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Re: OSD && DFSG - different purposes - constructive suggestion!

Don Armstrong <don@donarmstrong.com> writes:

> I don't think it would cause a problem with the majority of people who
> are using or modifying Free Software, as (I would imagine) most of
> them don't have anything to hide... but to someone who does?

I thought of a scenario, which seems entirely plausible, all above
board, and should give pause to any kind of forced publication
requirement.  No anarchists or terrorists, no repressive governments.

Consider Fred the Lawyer.  He has a number of clients, for whom he
drafts contracts.  The contracts are sensitive, and the Fred has a
legal obligation to preserve confidentiality in all his dealings with
his clients.  They have the right to tell people what goes on between
him and them, but he has no such right: he has, by contrast, an
ironclad obligation *not* to disclose any material fact about his
relationship with his clients.  The clients do complicated business
and financial deals, which depend on this secrecy.

Now some of his clients need to have a bunch of similar contracts.
Joe's Sheet Rock Company needs to write order contracts for materials,
and because of the tight competition in the sheet rock industry, the
details of the contracts he works out with his suppliers are kept
tightly guarded.  Similarly, Al's Brick Works and Dave's Lumber
Supply.  They all are in highly competitive fields, where they need to
have purchase contracts with suppliers, and the details of these
contracts are extremely sensitive.

Now Joe's Sheet Rock Company needs to be flexible in the deals it
makes with suppliers, but the contracts all fall into similar
patterns.  So the Fred the Lawyer thinks of a method for helping Joe's
while keeping unnecessary legal expenses down.  He'll write a computer
program, tailored specially for Joe's Sheet Rock; Joe can then input
the details of the particular arrangement, and most of the time, the
program can churn out a reliable contract for Joe and his supplier.
What a great system!

Fred wants to use a popular free software package which almost does
just the job: QNU Madlibs.  But QNU Madlibs is distributed under the
QPL.  What the Fred would like to do is make a special version of QNU
Madlibs for Joe, with the special details of Joe's contracts.  And
this is not mere change of data: Fred has a good programming staff,
and the logic of Joe's business practices is deeply embedded in the
logic of the program that the Fred's firm writes.

So the Fred modifies QNU Madlibs.  He gives Joe the program, along
with the source, and thinks "wow, free software really is cool".  But
alas, he was using something under the QPL.  One day the author of QNU
Madlibs goes through the server logs for downloads, thinking "I wonder
if anyone has any cool improvements on my program".  For each
download, he sends a formal request to give back their changes to the
sysadmin of the systed who downloaded.  Won't get perfect response,
but that's OK; he's just casting a wide net.

And the Fred the Lawyer has a talented technical staff.  They get the
request, and it lands on Fred's desk the next day.  

If Fred complies with the demand, he violates a duty of
confidentiality.  Whoops!  Fred was entirely happy to play by what he
thought were the rules of free software; he gave Joe's Sheet Rock the
source to the program (indeed, Joe is a programmer himself, and has
been working together with Fred on possible improvements: Joe is also
delighted at the requirements that source be given to him).  But alas,
since QNU Madlibs is distributed under the QPL, Fred and Joe are out
of luck.

If there were no copyrights, Joe and Fred would not be stuck.  But the
licensor has decided to use copyright restrictions to enforce a "you
must share" limitation on their freedom, which has materially hurt


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