Restricted to be Free?

Craig A. Adams, co-leader of the Ubuntu ZA LoCoTeam, wrote an insightful piece on the Principles of Free Software a while back which I have been meaning to comment on.

It made me think that, in order to guarantee freedom, we place restrictions. It sounds ironic at first: Wikipedia defines Freedom as “the ability to act without restraint”.

But the freedom in software and intellectual property isn’t arbitrary and it needs to be protected. In my view, the GPL is often misunderstood as too restrictive. But what if the BSD licence was the best we had?  Where would “Open Source” be today without Free Software?

A lot less Free.

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9 Responses to “Restricted to be Free?”


  1. 1 Nick Gee May 24, 2007 at 6:19 am

    FSF has obviously adopted a negative view of freedom, that is “freedom fro co-ercion”; what we often forget is positive freedom “freedom to” though not without its difficulties, the freedom of proprietary software in allowing you to do a lot of things you can’t with free software shouldn’t be discounted!

  2. 2 Neil Blakey-Milner May 24, 2007 at 6:51 am

    You mention your copyleft stuff, and I can mention the copycenter (or BSD-like) stuff, and I imagine we’re going to find that there’s a lot of stuff that would be missed if either were not there.

    You’ll say “but it’d still be around if it were copyleft”, and I’ll say “but it’d still be around if it were not”.

    You’ll say “those non-copyleft contributions aren’t so large that they couldn’t be rewrittern as copyleft if they weren’t around – and, in fact, the only reason people don’t rewrite them is because they’re already around”. And I’ll say the same thing about the copyleft contributions easily being rewritten as non-copyleft.

    It seems we mostly have freedom to have meaningless fights about what would have been the best way to do stuff that’s already been done. It seems that the fight’s already over – with programming languages and libraries and infrastructure stuff primarily being BSD or soft-copyleft (like LGPL) licensed, and applications generally being copyleft.

  3. 3 Adriano May 24, 2007 at 7:42 am

    Stallman said once that “your freedom to throw your fist ends at the tip of my nose”. In Spanish and other languages we have “libertinaje” to define a situation of doing anything you please, even harming others in the process. Real freedom in a society has some limits, paradoxically, or it will not work (certainly, we could live alone and not communicate, we’d be much freer then, but it’d be quite lonely and boring).

    Furthermore, the GPL “wants” the freedom _of the code_, so it places restrictions on the freedom _of the distributors_. You appear to be conflating both entities into one, and so the paradox you speak of appears.

  4. 4 Mike May 24, 2007 at 9:50 am

    “It made me think that, in order to guarantee freedom, we place restrictions.”

    In what way does the GPL “restrict” or “restrain” you? You can use the code however you want, you can publish it, you can link it, you can distribute it, you can sell it, you can modify it, etc.

    “the freedom of proprietary software in allowing you to do a lot of things you can’t with free software”

    Like what? Name anything you can do with, say, Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat, Apple OS X, that you can’t do with GPL’ed software.

  5. 5 Weeber May 24, 2007 at 12:52 pm

    The BSD license is too free but if the GPL what do we have? With every version of the Linux kernel BSDed every company could just pick it up and close it and sell it. Even adding some goodies that the “Libre/Free/Open” wouldn’t have ever.

    There would not be advantage against the closed source…

  6. 6 drobu May 24, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    Come on. That is justifying something bad (restricting) for greater good (freedom). But that freedom to whom? Smaller part of people, in every sense. It’s quite elitistic. That’s what GPL is actually, it has so many fanboys because it encourages this silly “we are better than others” thing and give the virtual penis +1 bonus size.

    That’s like justifying torturing people at gitmo (sorry, this justis the best example of our time) and killing 150 000 iraqis (that’s not accurate figure but in the same ballpark) to redeem 3000 dead at some silly sky scraper. It’s flawed. GPL is the most flawed monster I have ever seen on software.

    It takes away so much freedom that its baffling. It also stiffles the will to invest, which is important for innovation as well. The only “positive” thing about GPL is that it earns fanboys quite easily. It has got on the top a lot appealing despite of the sour bottom. Most of these open source zealots have never studies economics, law, strategic leadership, innovation and knowledge management, and actually READ THE LICENSE. If they would have they wouldn’t been fanboys, the license can be quite well described as the Fascist license.

  7. 7 Trejkaz May 25, 2007 at 5:49 am

    Does this last comment qualify under Godwin’s Law or does someone actually have to say the word Nazi?

  8. 8 Adriano May 25, 2007 at 12:13 pm

    Godwin’s needs to be updated for this century, but yes, I agree. Any semblance of reasonable discussion was lost in that post.

  9. 9 freakcode October 30, 2007 at 12:41 am

    If there would be with only BSD?

    Think on a Microsoft and Apple world.

    Ugh!


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