those programs. This is true despite the potentially dramatic differences in the volume, value and copies of the GPL code used.
- Could your use of GPL code cause you to infringe on the intellectual property rights associated with code you have licensed from others? The seemingly obvious answer to the first question is “yes” because those rights are provided under the GPL. The correct answer, however, may require more careful analysis. If, for example, you plan to combine and distribute GPL code with pre-existing code, the “viral” nature of the GPL may require you to provide source code for the pre-existing code to all third parties and license others to use it on a royalty-free basis (see Section 2). Unfortunately, if you licensed some of the pre-existing code from a third party, you may not even have access to the source code, much less the right to license it to the rest of the world on a royalty-free basis under the terms of the GPL.
- Do you have any existing obligations that might preclude your use of GPL software? Could your use of GPL code put you in breach of existing contractual obligations? As noted above, the use of GPL code with code licensed from another party could, under certain circumstances, arguably obligate you to sublicense the other party’s code under the GPL. If you expressly agreed not to attempt to sublicense the other party’s code, you should consider whether your use of the GPL code presents a risk that breaches your earlier contract. Even if no breach occurs, the GPL includes provisions that may make it impossible for licensees to retain both their GPL rights and rights under other agreements. For example, Section 7 of the GPL says that if “conditions are imposed on you (whether by court order, agreement or otherwise) that contradict the conditions of this license, they do not excuse you from the conditions of this License. If you cannot distribute so as to satisfy simultaneously your obligations under this License and any other pertinent obligations, then as a consequence you may not distribute the Program at all.” Suppose Business A has developed a program using trade secret rights that were licensed from Business B under an agreement that prohibited their disclosure. Now assume that A uses GPL code in a way that “infects” its program. Section 7 apparently says that use of GPL code in such a program is impermissible. This places A in an untenable situation: unless it persuades B to divulge its trade secrets to the world, A must cease distribution of its program. This may be true even if A’s use of GPL code is minimal.
- Have you considered the risk that GPL code might infringe on third party intellectual property rights? Although it is always difficult for a business to ensure that acquired products do not infringe on third-party intellectual property rights, the risks associated with the use of GPL software may be substantially higher than those associated with commercial software. For example, given the distributed nature of open source development, you should understand what controls, if any, you have in place to screen unlicensed code or trade secret information from inclusion in the GPL program. This view is perhaps reinforced by the fact that Section 11 of the GPL expressly disclaims any warranties, including presumably a warranty that the program is free from infringements of third-party copyrights or trade secrets known to the contributor. You should also ask yourself if GPL developers may conclude that this disclaimer makes it okay to distribute code under the GPL when they know they don’t have the rights required to do so. Developers of commercial software, in contrast, typically have procedures, contractual obligations, and a substantial financial stake in minimizing potential infringements.
- What happens if an intellectual property owner, who claims that your use of GPL code infringes its intellectual property rights, sues you? As noted above, Section 11 suggests that you are “on your own” with respect to defense of the suit and payment for damages.
- What is the extent of your liability for GPL-related infringements? Several provisions of the GPL may be read as requiring a GPL licensee to effectively sublicense its rights to the rest of the world (e.g., Section 2, relating to the modification and distribution of GPL works). GPL licensees should ask themselves whether, and to what extent, they might be responsible for the actions of their sub-licensees. For example, suppose Business A distributes a modified copy of GPL code to Businesses B, C, and D, and each of them further distributes 1000 copies. If Business A is sued for patent infringement relating to its use of GPL software, the patent owner might claim that the business is liable for direct infringement based upon the three copies distributed to Businesses B, C, and D and is further liable for direct, contributory, or induced infringement by the 3000 additional copies distributed by these businesses (and, of course, any and all later distributions by such businesses and their downstream sub-licensees). While actual liability would depend upon a host of factual issues, if Business A has deeper pockets than the other businesses, it should not be surprised to find plaintiff’s counsel pursuing such an approach and claiming theoretically unlimited damages caused by Business A’s limited initial distribution.
- Can the author of a GPL program “unilaterally” withdraw your right to distribute the program? Section 8 of the GPL gives “the original copyright holder who places the Program under this License” the right to preclude distribution in certain countries based on patents or interface copyrights. It is not clear that a licensee has any right to object to this restriction, which may be solely within the discretion of the original copyright holder. It is also not clear whether this restriction can be imposed retroactively, although Section 8 does say, “this License incorporates the limitation as if written in the body of this License.” Companies relying on GPL code should carefully consider the potential impact such a geographical restriction could have on their business.
- Can you use GPL tools in the development of your own software without subjecting your software to the GPL? As noted above, the GPL is sometimes referred to as being “viral” because it attempts to subject related third-party code and intellectual property to the GPL. People concerned about this aspect of the GPL are probably careful about modifying GPL programs or combining their code with GPL code, but they may assume that their use of GPL tools cannot “infect” the software they are developing. While this is probably true in many cases, it is not necessarily a safe assumption. For example, the “Bison” parser developed by Richard Stallman, Robert Corbett and Wilfred Hansen was licensed under the GPL for some time before users realized that the software they were developing with the tool was arguably subject to the GPL. The potential exposure resulted from the parser’s inclusion of incidental GPL material in the tool’s output. In response to this problem, Bison version 1.24 and later was distributed with a “special exception” regarding output files. The implication is that businesses concerned about the possible infection of their software by the GPL should make sure they consider: what, if any, GPL tools are being used by their developers; how those tools are used; and the possibility that such uses might subject their own code to the GPL.
- If the GPL requires you to “contribute” your modifications to GPL code to “the community,” are you sure that your competitors are doing the same? Assuming that two competitors are making similar use of GPL code, their obligations under the GPL should be the same. There are, however, a number of scenarios to consider. Some competitors may not understand their obligations under the GPL and, for that reason, might not share their improvements with competitors. Other competitors’ interpretation of the GPL might lead them to conclude that they have no obligation because they might believe the GPL is unenforceable in its entirety. Some competitors may intentionally ignore their obligations under the GPL to obtain a competitive advantage, relying on a variety of factors to avoid compliance. These factors might include obscuring object code to hide use of GPL code and the strength and enforcement of intellectual property laws in the country where they are doing business.
- Does the GPL present any special challenges for businesses developing or distributing products with embedded software? The GPL does not expressly impose any “special” obligations on embedded software businesses, but embedded businesses should consider whether the GPL presents any unique risks based upon scenarios common to the embedded product space. For example, the manufacturer of a hardware system that includes some embedded GPL software and some of the manufacturer’s own proprietary software may find it particularly important to carefully assess whether the GPL and proprietary software form a “mere aggregation” (GPL infection disclaimed under Section 2); a “collective work” (GPL infection apparently intended); or something else altogether. Some embedded software developers, such as Caldera and Wind River, have publicly expressed concerns about the risks associated with the GPL.
- Are your software developers aware of the many development-related issues that may affect GPL risks and obligations? Are you asking (or allowing) them to act as your legal counsel and are you willing to accept that risk? Are you “betting your business” on informal or anonymous interpretations of the GPL posted on the Internet? As noted by the Free Software Foundation (FSF), the potential implications of the GPL on software development ultimately depend on the way in which judges will interpret provisions of the GPL. A host of relatively detailed, development-related questions are also likely to be critical. You should probably make sure your developers are asking themselves a number of questions, including:
- What is the provenance of the code and tools being used?
- What licenses govern that code and tools
- What do we do if we can’t determine which license governs code included in an open source distribution
- What happens if those licensing terms have been clarified or purportedly amended
- Does our code use GPL code at runtime, whether through kernel calls, dynamic linkage, static linkage, or other mechanisms; if we are using libraries, do those libraries, in turn, link to other libraries (and, if so, which licenses govern those libraries)?
- If we are using headers, do they reference other headers (and, if so, which licenses govern those headers)?
- Will our code be distributed, combined or otherwise used with GPL code?
- Are we sure about our answers to these questions?
Given the subtle nature of some of the legal issues presented by the GPL, you should also make sure your developers know when to consult legal counsel regarding any potential risks presented by a particular development activity. All businesses would be well advised to avoid taking actions based upon general “understandings” of the GPL that are not based on a careful reading of the agreement itself.
- Who can you go to if you have a question regarding the GPL’s interpretation, want to clarify your risks under the GPL, or amend your obligations? The GPL was developed under the auspices of the FSF. The FSF is not, however, necessarily the owner of any and all intellectual property rights embodied in particular programs licensed under the GPL. Section 10 recognizes this by suggesting that a GPL licensee could write to a program’s author (or authors) for permission to distribute the program under different terms. In some cases, no single person or entity may own all of these property rights. As a result, a prospective (or existing) GPL licensee may find it impractical, if not impossible, to negotiate a desired change in its rights and obligations or even obtain a clarification of those rights and obligations. Even if a licensee were somehow able to identify key contributors and reach agreement with all of them regarding a desired change or clarification, presumably those contributors would be unwilling or unable to represent and warrant that they had the entire right and title required to do so.
- Are you using any software governed by the Lesser General Public License (LGPL) and, if so, how does that license affect your rights and obligations? The LGPL was developed by the FSF to give library developers an alternative to the GPL. Specifically, although the FSF generally discourages use of the LGPL, it notes that “using the Library GPL permits use of the library in commercial programs.” The LGPL retains the “viral” provisions of the GPL in the context of modifications to an LGPL library (Section 2). But a different set of obligations are imposed when code is linked to an LGPL library (Sections 5 and 6). If you are developing programs that link to LGPL libraries you should review and understand these obligations. You should also check whether the LGPL libraries used, in turn, link to other libraries and especially consider the implications if the LGPL library links to a GPL library.
- Does the use of GPL software reduce the acquisition value of your company (as a start-up) or a particular business unit (as a spin-off)? As noted above, the GPL attempts, under certain circumstances, to subject licensees’ code and related intellectual property to the terms of the GPL (see, e.g., Section 3). Once your software is “infected” by the GPL, it is not clear whether and how this process can be reversed. So, while GPL code may seem like an inexpensive, convenient and useful way for a start-up to develop a new product quickly, it may also have costly and long-term consequences for the start-up. Parties interested in acquiring the business are likely to conclude, as a part of any acquisition due diligence, that the business has already effectively given away most of the commercial value in its code.
- Does your use of GPL code present any issues re shareholder value and exposure to suit? In the context of initial public offerings, at least some businesses based upon GPL software have concluded that such software introduces risks that should be disclosed as part of the offering. These risks include: the companies “inability” to offer warranties and indemnities because the code is developed by independent parties over whom the offering business has no control or supervision; the uncertain future of the code base (will further development occur and, if so, in what direction); the availability of the same code from other sources for free; and concerns about negative reactions from the open source community. (These issues are discussed in the “10Ks” of several of the publicly traded companies that distribute GPL programs).If you are beginning to use GPL code, you should ask whether this presents similar risks to your business.
- Do you have a process for reviewing and approving prospective uses of GPL software? Are you willing to use precious developer resources required to assess the impact of prospective uses of GPL code that you will depend on? Most businesses that are engaged in software development establish procedures to avoid tainting their development process with software that is subject to other people’s intellectual property rights. Although GPL code is often described as “free,” as noted above it may impose severe obligations on users and is perhaps even more deserving of a company-wide process regarding review and approval before use.
- Do you have or need any special procedures regarding potential GPL issues created by your licensing of third-party software and or acquisitions of software? Given the potential effect that the GPL may have on code and intellectual property acquired by (or licensed into) a company, it may make sense for businesses to develop procedures to ensure that such acquisitions and licenses are reviewed for GPL issues. For example, many companies have established “due diligence” procedures to help them identify and evaluate potential issues associated with the acquisition of businesses, product lines, and intellectual property rights. Companies pursuing software-related acquisitions or investments should probably consider whether their due diligence procedures should be updated to specifically address GPL-related issues.
Essentially it was a knockdown. Like a boxer disoriented by a strong stroke of the opponent Stallman's response was incoherent and clumsy counterattack:
The best way to see through the trickery of the questions is to turn each one around and ask the same question about a Microsoft proprietary package. You will find either that the same "problem" exists, or that some other problem would have blocked you before you could even reach the situation.
For instance, one question complains that they can't copy 1000 lines of GPL-covered source code into a million-line proprietary program. Could you copy 1000 lines of Windows or Word source code into your million-line program? The usual license for Windows or Word won't let you do this; in fact, it won't let you see the source code at all. Their "shared source" NDA license won't let you do it either.
Another question complains that if a free software package has many contributors, it is unclear who to approach to clarify the license or ask for an exception. At least free software licenses permit many people to contribute and produce such a combination. Starting from a proprietary Microsoft program, the combination could not have been made in the first place. Meanwhile, if you follow the FSF's practice and ask for copyright assignments for changes you install, then it is entirely clear who people should ask about the license--they ask you.
The uncertainty referred to by question 2 actually comes from copyright law, not from the GPL. As judge Learned Hand put it, decisions about the scope of copyright are inevitably ad-hoc. (That is close to an exact quote, but I have no way to look it up.) The question doesn't arise for Microsoft programs, because their restrictive licenses don't let you come anywhere near these borderline cases. They stop you miles away.
In an interesting political maneuver RMS tried to retake control of glibc (Gnu C library). If successful it might have a grave consequences for free/open software, but it failed. Here is the letter of the leading glibc developer that essentially makes unnecessary any additional discussion of the RMS radicalization:
Stallman recently tried what I would call a hostile takeover of the glibc development. He tried to conspire behind my back and persuade the other main developers to take control so that in the end he is in control and can dictate whatever pleases him. This attempt failed but he kept on pressuring people everywhere and it got really ugly. In the end I agreed to the creation of a so-called "steering committee" (SC). The SC is different from the SC in projects like gcc in that it does not make decisions. On this front nothing changed. The only difference is that Stallman now has no right to complain anymore since the SC he wanted acknowledged the status quo. I hope he will now shut up forever.
The morale of this is that people will hopefully realize what a control freak and raging manic Stallman is. Don't trust him. As soon as something isn't in line with his view he'll stab you in the back. NEVER voluntarily put a project you work on under the GNU umbrella since this means in Stallman's opinion that he has the right to make decisions for the project.
The glibc situation is even more frightening if one realizes the story behind it. When I started porting glibc 1.09 to Linux (which
eventually became glibc 2.0) Stallman threatened me and tried to force me to contribute rather to the work on the Hurd. Work on Linux would be counter-productive to the Free Software course. Then came, what would be called embrace-and-extend if performed by the Evil of the North-West, and his claim for everything which lead to Linux's success.
Which brings us to the second point. One change the SC forced to happen against my will was to use LGPL 2.1 instead of LGPL 2. The argument was that the poor lawyers cannot see that LGPL 2 is sufficient. Guess who were the driving forces behind this.
The most remarkable thing is that Stallman was all for this despite the clear motivation of commercialization. The reason: he finally got the provocative changes he made to the license through. In case you forgot or haven't heard, here's an excerpt:
[...] For example, permission to use the GNU C Library in non-free programs enables many more people to use the whole GNU operating system, as well as its variant, the GNU/Linux operating system.
This $&%$& demands everything to be labeled in a way which credits him and he does not stop before making completely wrong statements like "its variant". I find this completely unacceptable and can assure everybody that I consider none of the code I contributed to glibc (which is quite a lot) to be as part of the GNU project and so a major part of what Stallman claims credit for is simply going away.
This part has a morale, too, and it is almost the same: don't trust this person. Read the licenses carefully and rip out parts which give Stallman any possibility to influence your future. Phrases like
[...] GNU Lesser General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation; either version 2.1 of the License, or (at your option) any later version.
just invites him to screw you when it pleases him. Rip out the "any later version" part and make your own decisions when to use a different license since otherwise he can potentially do you or your work harm.
In case you are interested why the SC could make this decision I'll give a bit more background. When this SC idea came up I wanted to fork glibc (out of Stallman's control) or resign from any work. The former was not welcome this it was feared to cause fragmentation. I didn't agree but if nobody would use a fork it's of no use. There also wasn't much interest in me resigning so we ended up with the SC arrangement where the SC does nothing except the things I am not doing
myself at all: handling political issues. All technical discussions happens as before on the mailing list of the core developers and I
reserve the right of the final decision.
The LGPL 2.1 issue was declared political and therefore in scope of the SC. I didn't feel this was reason enough to leave the project for good so I tolerated the changes. Especially since I didn't realize the mistake with the wording of the copyright statements which allow applying later license versions before.
I cannot see this repeating, though. Despite what Stallman believes, maintaining a GNU project is NOT a privilege. It's a burden, and the bigger the project the bigger the burden. I have no interest to allow somebody else to tell me what to do and not to do if this is part of my free time. There are plenty of others interesting things to do and I'll immediately walk away from glibc if I see a situation like this coming up again. I will always be able to fix my own system (and if the company I work for wants it, their systems).
---------------. ,-. 1325 Chesapeake Terrace
Ulrich Drepper \ ,-------------------' \ Sunnyvale, CA 94089 USA
Red Hat `--' drepper at redhat.com `------------------------
Defense of liberties
In his short 1991 essay "Thousands dead, millions deprived of civil liberties?" RMS provided an interesting insight into his real political views just after Sept 11 events. While his insight and ability to discern the real nature of the event was amazing, please note the timing of "your unelected president" stance:
The worst damage from many nerve injuries is secondary -- it happens in the hours after the initial trauma, as the body's reaction to the damage kills more nerve cells. Researchers are beginning to discover ways to prevent this secondary damage and reduce the eventual harm.
If we are not careful, the deadly attacks on New York and Washington will lead to far worse secondary damage, if the U.S. Congress adopts "preventive measures" that take away the freedom that America stands for.
I'm not talking about searches at airports here. Searches of people or baggage for weapons, as long as they check only for weapons and keep no records about you if you have no weapons, are just an inconvenience; they do not endanger civil liberties. What I am worried about is massive surveillance of all aspects of life: of our phone calls, of our email, and of our physical movements.
These measures are likely to be recommended regardless of whether they would be effective for their stated purpose. An executive of a company developing face recognition software is said to be telling reporters that widespread deployment of face-recognizing computerized cameras would have prevented the attacks. The September 15 New York Times cites a congressman who is advocating this "solution." Given that the human face recognition performed by the check-in agents did not keep the hijackers out, there is no reason to think that computer face recognition would help. But that won't stop the agencies that have always wanted to do more surveillance from pushing this plan now, and many other plans like it. To stop them will require public opposition.
Even more ominously, a proposal to require government back doors in encryption software has already appeared.
Meanwhile, Congress hurried to pass a resolution giving Bush unlimited power to use military force in retaliation for the attacks. Retaliation may be justified, if the perpetrators can be identified and carefully targeted, but Congress has a duty to scrutinize specific measures as they are proposed. Handing the president carte blanche in a moment of anger is exactly the mistake that led the United States into the Vietnam War.
Please let your elected representatives, and your unelected president, know that you don't want your civil liberties to become the terrorists' next victim. Don't wait -- the bills are already being written.
And please remember that the USA is a very "political correct" country. Which requires form public figures certain behaviour.
Many free software/open source supporters including myself applauded when SCO get 400 millions from Microsoft settlement, after suing them over Dr DOS that it acquired specifically this purpose. They never thought that those litigation skills are transferable. And in March 2003, IBM was sued for $1 billion by The SCO Group, of Lindon, Utah, which claims IBM has put SCO's Unix code into Linux, a GPLed software. In a move reminding us about A&T suit against BSD, SCO also has sent letters to 1,500 large companies warning them that if they are using Linux, they may face legal problems.
As with the 1996 Dr DOS lawsuit against Microsoft, in the current lawsuit over Unix and Linux aims to take a nearly dead chunk of old code, bought for a song, and parlay it into a windfall. Not only is the strategy the same -- so are some of the players. Paradoxically but as we will see in the next chapter A&T lawsuit was one of the fathers of Linux success. Like in case of A&T lawsuit the main question is the the resolution of the litigation by itself, but the size of collateral damage. The first journalist who understood this was Daniel Lyons from Forbes. On July 18, 2003 in his paper What SCO Wants, SCO Gets he wrote:
...SCO may not be very good at making a profit by selling software. (Last year the company lost $24.9 million on sales of $64.2 million.) But it is very good at getting what it wants from other companies. And it has a tight circle of friends.
In 1996, SCO's predecessor company, Caldera, bought the rights to a decrepit version of the DOS operating system and used it to sue Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ), eventually shaking a settlement out of the Redmond, Wash., software giant. In 1997, Darl McBride, now SCO's chief executive, sued his then employer, IKON Office Solutions (nyse: IKN - news - people ), and won a settlement that he says was worth multiple millions. (IKON acknowledges the settlement but disputes the amount.)
McBride joined Caldera as chief executive in June 2002. Two months later he changed the company's name to The SCO Group, based on the name of an ailing Unix product that Caldera had purchased in 2001 from its creator, The Santa Cruz Operation, of Santa Cruz, Calif. The Santa Cruz Operation now calls itself Tarantella (nasdaq: TTLDC - news - people ).
SCO is basically owned and run by The Canopy Group, a Utah firm with investments in dozens of companies. Canopy's chief executive, Ralph J. Yarro III, is chairman of SCO's board of directors and engineered the suit against Microsoft in 1996. Darcy Mott, Canopy's chief financial officer, is another SCO director, along with Thomas Raimondi, chief executive of a Canopy company called MTI Technology (nasdaq: MTIC - news - people ). In this cozy company, SCO even leases its office space from Canopy--a fact disclosed in Securities and Exchange Commission filings, along with the fact that SCO's chief financial officer, Robert Bench, has a side job as a partner in a Utah consulting firm that last year billed SCO for $71,200.
Canopy companies sometimes share more than a common parent. They form joint ventures and buy and sell one another's stock. Last November SCO formed a joint venture called Volution with Center 7, a Canopy company. In 2000, Caldera sold off part of its business to EBIZ Enterprises (otc: EBIZQ - news - people ), a Texas company in which Canopy holds a controlling interest and whose board boasts three Canopy execs, including Mott, according to SEC filings. Previously, Caldera bought shares in two other Canopy companies, Troll Tech and Lineo, and later wrote off the Troll Tech investment but sold the Lineo shares at a profit, according to SEC filings. In 1999, Caldera sold its own shares to MTI, then bought those shares back last year, according to SEC filings.
What's the point of all this horse trading? McBride says he has no idea, since those deals happened before he joined Caldera. "I wasn't involved in those transactions," he says.
Yarro says the investments were made based on each company's belief in doing what's best for itself. "There's no hidden agenda," he says.
Yarro won't apologize for the IBM lawsuit. "I'm not a guy who goes away quietly in the night. I fight," he says. "If you take something from me, if you break a promise, I'm going to come after you."
And he doesn't give up. In 2001, Canopy and Center 7 sued software giant Computer Associates (nyse: CA - news - people ) in a squabble over a business partnership that turned sour. Two years later the litigation continues.
The IBM lawsuit could bring a windfall to Canopy, which owns 46% of SCO. Another beneficiary could be John Wall, chief executive of Vista.com, a Redmond, Wash., company that last August struck a licensing arrangement with SCO. Wall got 800,000 shares of SCO stock in the deal and still holds 600,000, making him SCO's biggest individual shareholder after Canopy. Those shares, which were worth about $1 each when Wall made the deal, now trade above $10.
One team that won't benefit is the folks at Tarantella, the company that sold its Unix code to Caldera in May 2001. After the deal, Tarantella still held 3.6 million shares of Caldera. But last year Caldera bought back all of them, paying 95 cents apiece for most. All told, Tarantella was paid a mere $36 million for its Unix code--the same code that Yarro and McBride now hope could generate $1 billion from IBM.
These guys in Utah are no dummies. The crunchies in the Linux community should be paying more attention.
RMS gave a pretty revealing interview on the topic, conveniently forgetting the amount of BSD code in GNU/Linux and his crusade to change BSD license so that the code can be used in GPLed products (elimination of the author's acknowledgment clause):
What do you think of the SCO lawsuit?
Stallman: The first thing to realize is that SCO was completely confused by the misnomer I've been talking to you about, because if you read their complaint, it says 'Linux' all the time. And there is no single thing which fits even all their background statements that they make about 'Linux.' Some of them fit the kernel. Some of them fit the whole system. But you can't make all of them fit either the kernel or the whole system. So it's not even a coherent position.
Is that going to hurt SCO, do you think, down the road?
Stallman: I don't know. I would be glad if it does, but I really have no idea what the courts are going to do. Another point to notice is that the GNU/Linux system was going quite strong before IBM started making any substantial contribution. So we're talking about marginal parts of the system. Whatever the outcome of the court case may be, it won't affect the system overall.
You've probably read the complaint.
Stallman: I haven't read all of it. I've seen some parts of it, enough to see how completely confused they are.
The complaint, in many instances, expresses skepticism that free-software developers could have, without help, created a system as powerful as the present-day GNU/Linux. For example, the complaint describes Unix as a 'luxury car' and says GNU/Linux was a 'bicycle' until IBM came along, which I guess would have been about 2000.
Stallman: It's [bull]. People found GNU/Linux to be a fine replacement for Unix six years ago, even somewhat longer. It was reliable. It was solid. It compiled better code.
I know the GNU Project has for many years had guidelines in place stating that developers shouldn't look at the Unix source code. Do you feel confident that those guidelines have been followed?
Stallman: Mostly. You can never be absolutely certain -- and this is true whether you're writing free software or non-free software. If you've hired people, how do you know whether your staff copied something they weren't supposed to copy? You can't just look at it and tell. So you tell them not to do it.
And you established this policy when?
Stallman: In the '80s, based on talking with a lawyer about what we should do. Now, I don't think it would be wrong to copy source code without authorization, but we wanted to make a system that people could use without fear of lawsuits. So, therefore, we adopted the policy [that] we're going to write it all ourselves -- we being, of course, whoever joins the project.
Given what you said a moment ago, that it's impossible to know whether the rules were always followed, should users of GNU/Linux be concerned?
Stallman: People using any software should be concerned, I suppose, because it's a possibility with any software. You can never rule this out with absolute certainty. But, you know, absolute certainty is more than you can ever have in the physical universe.
Do you think this lawsuit is likely to spur other challenges to GNU/Linux?
Stallman: No. First of all, it's a mistake to think of this as a challenge to GNU/Linux. Because it probably concerns specific code in specific programs, and we could live without all of them. So it doesn't really affect whether we can go on using the system.
What if IBM made some contribution that enhanced a key part of the system?
Stallman: To enhance a key part of the system doesn't mean that the enhancement is necessary.
In any case, I see no reason to doubt that IBM wrote these things itself. Because IBM is perfectly capable of developing powerful software. This is an absurdity in this complaint, the assumption that no one in the world could possibly make something that is the equal of what was in Unix. I mean, I don't know about those areas [that SCO is concerned with], but I've done things that were better than what was in Unix. You know, GCC is tremendously better than the Unix C compiler and C++ compiler. And I did that myself, to the point where it was better. So, they're asking you to assume that it is inconceivable that anyone could possibly have done such a job independently of them, which is ridiculous.
Given that SCO hired someone like David Boies, who can't be a cheap attorney
Stallman: Who knows? That doesn't prove that they've got a case.
The most interesting side of this situation is that paradoxically SCO can be considered as FSF competitor: they are going after the main source of income for FSF, the ability of using a PR hammer for extracting some "donations". Here is a pretty reveling quote: " People using any software should be concerned, I suppose, because it's a possibility with any software. You can never rule this out with absolute certainty. But, you know, absolute certainty is more than you can ever have in the physical universe."
It's very interesting that Stallman envisioned the role of FSF of "Central GPLed software copyright holder" long ago but the emergence of Linux undermined and almost completely destroyed this idea. Still the fact that the a lot of open source products are licensed under GPL means that (if copyrights are assigned to FSF) some money can be extracted from naive commercial companies who want to "sleep with the enemy". RMS many times successfully demonstrated that GPL it can be successfully used against the companies as a sort PR hammer.
And most companies just preferred to pay off, not to go to court, because it's clear that even if one prevails in the court of law the PR damage alone can be so substantial and that would be a "Pyrrhic victory". Given the fuzzy nature of GPL any company of substantial size can probably easily counter sue back FSF and win the damages, that you can do nothing to undo PR damage inflicted by numerous zealots of a young fledging religion ;-)
That means that the spread of Linux or any other GPL-based product is not without dangers for those naive commercial companies that try to adopt it instead of, say, BSD-licensed products and do not have the legal muscle of IBM or "immunity granted by the grand role played" like in case of Red Hat. The latter is an interesting example of selectiveness of Stallman in enforcing GPL, anyway.
The only paper that touches this interesting topic was Linux's Hit Men published in Forbes.com" But the Free Software Foundation doesn't want royalties--it wants you to burn down your house, or at the very least share it with cloners.". In reality FSF is an interested party (just to help to pay the salary of Free Software Foundation Executive Director Bradley Kuhn :-) But only if stakes are not too high and the risk of counterattack is not too great due to the size of the company in question or the importance of the issue to the company (imagine Cisco countersuing FSF for damages with all their legal department plus some well-known law firm working on the lawsuit because of the vital importance of the outcome for the company). Here is a relevant quote:
For months, in secret, the Free Software Foundation, a Boston-based group that controls the licensing process for Linux and other "free" programs, has been making threats to Cisco Systems (nasdaq: CSCO - news - people ) and Broadcom (nasdaq: BRCM - news - people ) over a networking router that runs the Linux operating system.
The router is made by Linksys, a company Cisco acquired in June. It lets you hook computers together on a wireless Wi-Fi network, employing a high-speed standard called 802.11g. Aimed at home users, the $129 device has been a smash hit, selling 400,000 units in the first quarter of this year alone.
But now there's a problem. The Linux software in the router is distributed under the GNU General Public License (GPL), which the Free Software Foundation created in 1991.
Under the license, if you distribute GPL software in a product, you must also distribute the software's source code. And not just the GPL code, but also the code for any "derivative works" you've created--even if publishing that code means anyone can now make a knockoff of your product.
Not great news if you're Cisco, which paid $500 million for Linksys. In Cisco's case, it's even trickier, because the disputed code resides on chips that Linksys buys from Broadcom. So now Cisco is caught between the Free Software Foundation and one of its big suppliers.
For several months, officials from the Free Software Foundation have been quietly pushing Cisco and Broadcom for a resolution. According to Free Software Foundation Executive Director Bradley Kuhn, the foundation is demanding that Cisco and Broadcom either a) rip out all the Linux code in the router and use some other operating system, or b) make their code available to the entire world.
And if they balk? Kuhn raises the threat of legal action. "We defend the rights protected by the GPL license," he says. "We have legal teeth, so if someone does not share and share alike, we can make them obey the rules."
The legal teeth belong to Eben Moglen, a Columbia Law School professor who acts as pro bono counsel for the foundation. Moglen says his chats with Cisco have been friendly, and he believes the matter will be settled without a court fight. Cisco and Broadcom wouldn't comment.
The dispute, which was leaked to an Internet message board, offers a rare peek into the dark side of the free software movement--a view that contrasts with the movement's usual public image of happy software proles linking arms and singing the "Internationale" while freely sharing the fruits of their code-writing labor.
In fact, the Free Software Foundation runs a lot of these "enforcement actions." There are 30 to 40 going on right now, and there were 50 last year, Kuhn says. There have been hundreds since 1991, when the current version of the GPL was published, he says. Tracking down bad guys has become such a big operation that the Free Software Foundation has created a so-called Compliance Lab to snoop out violators and bust them.
Who pays for this? The 12-employee Free Software Foundation has limited resources. So it seeks donations. And sometimes it collects money from companies it has busted.
Last year, the foundation alleged that OpenTV, a San Francisco company that ships a set-top box containing Linux, was violating the GPL. The drama took months to resolve and ended with OpenTV writing a check for $65,000 to the Free Software Foundation. "They paid us a very substantial payment for our time and trouble," Moglen says.
Sometimes it's the other way around--the foundation gets paid by private companies for whom it acts as a sort of hired enforcer. Last year a Swedish software company called mySQL asked for help resolving a dispute with NuSphere, a subsidiary of Progress Software (nasdaq: PRGS - news - people ). The companies had made a deal to work on software that would include mySQL's GPL-licensed database program. A dispute arose over contract issues, and also over the GPL, which mySQL claimed NuSphere had violated. In the end, Progress resolved the matter by walking away from the partnership.
Afterward, mySQL made a $25,000 donation to the Free Software Foundation. Was this payback? "I won't say that," says Marten Mickos, chief executive of mySQL. "But of course, why would we give them money if not as a sign of gratitude?"
The mySQL versus NuSphere squabble demonstrates another risk: These disputes might scare companies away from using open source software. Joseph Alsop, chief executive of Progress, reckons the fiasco with mySQL cost his company $10 million in lost development and marketing work. Now he says he is cautious about working with GPL software. Instead, Progress uses an open source database program distributed under the less onerous Berkeley Software Distribution license.
In some ways, these Free Software Foundation "enforcement actions" can be more dangerous than a typical copyright spat, because usually copyright holders seek money--say, royalties on the product that infringing companies are selling. But the Free Software Foundation doesn't want royalties--it wants you to burn down your house, or at the very least share it with cloners.
Or maybe, as some suggest, the foundation wants GPL-covered code to creep into commercial products so it can use GPL to force open those products. Kuhn says that's nuts--"pure propaganda rhetoric." But he concedes that his foundation hates the way companies like Oracle (nasdaq: ORCL - news - people ) and Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ) generate billions of dollars by selling software licenses. "We'd like people to stop selling proprietary software. It's bad for the world," Kuhn says.
So far, none of the Free Software Foundation's targets have decided it is bad for the world and gone to court. This despite the fact that the foundation has $750,000 in the bank and one lawyer who works for free, part time, when he's not teaching classes at Columbia University.
Will Cisco and Broadcom be the first? Probably they'll decide, like everyone else, that it's cheaper to settle than to fight.
The net result of the move might be some money for the FSF and related immunization of Cisco from any significant interest in GPLed software... Here is a pretty interesting comment on the Linux Today story about the Forbes' paper:
Byron - Subject: Question of hypocrisy not "rights" ( Oct 14, 2003, 16:30:15 )
It's not that FSF can't or shouldn't protect the GPL. Rather, it's the seeming conflict between the \"koomayah\" image RMS and Co. put out and the down and dirty enforcing of the GPL.
Does the FSF have the right to protect rights based on the GPL? Sure.
Does it hurt companies that try to use GPL'd software? You bet, in the case of Progress to the tune of 10 million dollars.
So don't get bent out of shame when a business focused publication points out the pitfalls in dealing with the GPL. That's their job. And there ARE pitfalls for businesses.
Further, as Open Source Software becomes more prevalent these pitfalls will only become more apparent. I think you'll seem many businesses following Progress's lead and implementing solutions based on the BSD license. While I'm all for Free Software, when fresh water and salt water meet it takes a while to mix and the result is never the pure form of either.
Glenn Alexander - Subject: FSF are freeloaders!!! ( Oct 15, 2003, 04:46:50 ) The big business world spent all that time and soft-money on getting copyright ramped up into this huge bludgeon to beat their customers around with, then the FSF comes along with their GPL and uses the bludgeon back. WITHOUT PAYING OFF ANY POLITICIANS!
It just IS NOT FAIR!!!
scharkalvin - Subject: Re: Re: Forbes feedback ( Oct 15, 2003, 12:37:09 ) Linux, and only Linux, has something of an exception to the GPL regarding dynamically linked code, by way of modules. (Linux should, probably, have been LGPL'ed).
Actually the binary kernel module exception is not well understood. If you distribute linux in binary form with a binary kernel module you MUST distribute the code for that module since your module is using kernel headers for it's interface.
If your binary code is totally in user space you don't have this problem. Companies that supply binary kernel drivers for their own hardware (but don't distribute any linux code) sort-of get away with this since they aren't forcing anybody to use their module. (Nivida video cards for example). In their case complaining about the binary kernel modules would be like looking a gift horse in the mouth.
In Linksys' case however they are selling a closed black box and are distributing a modified linux kernel in binary form. There is NO binary kernel module exception for them.
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