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Re: The Show So Far

On Sun, Mar 16, 2003 at 08:01:33PM -0800, Thomas Bushnell, BSG wrote:
> Anthony Towns <aj@azure.humbug.org.au> writes:
> > On Sun, Mar 16, 2003 at 06:08:59PM -0800, Thomas Bushnell, BSG wrote:
> > > The GPL's source distribution requirement actually augments the
> > > freedom of the possessor of the code
> > You say that like the "possessor" of the code is somehow special, but
> > the user of the code, and the author of the code aren't. I don't find
> > that remotely reasonable.
> The fundamental premise of free software is that copyright is an
> artificial limitation on what I can do whit a piece of software, and
> that I should be able to modify it and copy it.

I don't think so; the fundamental premise of free software is:

 * The freedom to run the program, for any purpose
 * The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs
 * The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor
 * The freedom to improve the program

Historically, the only way you could access a program at all was to
possess a copy of it, so it made sense to worry about how you could
possess a copy, but not have those freedoms. These days, people use
software they don't possess every day, in pretty significant ways.

> The reason that the possessor is special is that the only thing
> stopping the possessor from modifying or copying is the copyright
> law.  

No: that would be the reason that _copyright law_ is special, and
seriously problematic. (It's not true: not having access to the source
code does the same thing; and it assumes that you possess most of the
software you use -- if you lease it, or only have remote access, it's
not remotely relevant)

> (The "four freedoms" of
> the FSF spell out this basic premise more carefully; I don't mean to
> be setting up some different standard than that one.)

You are though; you're starting from the means, not the ends, and thus
artificially restricting the whole point. If copyright didn't exist, but
you were blocked from hacking on Gnome primarily by trademark laws, by
patents, by lack of access to compilers, by lack of access to information
on how to make changes, or by men with clubs who come around and beat you
until you're black and blue when you make changes, then the free software
movement would be working out ways to correct those problems. Copyright
is today's major issue, but it's not the fundamental issue.

> The user of the code, when that's different from the possessor, is
> often inhibited from copying or modifying by things *other* than just
> the copyright--importantly, his physical lack of access, among other
> things.

Lack of access to the source code is the first problem they have. That's
the point of closing the "ASP loophole" -- to get the source code out
into the world. Maybe we can't get it directly to them, but if we can
get it to them indirectly, then that's a win.

> > You keep saying that, but it _is_ an imposition on "freedom", and a
> > very significant one. Just ask the folks who license their code under
> > a BSDish license.
> In both these cases, the imposition is in the category of "a genuine
> pain".  But it's not an imposition on *freedom* (or rather, the
> imposition on *freedom* is negligible).  

I'm sorry, but that's not the case. _You_ might choose to disregard it,
after analysing the situation and trading off the benefits against the
drawbacks, but that does _not_ make the imposition negligible.

You're well within your rights to think that the freedoms the GPL
limits aren't valuable or important. That's fine and great. But they
are important to a bunch of people, and it's a tradeoff that it's often
necessary to carefully consider before making.

Pretending that there's no tradeoff being made here and that therefore
there's not only no precedent for tradeoffs but that they're a fundamentally
bad thing is quite disingenuos.

> That you may not think my arguments prove the point is obvious, since
> we have a disagreement.  But there's a difference between "haven't
> made any arguments" and "we have a disagreement."  

What I mean by "haven't made any arguments" is that the things you've
said simply don't make any sense unless you already hold your worldview.
Distinguishing between "possessors" and "users" and claiming that the
restrictions we currently allow don't affect "freedom" but that these
"just do" isn't forming an argument, it's begging the question. It
doesn't add any information, it just restates the original question.


``It is also acceptable for the license to require that, if you have
  distributed a modified version and a previous developer asks for a copy
  of it, you must send one.''
     -- http://www.fsf.org/philosophy/free-sw.html
        (since 2002-02-01 at least, according to web.archive.org)


Anthony Towns <aj@humbug.org.au> <http://azure.humbug.org.au/~aj/>
I don't speak for anyone save myself. GPG signed mail preferred.

  ``Dear Anthony Towns: [...] Congratulations -- 
        you are now certified as a Red Hat Certified Engineer!''

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