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ESR Writes About O'Reilly and FSF Differences 499

dopplex writes: "Over here at Linux Today, Eric S. Raymond has written an amusing piece in which A.) He analyzes the way in which we use the word freedom, B.) Examines the point of view of both O'Reilly and the FSF on 'freedom' and C.) Coins the term 'flerbage,' which I hereby suggest be put into immediate use, just because it's a really cool word." It's cheesy but it is a good way for people to understand the difference between Open Source and Free Software. (Oh, and I figured I'd just mention that I'll never use that F word since I think its stupid)
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ESR Writes About O'Reilly and FSF Differences

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  • by NewbieSpaz ( 172080 ) <nofx_punkguy@li n u x m> on Sunday August 19, 2001 @01:02PM (#2194004) Homepage
    Shouldn't that be "GNU/LINUX Today"...?

    • Re:Linux Today... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Uruk ( 4907 )
      Yes, it should be.

      I think lots of slashdotters are really keen on making fun of this, particularly when they think there are a few quick karma points to grab, but not many have read it straight from the source.

      Rather than listening to a bunch of slashdotters make fun of things, why not read what the FSF has to say about it []. Far from being crazy, the argument for GNU/Linux sounds pretty damn good to me. People scream about not getting credit for their code, they scream about free software or "open-source" not getting recognition for the fact that it acts as the internet infrastructure, but they don't particularly feel like giving credit to the foundation of their own system. And we're not talking about ticker tape parades - we're talking about 3 letters and a slash.

      For those who want to call it Linux, I'd just suggest this: try running your favorite distro after subtracting all of the GNU system. Have fun.

      • Re:Linux Today... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Sunday August 19, 2001 @01:57PM (#2194162)
        For those who want to call it Linux, I'd just suggest this: try running your favorite distro after subtracting all of the GNU system. Have fun.

        Try running your favorite distro after subtracting all of the NON-GNU software (Apache, Perl, Python, vim, etc..). Not much fun either; yet none of those developers are clamoring to get their names prefixed to the system.

        • I do. I have no need for Apache, Perl, Python, vim, etc. They're all optional utilities, but not essential to booting a GNU/Linux system. The GNU part is essential though - my system would be completely unusable without glibc, bash, and gcc.
          • Re:Linux Today... (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Arandir ( 19206 )
            my system would be completely unusable without glibc, bash, and gcc.

            What a strange system you must have!

            Bash is a shell that can be trivially replaced by csh, tcsh, ksh, zsh or even good old sh.

            gcc is merely a compiler. It is not necessary for the execution of any program. It may be useful for you, but the average user of LiGnuXOS can forego the use of gcc indefinitely. As for myself, I have spent three productive days on my system without once using gcc. Oh, and all of the BSD systems also use gcc. Are you advocating that they change their names to "GNU/FreeBSD", "GNU/OpenBSD", "GNU/NetBSD" and "GNU/Mac OSX"?

            glibc is pretty much essential without going through a ton of work putting libc back into Linux. But I have never yet heard a valid argument that operating systems must be named after their standard C library. That's ridiculous. "Slackware requires glibc, so it must be called 'GNU/Slackware'". Bullshit.

            As for unusable systems, mine would be unusable without ext2fs or reiserfs, neither of which are from GNU. It would be unusable without init, and would not boot without lilo or any of those dozens of scripts under /etc/rc.d.
        • From this page:

          However, some other Open Source compatible licenses are considered too restrictive for XFree86 use. They include the GNU Public License and the Perl Artistic License.

          Part of the motivation for our licensing choice was to carry on the original MIT X11 tradition of allowing the code to be used as widely as possible, including in both free and commercial products.
      • Try running your favorite distro after remove all of the non-GNU software (I'll let you keep the non-GNU kernel). It can't be done.

        In fact, I don't think it's possible to create a working system using ONLY the Linux kernel and software written by or donated to the FSF.
      • Re:Linux Today... (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Frodo ( 1221 )
        There are a lot of people and groups that contributed to free software and Linux. Some of them contribute very vital parts of it. But only GNU claims to add their title in the OS name. Can't it be due to the frustration from unability to bring their own OS project to some decent result?
      • Re:Linux Today... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by p3d0 ( 42270 )
        Far from being crazy, the argument for GNU/Linux sounds pretty damn good to me.

        I agree too. However, the main reason nobody calls it GNU is because GNU is such a retarded name. First, they pick a word with the almost unique property that it starts with a silent G; a word so obscure that no average person really knows what it is. And then they go that one extra uber-geek step and insist that you pronounce the "G":

        To avoid horrible confusion, please pronounce the `G' in the word `GNU' when it is the name of this project.-- The GNU Manifesto []
        I have a better idea: to avoid horrible confusion, pick a better name.

        "Linux" isn't all that much better, since it's also not pronounced as it's written in English [], but there's a key factor that makes the name more acceptable: is has an "X" in it. That makes it instantly cool in the computer world.

  • ...I disagree that open source developers should stop talking about freedom. We all accept that even though flerbage sounds nice, it will not go into the mainstream as a term. "Open source," as a term, is *far* more vague than "free software." Although the OSI defines Open Source in such a way that it's much like free software, the term itself is easy to use to describe entirely limited proprietary software where you happen to get to see the source code.

    Although ESR makes valid points about the FSF perhaps going overboard in wanting to outlaw the use of proprietary software licenses, it is important to stress that freedom of use for the users is in fact what distinguishes non-proprietary software from proprietary software. For that reason, I agree with Bruce Perens that we need to keep talking about freedom-- even if we don't all agree 100% about exactly what it means.


    • "Open source," as a term, is *far* more vague than "free software."

      Yes it is, but in a good way. It's often better to have a term that has no meaning, but encourages someone to find out what it means, than a term that is almost always going to be misunderstood and no one has any incentive to correct themselves.

      There's no getting around the fact that 95% of people hearing "free software" are not going to think of freedom.

    • The problem is that people aren't interested in providing freedom for other people. They're much more interested in helping themselves. So OSI pitches the freedom philosophy because of its benefits to *them*. But we're pitching freedom, make no mistake about it. Or perhaps I should say "flerbage"?
    • "Open source," as a term, is *far* more vague than "free software."

      It is only more vague because you have had the FSF definition of "free software" drummed into you. To the average person not graduated from the RMS school of GNUspeak, the opposite is true.

      "Open Source" means software whose source code is open. Yes it's vague. Is the source code open for inspection? Does it follow open standards? Who knows? But the lay assumption to its meaning is much more accurate than the lay assumption as the the meaning of "Free Software". Of course software can't have liberty, it's not a person! So it MUST mean the software is free of monetary cost.

      I've got a friend that has a hobby of "pirating" software. He keeps asking me if I want a copy of Windows 2000 or Microsoft Office or Baldur's Gate. When I tell him no, I don't want them, he says "Why not, they are free! Don't you want free software?"

      Yes, other languages may have two words for the one English "free". But those two words still have to cover two dozen definitions. And "Free Software" and "Open Source Software" are both *English* terms.
  • Flerbage (Score:2, Funny)

    by OO7david ( 159677 )
    ...Coins the term 'flerbage,' which I hereby suggest be put into immediate use, just because it's a really cool word.

    I think the author did that nicely himself; flerbage count in the article: fourteen.

  • Excellent (Score:5, Insightful)

    He has neatly summarized my problem with Stallman, the FSF and the GPL. The big problem with Stallman is that he believes that users should have power over programmers, which I find absurd. The programmers are the creator of the work, and thus should have the "freedom" (there's that word again) to choose how their work is used.

    It seems like the height of tyranny for an ungrateful rabble of users to in essence say, "Thanks for creating this product that we find useful. However, that's not damn good enough. It's not enough for us to have the freedom whether to use your product or not, you should be required to develop your software according to OUR requirements."

    I hate to borrow from Libertarian philosophy, but a right is not a right if you require coercion of another person.

    I also look forward to hearing Stallman's response to whether they would be in favor of laws enforcing software "freedom" GPL-style.

    • He has neatly summarized my problem with Stallman, the FSF and the GPL.

      ...err, I can see where he's identified some objections to Stallman and the FSF. But where did he summarize anything that could be seen as an objection to the GPL?


    • If you are developing software for general distribution, wouldn't you accept suggestions for improvement? I think it is perticularly libertarian to view a suggestion as a coersion.

      Now, if you wrote some code, and I thought I could use it somehow else, we'll I'd like to see it changed. I might do it if the source were available and I could leave you alone... but if the source is closed (under NDA, shielded by the DMCA), then I have no recourse but to ask you to make the changes for me.

      It just smacks as selfish that you'd write some reasonable code for public use and then keep the source all to yourself, not even letting me modify it for my purposes for no other reason that "gee that's coersion, somehow."
    • Re:Excellent (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Uruk ( 4907 ) on Sunday August 19, 2001 @01:36PM (#2194097)
      It seems like the height of tyranny for an ungrateful rabble of users to in essence say, "Thanks for creating this product that we find useful. However, that's not damn good enough

      The fundamental divide I think is that the FSF doesn't think software should have owners. It sounds like you're getting pissed at users acting that way because the developer should own and control the software - or as you put it "the freedom to choose how their work is used".

      GNU believes that programs are generally useful technical information. Most people think that patenting math formulas is bullshit. I don't really see much of a difference, since in both cases they're generally useful technical information.

      I hate to borrow from Libertarian philosophy, but a right is not a right if you require coercion of another person

      I agree - but put a different spin on it. Who are you to say that I cannot cooperate with my neighbor by sharing generally useful technical information with them? Who are you to throw me in jail because I copied something I bought to a CD? Who are you to call me a 'pirate' (and equate me with someone who robs, murders and rapes ships) when I'm helping my friends and coworkers out? From my perspective, distributing non-free software is coercion - it's coercing users *not* to help their friends. It's coercing them to avoid using and spreading generally useful technical information in many circumstances.

      Life is all about gathering, spreading, and exploiting technically useful information. If you disagree with me, disagree with me that computer programs are technically useful information. But without the ability to use, spread, and gather good technically useful information, we're never going to evolve and get off of this planet.

      • Re:Excellent (Score:4, Informative)

        by rgmoore ( 133276 ) <> on Sunday August 19, 2001 @02:02PM (#2194176) Homepage
        I agree - but put a different spin on it. Who are you to say that I cannot cooperate with my neighbor by sharing generally useful technical information with them? Who are you to throw me in jail because I copied something I bought to a CD?

        Hear, Hear! This is exactly the point that RMS gets and ESR misses- which is surprising given that ESR is a libertarian. All software licenses are inherently coercive; they use the power of the State through the means of copyright to restrict the rights of the user. The difference between a Free Software license and a proprietary license is that a Free Software license uses that power for the benefit of all (by restricting obnoxious behavior) while a proprietary license uses it for the sole benefit of the writer (by restricting socially beneficial uses like sharing). And sadly, the mere existence of Free Software does not defang the power of proprietary licenses. Big software houses like Microsoft can still engage in serious legal harrassment of just about any computer using business even if they don't actually use any Microsoft software.

      • If you disagree with me, disagree with me that computer programs are technically useful information.

        Hi, I'd like to disagree with you. I'm going to make an analogy into meat-space, if that scares anyone...well...sorry. So, here we go.

        You bought a hammer. Hammers are Technically Useful. You can hit things with hammers. You have the right to let your friend borrow your hammer. Both of you really can't use it at the same time. Them the brakes. If you do want to use it at the same time, buy another hammer.

        You figured out by looking at your hammer how to make hammers. Knowing how to make hammers is Technically Useful Information. You can now make all the hammers you want, with the right materials. You can even make one for your friend. Good for you.

        Now let's say you bought Really Cool Program, a propriatary arrangement of numbers. You can use it. Most likly, you can't (legally) give it to your friend *and* keep it yourself. Sorry. You have yourself a Technically Useful tool (a hammer).

        After using Really Cool Program for a while, you figured out how it works. You know have the Technically Useful Information required to make Really Cool Programs.

        My point? Information is something that you can put in your brain. Algorithms and the like, that's information. I know I'd have a very difficult time memorizing the compiled code of just about any program. I'd be very hard streached to call that information. The algorithms and other ideas behind the compiled code, sure, that's something that's easilly handled.

        Upshot: Propriatary code is peachy, just realize that people are going to figure out how it works and might just make their own.
        • Re:Excellent (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Tom7 ( 102298 )

          This is a terrible analogy.

          You are using a classic device of flawed logic (among others) referred to as "What is, ought to be."

          This comes in the statement, "Most likly [sic], you can't (legally) give it to your friend *and* keep it yourself."

          Just because the *current* law says that it is not legal to do this, doesn't mean that it's a *good* law. In fact, since we're debating that very law, this is quite inappropriate indeed!

          This is the fundamental difference between "information" and your "meat-space". The fact that we can copy information without destroying the original warrants a much different approach to our idea of 'ownership'.

    • I hate to borrow from Libertarian philosophy, but a right is not a right if you require coercion of another person.

      Copyright is nothing but a government granted monopoly. Wake up! If the government does not coerce people *not* to copy your stuff, then copyright doesn't exist.

      Libertarianism requires government non-interference into the marketplace. Copyright is a direct intervention into the marketplace. Despite the fact that its intentions are good, it does not work, and it causes a whole heap of coercion along the way.

      Property rights make some sense when they are attached to items that are scarce. Information, however, is not naturally scarce (although the ability to create it may be). Would libertarian ethics allow other sorts of interventions into the marketplace to guarantee innovation? For instance, what if it was found that better music would be created if only people with masters degrees in composition (or licensed students) were allowed to create music. Think of how much crappy music wouldn't get made if you needed 6 years of school and a license before you could strum an A chord! Is this a legitimate type of coercion? Think!


      • by Jerf ( 17166 ) on Sunday August 19, 2001 @03:41PM (#2194504) Journal
        'Information, however, is not naturally scarce (although the ability to create it may be).'

        I finally figured out why that statement has bothered me for so long. It's this: "Information" in the abstract is not scarce. But guess what? "Physical goods" in the abstract are also not scarce!

        Useful information, information you want, in other words, "information" in the concrete, is scarce and will remain so for the forseeable future. In some isolated catagories, there may be a glut of "information" (like mail clients), but in the concrete, there does not exist so much "music I like" in the world that it can be said to be a commodity. Unless all you are interested in is stuff in the past, your current desires will always not have enough information to be met.

        Water isn't scarce in many places. There's as much of it as you could possibly want. But unless all you want is water, you should anticipate needing to pay somebody for your food, clothing, and shelter. Isolated examples of non-scarcity do not prove the general case of non-scarcity.

        You might say I'm missing the point, because once information is created, it can be infinitely copied. And I say in return that you (the reader) would be missing the point. In the old economy, the cost of distribution may have been the primary constraining factor, but the cost of production is still non-zero. The digital economy may make the cost of production the defining factor, but it does little to affect that cost. (Useful information, virtually by definition, requires significant effort to create. If it did not, you would not come to me for the information, you'd simply (re-)create it yourself.)

        Even if the physical goods could be distributed for free, you'd still need to pay for production and creation. Even if the costs of production could be reduced to zero, you'd still need to pay for creation... unless everything you wanted was already designed, a situation not likely to happen for a very long time.

        I think when you see arguments like "information isn't a scarce resource", you're seeing a confounding of cost of distribution vs. cost of production. The reality is, information is still costly to produce and you can't just wave your hands around and wish it away. While there is historical proof that some software can be developed in the Open Source manner, some catagories of software don't fare so well. Nor is all "information" like software (a massive oversimplification), and for those categories, and for those categories, there is little to no evidence that "novels" or "blueprints" are in a "scarcity-free" world.

        In the abstract, copyright recognizes this scarcity by granting the author certain limited rights. In the concrete, most of the problem lies in the absurd nature of those rights. I stand against the DMCA, I stand against the absurdly long copyright terms holders have nowadays, but in the abstract, copyright still works. In fact, the guiding principles of copyright are standing amazingly well against the "onslaught" of technology, even if many of the details aren't faring so well.

        Until such time as you can effectively wave a magic wand (i.e., a super-human intelligence) and recieve the answer to any question you can ask ("How can I cure my hippocampus cancer without removing large chunks of my brain and without killing me with an allergic reaction, since I'm allergic to the dyes used in scanning technologies?" That's information that's decidedly scarce and isn't going to not be anytime soon!), information will continue to not be free, and economic models and ethical arguments predicated on those models will continue to not be grounded in reality, with all that that implies.

        That said, one might make the case that software is a special case. However, I submit that if that were true, it's one of those things that would be obvious to all concerned. Personally, when I write software which didn't exist before, I find the effort to be non-zero, and one way or another, society needs to support my ability to do that, or I won't do it any more. As it turns out, I'm not getting paid directly. What that effectively boils down to is that I'm 'paying myself' to do it (If I didn't get money from some source, I would not write this software), but that still doesn't mean the effort was zero, and arguments that assume zero monetary cost -> zero effort -> zero scarcity to create are doomed to inaccuracy and failure. Overall, I'd say software is no more immune to the costs of production then any other kind of information.

        • In the abstract, copyright recognizes this scarcity by granting the author certain limited rights.

          You are correct. I would suggest, however, that the copyright "compromise" is increasingly being tilted in one direction. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing depends on your circumstance.

          Regardless, I would suggest that the increasingly "extreme" view of copyright is what is likely driving the corresponding "extreme" anti-copyright advocates.

      • If the government does not coerce people *not* to copy your stuff, then copyright doesn't exist.

        There is an excellent article by Richard O, Hammer entitled "Intellectual Property Rights Viewed As Contracts". It is a rebuttal to Roderick Long's "The Libertarian Case Against Intellectual Property Rights", which the FSF links to.

        Both were published by in Formulations, but their links online are no longer working (as the Free Nation Foundation has split into two organizations and their web sites are still in flux).

        In this article, Richard argues that a statist system of copyrights is not necessary for a creator to legally protect his works. Everyone should try to find this article, along with related articles by both Hammer and Long.

        A government recognition of a class of property is most certainly not the sole basis for that property. When the government recognizes real estate as property, I gain the benefit of access to the government police and courts to defend my land property with. Should the government cease recognizing real estate, my task of protecting my property will be considerably harder, but it will still be my property. Ditto for intellectual property.

        Of course, the current system of copyrights are flawed. But seeing flaws in copyright laws does not infer that software should not be owned.
        • Arandir's post constitutes a thoughtful response, although I still disagree.

          to wit:

          A government recognition of a class of property is most certainly not the sole basis for that property. When the government recognizes real estate as property, I gain the benefit of access to the government police and courts to defend my land property with. Should the government cease recognizing real estate, my task of protecting my property will be considerably harder, but it will still be my property. Ditto for intellectual property.

          Here, you have claimed that property is more than what you can defend as your own (or with the help of the state), but you gloss over what right allows you to own any property at all. What makes something your property? I argue that property rights serve a societal purpose, that is, to prevent permanent violent conflict over the control of scarce resources. However, since information is not scarce, it is not possible to have a 'moral' right to that property, only a government enforced and illegitimate right to that property.

          Of course, the current system of copyrights are flawed. But seeing flaws in copyright laws does not infer that software should not be owned.

          This is true. The fact that the copyright system does not achieve the goal of fostering innovation does not, by itself, suggest that ideas should not be owned. However, the notion that property is an arbitrary set of rules which prevent permanent conflict over scarce resources suggests that claiming anything non-scarce as "property" is illegitimate. Imagine is someone claimed the air to be their property. Obviously this is ridiculous but by your theory, how do we determine that their right to the air is illegitimate? Once you take the idea of scarcity away from property, there is no limit to the ability of those with control of the most property to coerce those with less.

      • - Bryguy gets it! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Tom7 ( 102298 )

        I am surprised that ESR doesn't even understand the basis of the FSF's argument. The GPL and legal remedies are temporary solutions to a bigger problem, that the government allows people and corporations to "own" information. What the FSF is calling for, in the grand scheme of things, is a RELAXATION of regulations -- allowing users to copy and modify so-called intellectual "property" as they see fit, by removing the idea of a government-enforced ownership of information.
        So, it is clear to me that the FSF is not asking for a law banning proprietary licenses; rather, they are asking that we do away with the idea of 'license' altogether.
    • Re:Excellent (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MrGrendel ( 119863 )
      One of the big problems with ESR's response to Stallman (and yours by extension), is that it is ultimately a strawman. Raymond has ignored an implicit premise to Stallman's argument, which is completely unacceptable on his part since Stallman has written extensively on his opinions of copyright and shouldn't need to restate them again.

      Raymond stated that "Stallman and Kuhn want to be able to make decisions that affect other developers more than themselves. By the definition they themselves have proposed, they want power." But this ignores the fact that Stallman does not believe that copyright should be applicable to software at all (I'm not clear on his opinions of copyright in general). It is true that they wish to remove a right that software developers currently possess, but that is not the same as desiring control over the excercise of that right. In some cases there is no functional distinction between the removal of a right and control over it's excercise, but in this case there is. Here's why: When people talk about rights, they are usually speaking of inalienable rights, or those rights that a person possesses by virtue of being a sentient being. Inalienable rights cannot be removed, they can only be restricted or controlled. Freedom of speech and religion fall into this category. But copyright is not an inalienable right, it is a utilitarian right. It is granted as a means of accomplishing some other societal goal. In the case of the US, this goal is laid out in the constitution as "promoting the arts and sciences."

      Utilitarian rights do not generally have an ethical basis. They can be removed with no ethical impact on those who once held them. This is why copyright is limited (or is supposed to be limited) to a period of time after a work has been published. No one gets the right forever (as would be the case if it were an inalienable right), but only until the copyright expires.

      Now, this is important to Stallman's argument because, in his opinion (I don't necessarily agree with him here), proprietary licenses (a side-effect of copyright) violate users' rights that he considers to be inalienable rights (the right to help yourself and fair-use rights in general). In his view, developers have improperly been granted a utilitarian right that allows them to exert power over others and violate their rights. He wants to remove that utilitarian right, just as plantation owners lost the utilitarian right to own other human beings, because it was recognized that such a right is improper. This is not to say that proprietary licenses damage people on the scale that slavery does.

      So, Stallman is not trying to exert power over developers and make decisions for them. He is simply trying to remove a right (and the power that goes with it) that they should never have been granted in the first place. It's fine for ESR to disagree, but his responses should at least respond to the argument that Stallman actually makes, not the argument ESR wishes Stallman had made. The response could be as simple as stating that the utility of copyrights on software outweigh any damage they do to individual's rights, but at least it would be an honest response that addresses the real issue.

  • I'm not normally on Stallman's side. I think he's a lunatic who wants to give Linux a less catchy name just to get his rocks off.

    But I'm definitely on his side inasmuch as I don't think that there should be an information economy. Or rather, I think that all information of all kinds should be owned by all people -- and that nobody should be able to hide information of any kind for any reason. I know that there are a billion practical pitfalls (some of them very large indeed) for this position which makes it very dangerous, unprofitable, naive, stifling to innovation and any other word you might think of.

    But in my gut, I know that not only does information want to be free -- it must be free, owned by all of the people everwhere, in order for me to feel at ease. Information is just too powerful to be controlled by the few -- and yet under our current system, the more powerful the information, the fewer the people who are likely to have access to it. Somehow I know this is bad. Rational, irrational, I don't care. I don't want flerbage (was that the word?). I don't want freedom for the information makers. I want freedom for all would-be information-users and for those who would be affected by such information. I want freedom for everyone to have and to hold any information made and to use it as they will.

    Yes, yes, I know... But it's a very strong gut feeling that I'll never lose. It's almost what I'd call the sense of info-entitlement. Anyway, I'm putting my "logic cap" back on now that I've had my irrational moment of gut feeling, and I'm putting my flame-retardant suit on as well...
    • It doesn't matter what we do, because we're so transient, and information is infinite. Whatever roadblocks we put in place at this time, the information will be free at a later time and place. What we do now is not eternal.

      I'm not so sure I care whether the tools that make the information are free, so long as the information flows freely. The more information that is out there, the more intelligent and wise citizens of the world will be - I know, we'll always have the ones that choose to be stupid, but that's their free choice. The more intelligent reasoning we have in the world, the less violence we'll have, and once that distraction is out of the way we can generate more information. Everyone will be more productive and better off in the long run, leading humanity to progress and not stall on the things that don't matter.

  • Stallman (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sourcehunter ( 233036 ) on Sunday August 19, 2001 @01:18PM (#2194036) Homepage
    Yet Kuhn and Stallman say they don't like this world. It appears that they would prefer a world in which people who write software cannot choose the proprietary licenses that Kuhn and Stallman dislike.

    "Stallman" is starting to sound a little too much like "Stalin" for my tastes.

    It is my property, I can and will choose a license that fits MY needs as a developer.

    And like it or not, proprietary licenses DO foster innovation on a corporate scale. I'm not saying free licenses don't foster innovation - but they do so at a different level - the community level... and companies (and individuals) have to get paid. I gotta keep food on my table SOMEHOW! is RMS/FSF going to send me a check every month? Or is that the government's job? This is sounding more and more like communism/socialism.

    • Re:Stallman (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Uruk ( 4907 )
      I gotta keep food on my table SOMEHOW!

      This is interesting - in the article, Raymond seems to contradict himself on this point. From the article, when referring to GPL'd software, he says that writing it might "decrease the software's tradeable value".

      GPL'd software falls under the umbrella of "open-source" software the Raymond made up. I was under the impression that one of the entire points of "open-source" was to show corporations that the tradeable value of "open-source" software wasn't necessarily less than that of proprietary software. Yet here he seems to say that for much of open source software (that that is GPL'd) the value is less.

      Well guess what guys - no matter what the value is, (I'm not getting into that, since I'm not an economist and neither is ESR) it's not all about the Benjamins for a lot of developers. It's a good thing that we can write software that has something it comes with far more important than economic value - freedom. Free as in speech that is, not as in beer. Raymond seems to want to avoid the "F" word, because he says it's "confusing" even to us.

      <sarcasm>Well never have I shouldered such a heavy intellectual burden, but somehow I'll struggle through to understand the meaning of "freedom" as it was in the American Revolution, as it was in the Civil Rights marches, and as it is today in my own software</sarcasm>
    • Re:Stallman (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Xoro ( 201854 )

      I'm not an OS zealot, but I think ESR uses the word "appears" very liberally here. I couldn't find anything in the Kuhn/RMS piece suggesting other licenses be made illegal. No FSF activity that I know of works towards such a goal. Instead, they advocate and code free alternatives. There is plenty of advocacy for proprietary software -- having a different camp seems to satisfy the "choice of licenses" ideal.

      Instead, they argue that choice of license is insufficiently free to be called free. Only some licenses pass that freedom on to the user, and some fewer licenses guarantee that derivative work will also be free to the user. It is this type of license, and only this type, that the FSF camp wants called free. What's wrong with that?

      I think ESR is just as capable of hyperbole as RMS. I would restate your quote as:

      ...they would prefer a world in which people who write software do not choose the proprietary licenses...

    • It is my property, I can and will choose a license that fits MY needs as a developer.

      Actually, that's not true. There are many licenses that you can not choose no matter what your twisted needs are. Perhaps you are Vincent VanGogh and you feel a deep need for each user of your software to mail you one of their ears before using your software. I am no lawyer, but I would dare say that this license would be invalid.

      So the real question is, what makes a license a valid restriction on someone else's behavior? Answer: the law. What part of the law are we talking about? Copyright. How should copyright work? Well, you've begged the crap out of this question. Whether it's your property depends on whether the government grants you a monopoly on the information you've assembled into a finished work. I think the FSF folks are saying that locking up information and giving somoene a monopoly on it should be invalid because it creates an impermissible monopoly on information which is not scarce.

      To put it another way, it's not your property just because it came from your mind. If you thought up RSA encryption independently, too bad, it's already been patented (and expired, hooray!). So what's really at stake is not "whose idea was it" but "who got there first". With scarce goods this is an ok compromise, maybe. With non-scarce goods, we don't have to divy up the spoils, we can make an infinite number of copies.

      You just want to get paid because you work, not because you are creating something that has value outside of a government granted monopoly. Who's the communist now? Stalin indeed.


    • So, you insist on the right to have a controlling government fine or imprison people if they do not obey you?
    • Re:Stallman (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Tom7 ( 102298 )

      > It is my property, I can and will choose a license that fits MY needs as a developer.

      I think we are saying that it is not your property. In any case, this kind of "property" (as opposed to natural property: physical things like your belongings, home, automobile) acts very different, and therefore deserves different consideration.

      I wonder if slave owners said things like, "It's MY property, I can do whatever I want with it?"
    • It is my property, I can and will choose a license that fits MY needs as a developer.

      No. It is the public's property. By publishing (think about the meaning of the word), you made your work a property of the public. In exchange, the public grants you a time limited monopoly on the use of your work. That's called copyright.

      If you want your work to stay yours, don't publish it.

      I gotta keep food on my table SOMEHOW!

      Yes, but it not a natural law that you can do so by execising your copyright monopoly rights. You can keep food on your table by selling drugs or something, but it's not legal. Why is exercising temporary monopoly power legal? Well, because most people believe it is good for innovation and thus benefits the public (while selling drugs does not).

      You can be pro copyright or anti copyright, I don't care (in fact, I am pro copyright, though I think current copyright goes too far), but your argumentation is flawed. Copyright is not a natural law, it is an economic decision.

    • Please realise that Eric Raymond is just plain lying. He suggests that Stallman asks for new laws that could put software developers into jail. The opposite is true: Stallman ask that copyright for programs be abolished, period. One law less, fewer people that will go to jail.

      Programmers can still do whatever they will, the state just won't help them enforce their copyright.

      The article contains more untruths. One is, that the existence of proprietary software does not restrict user's freedom, beacause he does not have to use it. The fact is, that people are ordered to use software by their employer and thus bound by the licenses if they like it or not.

      Other example: Game developers are forced to spend their time helping MS since if they develop for Linux instead, they will not survive.
      (They might choose to help Sony or Nintendo instead, but that is not much better).
  • by Dominic_Mazzoni ( 125164 ) on Sunday August 19, 2001 @01:23PM (#2194058) Homepage
    This sentence has one nonstandard English flerbage.
  • Reading all the way through, it seems Raymond's argument is equivalent to Linus Torvalds' much more concise version: He who writes the code gets to choose the license. This is throwing a lot of cleverness after demonstrating why that ought to be so, but for those of us to whom it seems obvious, I'm not sure what's being added.

    Is there some deeper point I'm missing?

  • Economics (Score:5, Insightful)

    by underwhelm ( 53409 ) <underwhelm&gmail,com> on Sunday August 19, 2001 @01:25PM (#2194062) Homepage Journal
    The author of the article happly ignores one monkeywrench: economics.

    The rules of economics aren't "laws," just predictors of how people will behave to further their interests. Unfortunately, the predictions of economics imply a necessary reduction of our "flerbage" in the case of a monopoly.

    Specifically, ESR carries the libertarian mantle blind to the "Network Effect" of proprietary software that makes the Windows Monopoly so powerful. By flouting standards Microsoft makes their proprietary software more valuable because there is no adequate substitute in the marketplace. They have an interest in breaking campatibility with all but their own products or those they sanction in order to maintain and strengthen their monopoly (ignoring government regulation or anti-trust lawsuits that modify their behavior).

    The Network Effect means that my flerbage is certainly decreased in the case of proprietary software. Microsoft operates in their best interest to break compatibility, and in order to do business I am forced to purchase their product whenever they do. My choice appears "flerb," but is really "double-plus-unflerb" because of economics. Sure, I'm free to use linux, it's just that I have to expend by precious time and resources circumventing Microsoft's artifical barriers to compatibility. That's not flerb at all.

    I'm not sure if this is endemic to the libertarian view, but from my standpoint being forced to do something by the market is just as bad as being forced to do it by the government. Sure, the market can't put me in "prison" with "guns" but it sure feels like it when I don't have any *actual* choice.
    • How is it that you have no choice but I do? I do not run Microsoft products on my desktop.
      • Let me put it another way:

        In the libertarian sense, coersion doesn't actually remove choice, either. You're free to violate laws or initiate force, you're just faced with sizeable economic or other disincentives (such as the future limitation of your flerb.)

        I can punch you in the face, but I am provided disincentives in the form of prison time and monetary ruin. In the same way, I can "choose" linux, but am disincented by the economic reality that is the Microsoft monpoly.

        So, our choices of Operating System are flerb in much the same way that our choices to stop making mortgage payements is flerb. Sure, we are flerb to make such choices... but we only very rarely will. That's the market's way of depriving you of your flerb.

        Libertarianism, in this case, is only decieving itself and its adherents about what is actually "flerb" about the choices we claim to make.
  • This is just silly (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Uruk ( 4907 ) on Sunday August 19, 2001 @01:26PM (#2194066)
    Towards the end of the article, Raymond attacks RMS and the FSF saying "Hypothetically, if they could pass a law that would make proprietary software illegal, they would". A hypothetical condition which has never even been discussed before being the basis for discrediting what they have to say???

    Also, let's even say that such a law was passed. He doesn't address the moral idea of whether or not restricting other people's freedom to software is a bad thing or not. He just says it doesn't affect his "flerbage" because nobody is going to kill him because of proprietary software. The reason a law against proprietary software (if it ever happened - which it won't) would happen is because restricting other people's freedom is bad. You have the freedom to do what you want, but you don't have the freedom to restrict the freedom of others.

    For Raymond, it seems like everything is framed in a nonsense libertarian world where the primary fear is of getting your ass kicked, shot, and thrown in jail. He makes up the term "flerbage" which no one has agreed to, yet assumes the reader implicitly agrees to it and uses it as a basis to attack others. If I were to come up with a new term and attach something that I liked to that term, would you think of it as a valid arguing style if I were to then use that term which no one necessarily agrees with to beat my opponents over the head?

    This essay was just silly. Talking in the end about whether or not the FSF are "safe neighbors". Before considering issues of intellectual property law, it sounds to me like Raymond needs to consider things lower in Maslow's heirarchy of needs, since he seems overly concerned with hypothetical laws beating, shooting, and imprisoning him.

    • by bnenning ( 58349 )
      He makes up the term "flerbage" which no one has agreed to

      He makes up that term because the word "free" has become overloaded. He then proceeds to argue, that if "flerbage" is a good thing, then Tim's position is superior to Richard's. It's entirely acceptable to disagree with his premise, in which case you have to show why flerbage is not a good thing.

      You have the freedom to do what you want, but you don't have the freedom to restrict the freedom of others.

      That principle would invalidate every employment contract ever signed.

      he seems overly concerned with hypothetical laws beating, shooting, and imprisoning him.

      I doubt Dmitri Sklyarov considers government intervention in software development "hypothetical".

    • ESR is out of line (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mkcmkc ( 197982 )
      Towards the end of the article, Raymond attacks RMS and the FSF saying "Hypothetically, if they could pass a law that would make proprietary software illegal, they would". A hypothetical condition which has never even been discussed before being the basis for discrediting what they have to say???
      Yes, this is an excellent point. It really troubles me to see ESR blatantly and (I assume) knowingly misstating the RMS/FSF position.

      The OS camp likes to paint RMS as some sort of fascist/communist demon, but when you listen more closely there's an awful lot of shrill stuff in there. A few of the more extreme OSers seem to feel that we shouldn't even be allowed to GPL our own software.

    • Unlike you, some people have to be worried about being beaten, shot, or imprisoned. The last century, over a hundred million people were killed by their government. Given that perspective, it's reasonable to worry about being beaten, shot, or imprisoned.
  • by spun ( 1352 ) <> on Sunday August 19, 2001 @01:31PM (#2194079) Journal
    Here's another parable. Some time ago, there was no such thing as copyright. If I, as a musician, say, createda song (no doubt based on the art of my time and culture) and sang to you, It would then be your song as well. You could base another song on it, or sing it to your friends. If you were nice, you might mention you heard it from me.

    There was a time when we knew that no one owned the earth, that we were merely stewards of it. There was a time when we knew that no one owned ideas, we were merely their conduits.

    Then some greedy bastard figured they could apply the meme of 'ownership' (which previously meant something like 'something you are carrying or sleeping in') to land. Some time later, another greedy bastard figured it could be applied to the realm of ideas.

    Each time, the rest of our flerbage decreased, as a previously shared resource was made private by emminent domain. Now, the greed-mongers would have us believe that we would be decreasing their flerbage by putting things back the way they were.

    Or you can just wait until MegaConglomoCorp owns all the air and charges you a fee to breath.
  • by Arker ( 91948 ) on Sunday August 19, 2001 @01:33PM (#2194089) Homepage

    Sorry, ESR, but the flerbage nonsense is stupid. There's already a perfectly good word for that, it's called Liberty.

    Proprietary software may be able to coexist with Liberty, but it will certainly take some work. The whole trend since the beginning of closed software has been for it to threaten Liberty, to eliminate it bit by bit, as quickly as it's producers believe they can get away with. The pace is ever increasing, and every time a draconian measure is abandoned because of public backlash... it returns with less fanfare a little later on.

    And no, I'm not in favour of criminalising the offering of software under proprietary licenses. I don't believe the FSF is either - in that respect this article is simply an audacious straw man.

    When the government uses my tax money to buy proprietary software, when it publishes public information which I am legally entitled to access, but in a form that is useless to me unless I pay microsoft their monopoly rent, my liberty is under assault. When they grant artificial monopoly privileges (software patents are one excellent example of this) and enforce them via law, this is no better than enforcing one particular license on developers would be.

    Under no circumstances should tax money ever be spent on proprietary software. Under no circumstances should public information be published locked in a proprietary format. Instead of trying to break down monopolies with anti-trust law, the government should quit creating them and nurturing them in the first place.

    • The purpose of the word "flerbage" was to create a word with zero emotional connotations, so that the rights, privileges and permissions that pertain to software can be discusses rationally.

      "Liberty" has just as much emotional connotation as "freedom". Perhaps more so.

      When RMS says that Free Software gives people Freedom and Liberty, I get all choked up about it. Very emotional. My great great great grandfather died so that I could be free. My great great grandfather died so that I could have liberty. By God if they would wield muskets and flintlocks against King George, then I am justified in nuking Redmond, shooting Scott McNealy and Larry Ellison, and tar and feathering all the small shareware authors!

      By using the word "flerbage", everything comes into perspective. My great great great grandfather fought and died because my great great great aunts, uncles and cousins were being hung, arrested, having their homes confiscated, their livelihoods taxed and their neighbors impressed into the British Navy. But when I decide to play the latest proprietary first-person shoot-em-up game, my Liberty and Freedom is intact. My life and well-being is secure. My property is undamaged. My freedom of action with regards to my person and my property is completely unhindered. And I am not forced to provide labor, services or skills to the games's author.

      Using proprietary software is like walking into a closet and closing the door behind you. According to the dictionary definition, I would indeed be less "free". I don't have the freedom to flail my arms about. I don't have enough room to have the freedom to lie down. But I am not a slave. I am not subjugated or dominated by the closet. At any time I can simply open the door and leave. And should I decide that the use of a proprietary program becomes too onerous, I can simply and easily stop using it.

      I may indeed be less "free" when I walk into a closet or use proprietary software. But my flerbage is intact.
  • by phaze3000 ( 204500 ) on Sunday August 19, 2001 @01:35PM (#2194093) Homepage
    Essentially, what ESR is saying is that in his opinion, everyone should have the right to publish software under whatever license they want, proprietary or otherwise.

    What the FSF would argue is, to quote Star Trek, 'The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few'. Thus, whilst stopping people from publishing software under a proprietary license does, to some extent reduce the freedom of that induvidual (or corporate entity, etc.), it does so only in order to stop the rest of the world from having their freedom violated, namely the freedom to alter said software as one wishes.

    Personally, I'm inclined to agree with the FSF; I believe it is more important for everyone to have freedom, even if it does reduce individual freedom.

    Herein lies the fundamental difference between the 'Free Software' movement and the 'Open Source' movement, and the reason RMS and co get so uppity when the two terms are used interchangably.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I can not think of any other reason why he would use a confused and twisted rethoric like that.

    A law that would guarantuee software users certain rights, no matter what is stated in the license, would not imply that people who try to take away those rights from the users by releasing their software under restrictive licenses must be thrown in jail. One could compare his argument to saying that Free Speech is bad because Free Speech means you must thrown anyone who says 'Shut up!' in jail.

    I have not heard of any media producer being jailed over these kinds of licensing issues even though most commercial movie and music releases here in Europe have been accompanied by notices that try to restrict the use of the media further than the fair-use provisions of our laws allow.
  • ESR writes:

    Here's the first and most important one: if you two could get a law passed making proprietary licenses illegal, would you do it? If their answer is "no", then the dispute with Tim is over.

    I think there's another option that ESR ignores: Kuhn and Stallman would probably want proprietary licenses ruled invalid as opposed to illegal in the "haul you off to jail' sense. This ensures that no one has power over anyone else because there are no restrictions on anyone's use of any ideas. You can still offer people the license, but it would be just as valid as a contract that offers them $1,000,000.00 for the right to enslave them when they turn 30. Some "freedoms" are not worth protecting, and some contracts should never be valid.


  • Case studies (Score:4, Informative)

    by BlackStar ( 106064 ) on Sunday August 19, 2001 @01:43PM (#2194119) Homepage
    Very interesting points from ESR, although I think RMS isn't *that* fanatical. Well, ok maybe. ANYWAYS.

    What about looking at some cases in real life? Proprietary licenses. Say.... Windows. Very successful. Likley due to cost, marketing and standardization of a chaotic platform long in the past. Solved a lot of problems with proprietary platforms only running 1-2 applications you needed, so you almost bought one machine per application in some situations. Seems OK for the time. Now, however, with viable alternatives, there are some things like open sourcing (NOT GPL) that may be useful if the modifications could be redistributed, but MSFT still owned the rights to the parts they feel they need to. (Asbestos enabled)

    Why not GPL? Enter point number 2. BSD/Mozilla/Extend and contribute like licenses. The SCSL from SUN. Specifically, Java. If this thing was GPL'd off the bat, it would be another fragmented, proprietary implementation of a screwed up standard left in the past not unlike CDE, or even C++ in it's early life. With SUN owning a brand, and enforcing a standard that they don't actually unilaterally define, it's a workable, reliable, and standardized open platform.

    Those two cases in point, one must ask WHY the GPL seems to have such problems creating the defining third case study where GPL is the only thing that worked. Well, maybe it has. Let's take Linux. If it was proprietary, it would likely be as big as CP/M about now. If it was SCSL, the buy-in by the GPL crowd would be nill, (err... null, err.. nevermind) and the corporate adoptions to the benefit of the community wouldn't have occurred.

    So, we've got three broad and incomplete categories of license, and three broad and incompletely analyzed case studies showing success in each case, and why in those particular cases that license modality was the correct choice for the goals.

    So bascially, I would side with Tim on the side of choice, and promote the said flerbage as the yardstick. Evolution finds optimal solutions through excessive choice. Seems to have worked out fairly well. Odd that it still resulted in the occasional individual that opposes the primary mechanism that gave rise to them. I savour the irony.

    I'd love to hear why the power of choice would be a bad thing, even if you choose a proprietary license. Try and write a cheat-resistant multiplayer game with open source on both client and server, and see just how far you get before the cheats make the game unplayable except among friends. Lots of papers and discussions on that as well.

    And don't raise the "web of trust" and such there RMS and cadre. Defintion of trust on that level would have removed the success of the GPL in the case of Linux, as there could be code in there that trusted people back-doored, but no one has bothered to review. Trust is perception, and perception is in it's very nature incomplete.

    Sometimes you just gotta say no when someone wants your recipe. :-)

    Respond with thought or not at all if you please.

  • by UnclPedro ( 67702 ) on Sunday August 19, 2001 @01:43PM (#2194120)

    I think a lot of people commenting on this discussion need to be reminded that patents and copyrights are NOT fundamental rights of creators and inventors (at least, according to US law; sorry, I do have a USian bias since I don't know the laws of any other country that well). They are granted these priveleges for the sake of promoting (sorry) innovation and progress in the sciences. It's a compromise -- the people giving up some of their freedom to promote progress.

    However, many people feel (myself included) that these "Intellectual Property" laws are no longer promoting anything but the continued rule of large corporations like Time-Warner, and stupidity on the part of smaller ones like Amazon. It may no longer be in the peoples' best interests to allow these patent and copyright monopolies.

    When viewed from this point of view, I think ESR's argument takes on a whole new flavour. When you don't consider having a copyright on your code a fundamental right (that copyright being the basis for software licenses of all kinds, from the GPL to a MS EULA), licensing isn't even a question. It simply becomes "here's some code".

    I don't know if this is a fundamentally better situation than what we have now. I do suppot the FSF rather than Open Source because I believe that promoting the idea of Freedom is more important than just getting useful software. But I think these are questions that must be considered, and I wanted to present another angle on this argument.

  • Why does this just degenerate into the same tired argument of "giving you freedom A takes away my freedom B"? Of course that will always be true, for any argument about freedom. My freedom to walk on the street without getting hit conflicts with your freedom to hit people on the street.

    Of course, being able to choose any license is a freedom. But that's not the freedom the FSF stands for, don't we know that already? The stand for other freedoms, namely the freedoms described in the GPL.

    What exactly do all these people (and sometimes the FSF does it too, I know) hope to gain by fighting over who's freedom is best?

    Society, free markets, etc., those mechanisms will pick what's best for society.

    Unfortunately, the way copyright law works for software, the power is automatically in the copyright holder's hands. You have to agree to an arbitrary contract-like agreement to have a copy at all! Sometimes you actively read and agree to the contract, sometimes it's imposed on you without your knowing by some other action (buying a new computer). Imagine if everything you bought had a contract you had to read and agree to. Free markets would be impaired (think "transaction costs" from economics).

    So when TOR (Tim O'Reilly) says we should be able to choose any license for software, I think he is implicitly supporting the tilted playing field of the status quo, so it's no surprise that the FSF would not agree with that standpoint.

    And to suggest that the FSF would want to pass a law to make proprietary licenses illegal is silly! Pass one law, to counteract the effects of another? ESR is starting from the viewpoint that software should have a license in the first place. He should know by now, the FSF doesn't agree with that. Why not just remove the law that lets copyright holders enforce their contracts. Then the GPL would be pretty much unecessary!

    RMS has never suggested many of the things people always ascribe to him. ESR is simply inventing things that he thinks RMS might want or say. It would be like RMS arguing that ESR wants to pass a law that makes it illegal not to carry a gun. Since ESR supports our freedom to carry guns, it's only logical that he would be against a freedom NOT to carry a gun, yes?

    • Oh really? How about this quote from the Slashdot post (just this Friday in fact) with Bradly Kuhn from the FSF, it sure seems like they really would be in favor of such a law. The VP of FSF pretty much says that the being able to choose a license is akin to the same power as being able to have slaves!

      From 2&mode=thread

      Our society took away the "freedom" to own slaves. Today, no one would even argue that owning slaves is a freedom. People now say that slavery is an inappropriate power that one person holds over another person.

      Today, some argue that the "right to choose your own software license" is the greatest software freedom. By contrast, I think that, like slavery, it is an inappropriate power, not a freedom. The two situations both cause harm, and they differ only in the degree of harm that each causes.
      --end quote

      That sure seems like they *really* want to take away the freedom/inappropriate power of a developers choice in license, again that quote was from the guy who is the VP of the FSF so the things that he says, truely represent the views that the FSF holds.

  • I have the condition of flerbage when I can behave in the confidence that nobody will take my life, my physical property, or my time without my consent.

    Contrary to ESR's assertion, government laws disallowing proprietary licences simply would not violate flerbage.

    Let's back up: Copyright is an entirely statutory grant. It simply is not a fundamental right that you can legally exclude others from reproducing your speech. For example, Congress could abolish all copyright protection if it chose. Congress has been delegated, and justly so, the power "to promote the arts and sciences" by creating statutes (not rights) that secure authors their writings for "limited Times". Copyright is a loan from the public domain. Loans are a granted priviledge and Congress may secure the loan with restrictions aimed at promoting the ends desired by giving the loan.

    It would also a coherent policy view to say that the best way to promote computer science is by demanding as part of the quid-pro-quo involved in securing copyright that source code be released and be modifiable. Can anyone argue that a reasonable man might believe this would advance the progress of computer science? If majoritarian forces in Congress were able to implement this policy into law, then I believe the answer to the question of what should happen to you if you were to release under a proprietary licence anyway is not as ESR asserts that you should be arrested, but rather that the principle of "misuse of copyright" should be applied, whereby you would not receive the governement's assistence in enforcing your copyright.

    Trying to licence software under a proprietary licence in the hypothesized scenario simply would not lead to your arrest. It would lead to others violating your licence and the government refusing to help you enforce it.

    "The protections afforded by copyright law are completely statutory" was the holding of the Sony Betamax decision, and traces back to the earliest Supreme Court cases. Thus, you have no rights to exclude others from your work unless those statutes recognize them as such. The public owns the public domain and tasked Congress with optimizing its expansion by choosing the most appropriate statutory scheme. If Congress decides that everything you write instantly enters the public domain, then too bad -- you have no injury under the US Constitution. Similarly, they can condition your grant of protection by requiring you to meet criteria the people deem helpful to the end of promoting science and arts.
  • by Mr. Slippery ( 47854 ) <{tms} {at} {}> on Sunday August 19, 2001 @01:52PM (#2194145) Homepage

    While I respect ESR, in this case he could not more perfectly fail to grasp the point.

    Proprietary licenses, whereby a state-designated owner can use state power to declare some string of bits "property" and do nasty things to you if you copy them, are an infringement of "flerbage". (Or "freedom", if you prefer.)

    Maximum "flerbage" would be the absense of copyright - not passing new restrictions on proprietary licences, but rather removing the exisitng restrictions that make proprietary licences possible.

    (I'm not - for the present - arguing for or against such a change. Just arguing that outlawing certain uses of photocopiers, tape recorders, computers, etcetera, is not moving in the direction of maximum "flerbage".)

    I'm disappointed that a self-described anarchist doesn't understand the difference.

  • by prizog ( 42097 ) <> on Sunday August 19, 2001 @02:08PM (#2194189) Homepage

    This is more standard libertarian rhetoric. Consider: If I "choose" to work a low-income job, and therefore "choose" to live in a high-crime area, men with guns will occasionally forcibly divest me of my property. Or, as happened to a friend of mine, they won't have guns - they'll just have lead pipes, and instead of just taking my property, they'll beat the shit out of me, putting me in the hospital for weeks and *then* take my wallet.

    That's what I call freedom.

    Sure, I could choose to live on Monaco, were there's virtually no crime as much as I could choose to build a rocket ship and live on Mars - that is, sure in an ideal fantasy world, but not in reality.

    Raymond is comparing his ideal world, in which I would have the flerbage not to use Microsoft products, to the real world in which I have the choice of significantly fewer jobs if I make that choice. If I were a secretary, I might have the "choice" of using Microsoft products or finding a new profession, probably at lower wages.

    Anyway, even if he weren't an adherent to a utopian philosophy, it's not the case that being disallowed from releasing proprietary software reduces my flerbage.

    Here's what Raymond says:
    "If I walk up to someone and offer them the same
    proprietary license that I did before the law was passed, police may come to my house to drag me off to jail, or kill me if I resist arrest. My flerbage has seriously decreased."

    And here's the definition of flerbage:
    "I have the condition of flerbage when I can behave in the confidence that nobody will take my life, my physical property, or my time without my consent."

    Well, obviously that doesn't include acts which are illegal - you can't expect to kill someone and get away with it. So, if you say "My flerbage is decreased because I can't break the law", well, tough. Or you might say "the law is bad because it decreases my flerbage," well, that's what all laws do - but we pass them to increase the sum flerbage of each person more than it decreases your flerbage. So, you're back in the same situation where flerbage means freedom. Oops.

    Here's an interesting commentary on libertarianism:
    • If I "choose" to work a low-income job,

      Sorry to pick on just one thing that you wrote, but you're really attacking the crux of the matter. You are implying that nobody ever chooses to work a low-income job. This it total nonsense. Look at Barbara Eirenreich. She's a socialist who choose to work low-income jobs so that she could report on it. Are you saying that there was some element of coercion in her choice? What about somebody who prefers current consumption over investment in themselves, and has not gotten an education? They are in effect choosing to lock themselves out of all jobs that require that education. What about people who just don't want to work hard? What about people who want to work flexible hours? What about people who want to work at a job for a very short time? Are they not making choices?

      Okay, so in the end you're really arguing that people shouldn't have to be responsible for the effects of their choices. But when you do that, you really *are* arguing against freedom, because the people who end up being responsible want to make the choices.

      Freedom and responsibility are inextricably bound together.
  • KSR had a line in a book somewhere that went something like this:
    "Libertarians want just enough government to keep their slaves from revolting."
    Over the top, sure, but it's got a grain of truth in it. Ever since I read that, this former die-hard libertarian has been much more skeptical of the glorious and righteous claims from libertarians. It's important to look behind the big important words and figure out what's actually being argued.

    In this case, arguments for "proprietary" software licenses are arguments for the use of government force on the behalf of copyright holders. I mean, all this talk about "intellectual property" is eventually backed up by state power (with guns as the final resort), right?

    That's not to say that I think enforcement of copyright and contract law is necessarily or entirely a bad thing. In fact, we get a lot of good out of copyright. But I think we need to look at actual causes, effects, benefits, and costs when discussing these issues rather than taunting each other with "look, I have more liberty than you!"

    • It's important to look behind the big important words and figure out what's actually being argued.

      You mean like "freedom" and "power"? Isn't that exactly what Eric did? Disagree with him if you want, but don't tell him to do what he has already done.

      the use of government force on the behalf of copyright holders.

      Nonsense. Where did Eric refer to copyrights? He said that people with flerbage have the right to ask other people to agree not to copy their software. And if that right is taken away, their flerbage is infringed.
    • Hm! That is one hell of a quote- and you've got a very good point. I can see why this shook your faith.

      What _relevance_ does proprietary anything have except in the context of either a controlling government, or some other entity capable of taking your money, time or life?

      It just seems very strange to say 'I need to get more FREEDOM which I will call FLERBAGE because it is the ability to place other people in danger of losing money, time or life for not obeying what I say!'


  • I wrote this on the linuxtoday talkbacks:

    Ok. I think that ESR is a very good writer, and I enjoy what he wrote... BUT I want to argue the other side of the coin just to see where it leads. Forgive me, if my arguments are not entirely clear. I'm not sure I agree with them yet. Just trying them on to see if they make sense.

    Ok. So ESR says that what we ought to be talking about here is flerbage. Tim's premise is that a developer ought to be albe to license his/her code under any license they choose. And that if you take away that basic right, then the flerbage of developers decreases. I think that's the only possible conclusion.

    But by enabling that sort of thing, you also enable a monopolistic developer to basically control your life. Which means that the flerbage of users decreases. Let's suppose that I release a piece of code and I say, "If you want to use it, you have to let me have sex with your wife." It's a relatively simple thing for you to say, "No thanks, I don't need your code." But say Microsoft does something like this? In some cases, there is simply no way that some organizations or individuals can say no. (If there were a case where every organization could simply say "no" to Microsoft, then Microsoft would *not* be a monopoly.) Well the answer is, of course, that there is legal precedent (sp?) that prevents unreasonable contract terms. A contract that requires you to become a slave in order to fulfill your part of the contract is null and void on its face.

    Soooo.. Tim's freedom zero already does not exist. Developers can *not* currently release their software under any license they choose. The license has to pass some level of "reasonability". The only question now becomes what is reasonable? What limits should licensors be under when licensing their code? And where should those limits stop?

    I think that RSR & FSF are trying to set a different standard for where those limits should stop. They think that it should be unreasonable to license software that doesn't include the licensee's right to modify or fix the software, and then to release those changes and fixes. Do I agree with the FSF's position? I dunno.

    The point? There already are limits on how developers can license their software, and those limits are good. Reasonable people may disagree on how far those limits should go. But to say that there should be no limits, is short sighted (IMHO). And I think that Tim's "freedom zero" basically says that there should be no limits. That may not be what he intends to say. I certainly hope not. But it's not impossible to see how RSR & the FSF might interpret Tim's statement as unlimited power for software developers... especially those with a monopoly.
  • by bwt ( 68845 ) on Sunday August 19, 2001 @02:35PM (#2194262) Homepage
    I have the condition of flerbage when I can behave in the confidence that nobody will take my life, my physical property, or my time without my consent.

    Larry Lessig once admonished ESR for what Lessig described as ESR's advocacy of "warmed over Ayn Rand". I would describe flerbage as "a moldy and rotting 'Ayn Rand'-like substance".

    The problem with flerbage, is the "without my consent" part. Essentially it claims an individual right to veto laws that protect more than life and personal property. Ironically, given ESR's position, Copyright violations don't qualify as life, property, time deprivations so I don't know why or if ESR would support the government depriving software pirates of flerbage when they have not deprived him of it.

    Like most radical libertarianism, flerbage simply misunderstands the role of public policy in recognizing property and trade. Neither property nor contracts exist outside of a context of government because both involve a concept of government force being used to redress transgressions. You do not have property or a contract unless the public, through it's agent the governement agrees to enforce it. This involves the public use of force that requires resources and the public has the right and the power to expend its resources in a way that is consistent with the heirarchy of legal principles established by a Constitution and due process of law thereunder, which includes some majoritarian lawmaking processes that predictably may occassionally result in rules that fail your personal "without my consent" test.

    Enough people consent to the process to call it consensus, and you are never offered freedom from attack by the delegated power of the people if you don't consent to a particular rule and ignore it. Nobody really cares if you "never signed no steenkin social contract". If you don't consent to the process then you've declared anarchy and rebellion, so don't come whining when bad things happen to you such as your flerbage being violated. The Declaration of Independence states the principle that if the government becomes destructive to the will of the people that the people may overthrow it. Civil disobediance, peaceful or violent, is sometimes the morally correct thing to do, but nobody ever said it doesn't come with great peril precisely because it is outside of the rule of law.
  • First, let's look at the definition of flerbage:

    "I have the condition of flerbage when I can behave in the confidence that nobody will take my life, my physical property, or my time without my consent... I am pro-flerbage."

    Copyright law is inherently anti-flerbage. If I buy a copy of Dinwoes, licensed under some proprietary license, I cannot copy it without the threat of the police coming to my house and dragging me off to jail. This is a result of copyright law, NOT contract law (IANAL). Even if you accept shrinkwrap licenses, I have not agreed to the license upon buying it; I agree upon installation. If I used Nulix to copy the Dinwoes CD, I haven't agreed to the contract provision of not copying it.

    In a completely pro-flerbage world, this restriction on copying would be enforced in contract law: Sircomoft (or ESR) would say "I'll trade you this software for some money, and if you copy it, you're liable to me under contract law, and I can sue you for damages."

    Unfortunately, most people don't have enough money to actually pay the damages that would be incurred if a copy of Dinwoes leaked into the marketplace without the contract-law protection against copying and redistribution. As a result, we have copyright law to allow people to sell copies of easily reproduced things, because protection against copying is enforced in criminal law, not in contract law. The theory is that this increases value: the US constitution gives the legislature authority to "promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries" (Article I Section 8).

    While I agree with ESR's conclusion, being pro-flerbage effectively means favoring abolishment of copyright law and replacing it soley with contract law, in which case only people who are extremely rich will be able to post enough bond to buy popular digital content. The street-artist's model would then prevail.
    • This is a good post, and here's why.

      ESR's article rests on a fundamental ambiguity about what "property" really means. If I make software, then sell you a copy, you own the physical copy, I own the software itself. Does my owning a physical copy give me the right to do with it as I please? Or does the software author still own it?

      This whole discussion is really about who owns what. The post I'm replying to takes the "Flerbage really protects my right to fair use" tack, in other words, property rests in the hands of the physical object's owner, which exposes the contradiction in ESR's thinking.

      The other way to approach it is to accept that ESR really meant that physical property ownership is trumped by intellectual property ownership, and that physical copy of the software really isn't yours to do with as you please. Then we must be "anti-flerbage" which ESR thinks we won't want to be since all our property rights depend on flerbage. But again, this begs the question- what is property, and who owns it? You can't resolve the flerbage dispute without resolving that question first.

      The FSF approach, in this light, is sensible. Physical objects are scarce, information (once created) is not. So rather than confusing property law by allowing the ownership of ideas (or a temporary monopoly over them, which amounts to the same thing), let's invalidate the ownership of ideas and only allow the ownership of scarce, physical property. Problem solved. Either flerbage is good and the FSF position protects it better than ESR would, or flerbage is actually bad and the FSF position is the only way out of it, depending on how you resolve the ambiguity in ESR's writing over the notion of property.


  • To me, the article seems to confuse the main issue. An example of the main issue, for me, is that if you use, or program for, Microsoft Windows, you are effectively a dog on Bill Gates' leash. Bill can do whatever he wants with you. He can refuse to support new hardware. He can decide that your copy of Windows is obsolete. He can decide that your old hardware is obsolete. He can, under the DMCA, remotely disable your entire OS. He can support U.S. spy agencies in a hidden way. He can avoid fixing bugs because he wants to save some so that you will be interested in buying a new release.

    The GPL is a sophisticated way of avoiding being under the control of a dictator. That's where the word "freedom" applies.
  • I used to think ESR was an idiot. I think I have to revise that opinion: now I think he is a *dangerous* idiot. Or maybe it is worse still, and he actually -knows- how stupid his argument as, and he is promoting it anyway.

    In what ESR writes about "choosing" a license, he brings in a huge range of naturalizing assumptions about the legal framework of intellectual property which give meaning to choosing a license. There is nothing natural or inevitable about all these laws. They can and should be changed.... and if the unfreedom of existing bad laws is removed, what we are left with is the FSF's vision (or something close to it).

    Let's try an obvious transposition. I won't play with silly anagrams for names though. Suppose that in the future, a chemical company creates a substance that reduces the harmful effects of pollutants in the air. They release this chemical into the air of big cities. In the meanwhile, the "Big Chemical Company IP Protection Act" has been passed to "clarify" the IP rights of patent holders. As a matter of ESR's style of freedom (or cabbage, or whatever he wants to call it), the chemical company should be allowed to "license" the breathing of their chemical (which is in all the air) on whatever terms they -freely- choose. Obviously, violators of their intellectual property rights will be dealt with by the police and the courts and the prisons.

    RMS--and the Free Breathing Foundation (OK, I can't resist one fictional name)--according to ESR are confused and misleading in advocating the "freedom" to breath the air. Actually, the FBF now threatens the poor chemical company with all sort of restrictions on the terms on which they can license breathing (says ESR). Surely -freedom- would let them license on whatever terms they want.

    Back to the real world, away from ESR's. Being able to breath without facing criminal sanction is a basic matter of genuine freedom. Just because there are unjust laws, it doesn't mean acting within the law is real freedom--Kant's "arbeit macht frei" to the side. Actual freedom is not facing restriction and violence for doing what one should be able to do. Likewise--and in this very world--a law restricting my reuse of software code is an unjust law. Obedience to this law is not freedom, but exactly its contrary. In the FSF's ideal world, it is not that the GPL would be imposed, but that no license restriction would be allowed at all. That is, less restrictions rather than more, versus the current unjust and unfree system. As a strategy and a compromise, the FSF have made a "viral" license that turns copyright laws against themselves in a certain way. The GPL is better that proprietary licenses, but far worse than the world in which licenses on software would be considered as absurd as licenses on breathing.

  • Somehow I just can't imagine Mel Gibson in blue face paint and a kilt charging down a hill in front of hundreds of Scottish warriors yelling FLLLEEEERRRRRRBAAAGGE!!!!
  • "They obfuscate more than they enlighten, they cloud the issues rather than clearing the air."

    I say everything twice, repeating what I say a second time.
  • "good way for people to understand the difference between Open Source and Free Software."

    Perhaps it is time to evolve beyond this very old argument. Others besides RMS and ESR need to define what opensource and free software is in addition to the current definitions. We need a bot/service provider to output stored definitions whenever multiple interpretations of a word come up. Print it as a local or global def. list. Wouldn't this be better then arguing about opensource and free software defs. over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over license arguments too and over and over and over ...

    --ftide [mailto]

  • on the planet and is a great example of why Linux is still a cute little backwater in the otherwise huge *desktop* software market. How many people outside of /. care enough about whether the software they are using is "free as in beer" or "free as in speech" or what license it is issued under that they would switch to a competing product? How many? 100 - 1,000 - 10,000? Laughable numbers compared to the installed user base of Windows. Look, most people view software as a tool. Think of it as a Craftsman wrench. They only get bent out of shape when it doesn't work and what happens then? You think your average Joe will fire up a forge in his garage to cast a newer, better wrench or repair a broken one? No, he's going to take it back to the store.

    And now we come to the really interesting part of the argument: what happens when there is one store that sells that tool while their competition sells tools that, while workable, have to be assembled from their component pieces but are purported to be better as their designs are on the internet for all to see and copy? Joe average user wants to get the job done and the company that publishes their specs on the internet can take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut, he goes to the store that provides what he needs.

    This is the situation in which we find ourselves. For all of this hoopla, the real problem of trying to build a product comparable to windows is being gradually tuned out. For the life of me, I can't seriously think that MS is "afraid" of any open source initiative with this kind of shit going on. I don't know who coined the phrase but "lead follow or get out of the way" applies wonderfully here. The open source community is like two birds fighing over a dead squirrel in the road with an 18 wheeler bearing down on them.

Never say you know a man until you have divided an inheritance with him.