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September 26, 2006

Open source pragmatists and ideologues are splitting over GPLv3

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It's always been the case that the main driver behind the free and open source software movement was animosity against ownership, control, and profit. That's why Richard Stallman came up with the idea, and it's why most of the early open source programmers got involved in open source projects in the first case. Most of them did what they did out of a sense of doing something clever and somewhat anarchical.

But somewhere along the way open source software became a very reasonable and practical solution in a number of niche business applications, and so the ideological Trojan horse of free and open source software was adopted by the pragmatic business community.

This, of course, was highly resented by the ideological revolutionaries behind free and open source software. They never intended for their invention to work side-by-side with the hated proprietary software. Hence, the license had to be "upgraded" in order to continue the revolution and forceably enlist the pragmatic business users of free and open source software in the ideological struggle, and to further undermine ownership and control.

The result is GPLv3, which very clearly goes beyond what is necessary in a software licensing scheme, and contains provisions designed to undermine digital rights management (DRM). This is utterly irrelevant to software development, but is vital to advancing the ideological campaign of the founders of free and open source software.

Similarly, new elements of the GPLv3 are designed to poison the intellectual property of anything touched by GPLv3 software.

Again, this is by philosophical design.  It's entirely reflective of the philosophy of those who are behind the movement.

But finally, and refreshingly, the pragmatists have pushed back against the philosophical wackos. More than two dozen of the most prominent Linux programmers have signed a letter rejecting the GPLv3, and precisely for the reasons I mentioned above. Here is an excerpt from the article cited above:
  • DRM: "While we find the use of DRM by media companies in their attempts to reach into user-owned devices to control content deeply disturbing, our belief in the essential freedoms (in Linux programming) forbids us from ever accepting any license which contains end-use restrictions...The FSF's attempts at drafting and re-drafting these provisions have shown them to be a nasty minefield which keeps ensnaring innocent and beneficial uses of encryption and DRM technologies....Defining what constitutes DRM abuse is essentially political in nature and as such, while we may argue forcefully for our political opinions, we may not suborn or coerce others to go along with them."
  • Patents: "As drafted, this currently looks like it would potentially jeopardize the entire patent portfolio of a company simply by the act of placing a GPLv3-licensed program on their Web site. Since the Linux software ecosystem relies on these type of contributions from companies who have lawyers who will take the broadest possible interpretation when assessing liability, we find this clause unacceptable because of the chilling effect it will have on the necessary corporate input to our innovation stream."
  • Additional restrictions that programmers may add to the GPL's terms: "The additional restrictions section in the current draft makes GPLv3 a pick-and-choose soup of possible restrictions which is going to be a nightmare for our (Linux) distributions to sort out legally and get right. Thus, it represents a significant and unacceptable retrograde step over GPLv2 and its no-additional-restrictions clause."
Seeing pragmatic users and practitioners of open source software standing up a bit against the ideologues is an encouraging development. We have always argued that, if open source is a valid method of development, it will succeed in the marketplace along side of the products of a more proprietary model. And if something succeeds in the marketplace, that's a fine thing. If something can compete, good for it, and good for the businesses who find it to be a useful part of their total IT package.

What we are opposed to are philosophical Socialists and Marxists masquerading as authors of software licenses, and trying to distribute their failed philosophy as a payload on a software license. So we're encouraged by this latest development.

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