Richard Stallman on BSD vs GPL

Richard Stallman was recently in the software freedom community news for the discussion he kicked off on the OpenBSD-misc mailing list with the subject “Real men don’t attack straw men” - and this discussion is still ongoing - but he has an excellent summary of his views on revised BSD style licenses versus the GPL:

Releasing free software under a non-copyleft free software license is basically good (i.e., not evil), but that using copyleft is better.

Later in the thread, Richard explains the freedom-or-power issue:

Your definition of free is replete with chains; you would deny the freedom of choice in the name of freedom.
Freedom means having control of your own life; “Freedom of choice” is a partly accurate and partly misleading way to describe that, and taking that expression too literally leads to mistaken conclusions. Thus, I say I advocate “freedom” — not “freedom of choice”. This always leads to the question of “which freedom?” In the area of software, I want a society in which users are free to run software, free study and change its source code and make their changed versions run, and free to redistribute changed and unchanged versions. In other words, a society in which non-free software more or less doesn’t exist. Establishing a free society that endures generally requires not allowing people to give up freedom. In other words, it requires inalienable rights. I do not want a society in which people had those freedoms only until they gave them up. I do not say this with the expectation that you will agree with me. It sounds like you are as firmly convinced of your views as I am of mine. I hope, though, that at least you will understand better what my position is.

Richard makes an interesting case for it being made illegal in the same way that it is illegal to agree to give up other inalienable human rights - say to work in dangerous conditions (at least, in the UK, which has better human rights laws than other countries with very poor factory conditions and human rights records - I’m thinking of really dangerous stuff as well, since many think that UK “Health and Safety” laws go too far) - that is to say that software freedom ought to be an inalienable right.

Update: I had same that its “in the same way as it is illegal to sell yourself into slavery.” But having proprietary control of software which other people use is not akin to slave holding; developers have a lot of power of users, but its not total power. I am often exaggerating this stuff and need to cut that out because it actually weakens my argument. I do it because I think the argument is hard to grasp, I suppose. Being more accurate, it akin to being a medieval lord, and inviting people to become serfs on your land. “Serfdom was the enforced labour of serfs on the fields of landowners, in return for … the right to work on their leased fields.” But this is a kind of weird/subtle historic concept, so probably something contemporary like factory working conditions would be better.

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The Richard Stallman on BSD vs GPL by David Crossland, except the quotations and unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.


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