Another way of thinking of the Chinese dissident test
Anthony Towns' excellent criticisms have provoked me to think of
another reason that the Chinese Dissident test captures something
important about free software, and thus why the QPL's forced
publication or the Affero bit are onerous.
Free software should create a sort of economy in which things are the
way they would be if there were no copyrights at all. That's the
In other words, when I write free software, I renounce the ability to
control the behavior of the recipient as a condition of their making
copies or modifying the software. The most obvious renunciation is
that I don't get to demand money for copies. But I also don't get to
demand that the person not be a racist; I don't get to demand that the
person contribute to the Red Cross; I don't get to demand that the
recipient contribute to free software.
I renounce that little bit of control over the other person which the
copyright law gives me, and in that way, I enhance their freedom. I
enhance it to what it would be without the copyright law.
You might say that public domain is good enough. But free software is
about creating an *economy* of such freedom. So I want to be sure
that everyone has the freedoms the would have in a no-copyright
regime; and so "viral" licenses like the GPL are good things. Nobody
can remove the freeness; that is, if they want to play, then to the
extent they play, they must do so within the freedom economy, rather
than the control-the-other-guy economy.
One thing remains: the requirement of the GPL that source be
transmitted. In a no-copyright world, you would not have to give
source, so why am I happy with this requirement? Precisely because
the important rights are the right to copy *and* the right to modify,
and the distribution of the source preserves everyone's right to
modify. This is a wrinkle built in to the nature of software.
Similarly, we have restrictive formats on text, and I don't object to
the relevant provisions of a free documentation license that require
distribution in a modifiable form.
I'm all for contributing to the community! But I do not want to
demand that someone must contribute to the community as the price of
copying or modifying free software. That would be to make it
non-free. As long as they preserve the *freedoms*, that's the
requirement. Publication is not one of them.
I'm a weird paradox: I will tell almost anything about myself to just
about anyone who asks. I have almost no secrets. At the same time, I
am a stalwart advocate for the rights of people to keep all sorts of
stuff private, and to be anonymous in the world if they choose (this
does not mean, of course, that people who anonymous without good
reason should be *trusted*). I find that the forced publication
requirements of the QPL and the like make it much harder to be
anonymous in the world of free software, and this is what I'm
They are restrictions which do not preserve any important rights of
the holder of the software(like the source-provision rules of the
GPL), and they do not enhance anybody's freedom. They are therefore
onerous license terms.