[CS-FSLUG] TD: (Im)morality of (non)free software

Aaron Lehmann lehmanap at lehmanap.dyndns.org
Mon Feb 28 03:09:34 CST 2005

On Mon, Feb 28, 2005 at 01:34:02AM -0500, Don Parris wrote:
> On Sun, 27 Feb 2005 23:08:25 -0500, Aaron Lehmann
> <lehmanap at lehmanap.dyndns.org> wrote:
> > I've started this thread so that Don can talk about the immorality of
> > closed-source software, and so I can talk about the immorality of the
> > GPL.
> > 
> > The GPL is immoral, because it forces those who extend the author's code
> > to use the GPL (or compatible?) if they decide to release their code.
> > This seems to me to be the height of arrogance.  It is essentially
> > saying, "I wrote the base for your work, so you must not close your
> > extension of it.  Further, you must put the same restrictions on anyone
> > who might extend YOUR code."  I recognize that this protects the
> > so-called rights of users to information, but at the expense of the
> > rights of developers and maintainers to make use of their own labor for
> > their own ends.  It is essentially muzzling the ox as he treads the
> > grain.  It results in people needlessly duplicating code (anathema to
> > developers) so that they won't be bound by a hypocritical and
> > restrictive liscense.  The fruit of my labor is MINE.  If I wish to
> > release it into the common domain, or otherwise allow others to profit
> > from my labor, that is my privelage.  I don't have the right to force
> > others to give away their labor, anymore than anyone has the right to
> > force me to give up mine.
> > 
> NOTICE: Very Lengthy monologue follows:
> Again, you seem to be equating libre with gratis - a notion which I
> have tried time and again to help you and others to realize is simply
> unfounded.  Based on the pictures I've seen of RMS, he doesn't strike
> me as a starving, needy person.  He appears to be quite well-fed. 
> Given the fact that he manages to travel to places like Australia, I
> suppose he manages to scrape by somehow.  I know he does consulting
> and gets speaker fees, etc.  Still, he doesn't strike me as a hungry
> programmer.

No, I understand the difference between free and gratis.  The two
concepts are orthoganal, and I'm not talking about gratis right now.
And a good part of why RMS isn't hungry is because he gets paid fat cash
to go to Australia and talk about how great he is.

> While it is true that I prefer free software over open source, I also
> consider open source to be a better alternative than proprietary.  I
> will not support proprietary extensions of OSS, whether they be gratis
> or commercial.  However, the choice between free or open source, as I
> said, is more denominational in nature (kind of like being a baptist
> or a Methodist - once saved, always saved vs backsliding). ;)
> Your characterization of the GPL as being somehow hypocritical could
> use some explanation.  If I release software under the terms of the
> GPL, then I am actually setting the example - not being hypocritical. 
> Even the OSI folks argue that there is little business sense in
> developing software under proprietary terms.  In essence, they argue
> for free software.  Even so, they do argue in favor of developers, as
> opposed to users.  Still, the GPL is meant to perpetuate freedom -
> which you have acknowledged.

I have NOT acknowledged that it actually DOES perpetuate freedom though.
To the contrary.  If A writes some software from scratch, he has the
right to do whatever he wishes with it.  He can sell or release it as a
proprietary package, he can sell or release it as a more open package,
he can keep it and use it himself.  These are his rights.  Lets suppose
he has listened to RMS's hype and he releases it under the GPL.  Now
lets say that developer B gets ahold of the software and improves it.
He has less rights than A did.  He can sell it as an open product or
release it for free as an open product, or keep it to himself.  He
cannot however, sell it or release it as a proprietary product.  The
terms of the GPL deny him full rights to his code.  This from a liscense
that claims to be perpetuating freedom!  It gets worse however, as B has
no choice bu to use the GPL, if he decides to release.  He has been
force by A's shortsightedness to deny future C's their rights of
potential code they might write based on B's code.  He has not only been
denied his own rights, he is forced to deny others theirs.

> One has to remember that Stallman views proprietary software as
> downright evil.  Free software is intended to benefit the whole
> community, as did most or all software prior to the application of
> copyright law to software.  Can OSS guarantee that the whole community
> will benefit perpetually? No.  When Stallman established the GPL, what
> license offered, never mind guaranteed, such freedom?  None.

And none still does.  However, I veiw the GPL as being equally good (or
bad) in the moral sense with Microsoft's EULA.  They are both tools, and
they have both been exploited very well.  What I consider immoral is the
fact that the GPL claims to be perpetuating freedom.  The MS EULA is
clear about this much:  It's it there to protect Microsoft's rights as a
copyright holder.  It is not there for your benifit, nor does it pretend
to be.

> I gather that, by "hypocracy", you refer to the fact that users
> benefit, but developers do not.  As a developer, you may consider it
> restrictive or unfair.  But, as a guarantor of freedom, it is
> certainly not hypocritical.  However, I disagree that developers are
> forced to not benefit from developing free software.  The real problem
> for free software developers is that they do not follow the FSF's
> example of "selling" free software.  Few developers/vendors, other
> than MySQL, have pursued a remotely serious commercial distribution. 
> I refer to MySQL, which is one of the few companies I know of that
> sells a single free software application commercially.

It doesn't perpetuate freedom.  It gaurantees users privelages they
have no innate right to, by denying developers their innate rights as
developers.  Now you are confusing speach and beer.  I'm not talking
about how I can or can't make money with the GPL.  I'm talking about how
it claims to cause freedom, but in fact causes a loss of rights.

> Even so, a fair number of businesses have managed to make a little bit
> of dough selling free software.  I realize many of these simply sell
> technical support.  Even RMS suggests that many developers should
> expect not to make as much money - the GPL is designed to offset the
> greed involved in most commercial proprietary licenses.  Consider that
> once upon a time, users could run a copy of their software on their
> desktop and their laptop.  Those days are over, not because M$ and
> other vendors are starving to death, but because of greed.

If you want to discuss this rationally, you'll have to refrain from use
the dollar sign as though it is an 's.'  Otherwise, I'll assume you
are only interested in dissing on a particular company.

> Here's an example of the moral issue, given RMS' own perspective.  You
> write a word processor and release it as free software.  I (barely
> scraping by), download and use the word processor to start and run a
> freelance writing business.  Aside from my skills, your WP makes this
> possible.  As my business grows, I begin to contribute more money in
> church and/or donate more to local charities.
> Now let's assume you don't live too far from me.  You may have saved
> me from starvation, so you won't see me out panhandling for your
> hard-earned dollars - I'm able to earn it.  I should contribute
> something to your cause, and maybe I do.  Even if I don't, it may be
> that my extra money down at the local shelter kept someone from
> robbing you at gunpoint, because they had a free option for food.  It
> doesn't always work out this way, nor will it.
> Now assume you release that WP as OSS.  Then you die in a car
> accident.  The only people who take up your WP turn it proprietary &
> charge hefty fees.  Maybe my business doesn't make quite enough income
> to support the new versions.  That would leave me stuck with the
> current version.  So if I cannot move forward, maybe my business
> begins to stagnate because I can no longer work with the software my
> clients use.  Before long, I'm out panhandling.  Maybe I'm the one who
> (unknowingly) robs you at gunpoint, out of frustration from
> unsuccessfully struggling with trying to earn a decent living.

Are you attempting to imply that I am somehow responsible for what YOU
do with YOUR money (or lack of it)?  I do not accept that.  I am not
obliged to give you handouts, but if I do, I'm also not responsible for
the use you make with them.

> Obviously, the situation here is a what-if.  There are thousands of
> what-ifs.  But it demonstrates the kind of reasoning that drives RMS &
> free software.  The point is that developers can benefit directly and
> indirectly from developing free software.  Yet, it also demonstrates
> why free software is a moral imperative.  Sure, you could make
> $100,000/year from selling your WP.  You would contribute to various
> charitable causes as well.  And you would be the arrogant one.  You
> would be arrogant in saying, "see, I give to charity".

Or I could listen to people browbeat me about how I don't have the right
to use the product of my sweat as I see fit.

> There is absolutely nothing arrogant about seeking to benefit the
> whole community.  There is nothing arrogant about trying to take care
> of others.  After all, I am most safe when my neighbors are housed and
> fed and able to care for themselves.  In a very sincere way, RMS has
> demonstrated a love toward his fellow man that many believers fail to
> grasp.  Were it not for his utter rejection of Jesus Christ, I would
> swear we will see him in Heaven - not that the guy is dead yet, he's
> still got a little time. There's always hope as long as he's living.
> :)

Bill and Melinda Gates seek a cure for malaria, too.  They give lots of
their money and software to a variety of cause that they believe are
right.  They seek to benifit the community.  However, you claim they are
doing it inappropriatly by selling proprietary software, because you
seem to feel that everyone has the right to product for their labor and
that of their employees.  I disagree.  I maintain that since Bill Gates
hires his coders, testers, etc. with the very clear understanding that
their work will become his property, he has done nothing unethical to
them.  He then sold the right to use the product in a very specific way
to anyone who wished to buy it.  They knew beforehand what was going on,
their eyes were open about it.  He's not tricked anyone with his
liscense agreement.  He's unethical with his quality control and upgrade
train, I agree, but that's a problem for Ralph Nader, not Richard

Stallman on the other hand screams about freedom for all, and
bennefitting the community, and advocates using a viral liscense that
takes developement rights from developers and gives them to users.
THat's not just hypocratical, it's unreasonable.  What sort of
improvements will all of you non-coders on the list make to you GPL'd
software?  What will you give back?  Nothing, unless you become a
developer, and then you'll likely be inclined not to give back to the
GPL community, on the same ethical grounds that make you so fond of it

As far as Open Source software becoming closed when the author dies,
where do you get that idea?  If it's good software, it will be mirrored
by everyone who downloads or purchases a copy of it.  Any of them are
withing the liscense to change the code and release it as their own.
Unles my version of the Word Processor stunk so bad no one used it, it's
not very likely that it passed away completely.  And if it did, good

> FOSS empowers people to "walk" on their own, as opposed to having to
> continue begging for money/software.  Consider Peter & John in Acts
> 3:1-10.  They did not give the man money, but the ability to walk. 
> You can give to a charity that offers computer software training.  But
> if the people who take the classes cannot afford to buy the
> proprietary software they are trained on, they will have little
> opportunity to benefit from it.  However, if the people have access to
> FOSS applications that are equivalent to what they learned, they have
> the ability to practice at home, and to make use of the tools
> available.

How does this relate to the whether or not the GPL is ethical?  Or for
that matter whether closed-source software is ethical?

> I consider this an act of grace.  While you are not necessarily
> robbing your neighbors of opportunities by not developing FOSS, you
> are providing those opportunities by doing so.  Thus free software is
> a gift of grace.  Proprietary software - most of it, anyway - offers
> little grace at all.  Had proprietary software developers not been so
> greedy as to eliminate grace altogether, RMS would likely have had
> little reason to start the GNU project.
> I do have an issue (if I understand correctly) with the idea that
> proprietary software cannot be distributed with free software -
> something OSS allegedly addresses better.  While I need to look at
> this issue closer, I do hope this will be improved in v. 3.0 of the
> GPL.

Not very likely, as RMS is opposed to it.  What used to be the Library
GNU Public Liscense is now the Lesser GNU Public Liscense.  THis is
because it was initially designed with libraries in mind.  It still is
for libraries, but has been renamed because people who felt the way I
did about the GPL were using it for their projects.  They wanted to help
the idea of free software out, but did not want to force future
developers to do the same.  This is contrary to the wishes of the FSF,
and so they have changed it's name to indicate the "lesser" stature they
feel it should have.

I think I will release any code I release with the following license:

"This code is open software.  It is released in the hope that it will be
useful, but with no gaurantees.  Derivative works are hereby authorized,
in any format, provided that they be released either with this source
code and license, or with a working reference to a place where this
source and license can be obtained.  Aaron Lehmann, author"

Aaron Lehmann

More information about the Christiansource mailing list