Re: Dangerous precedent being set - possible serious violation of the GPL

Subject: Re: Dangerous precedent being set - possible serious violation of the GPL
From: Caspian (
Date: Thu Dec 02 1999 - 17:48:21 CET

I'm afraid this isn't about advertisement, or about the DFSG, or even
about the GPL. This is about the general trend of companies walking all
over the spirit of free software. No one is interested in "freedom talk",
as RMS puts it. Everyone's interested in filling their own pockets.

Crap like Corel's "adults-only" clause is only the tip of the iceberg.
Scratch a little deeper and you will discover a whole world of people who
have bought Red Hat, Caldera OpenLinux, etc. in the stores and either <A>
don't realize that most of it is redistributable, or <B> use a Red Hat
variant (either made by RHAT or by someone else) that's so deeply mixed
with non-free software that they'd be unable to determine what they can
and cannot touch, even if they -wanted- to.

In most cases, I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that those who "buy" modern
commercial GNU/Linux dists (which are often laced with tons of non-free
code, usually-- as in the case of Red Hat-- completely unsegregated from
free code, and often part of the base system) assume that (just as with
the Microsoft OSes they were "buying" a year ago) they have no freedom to
alter or redistribute any parts of their OS, so they don't even try. Right
now, the end-users have significant freedoms with regard to the software
they are running-- the various commercial GNU/Linux dists-- and I doubt
that even more than 5% of them can even identify those freedoms.
Furthermore, I doubt that these freedoms will last. So few people know or
care about them that what is free today probably won't be free in a few

In short, this is what I see happening. Companies who care about money a
lot, and about freedom not at all, are taking free software and making
OSes out of it. As time goes on, they are replacing bits and pieces of it
with non-free code, (i.e. fdisk and FIPS with Partition Magic in
Caldera's case) and/or supplementing the free stuff with non-free stuff
(i.e. the addition of non-free word processors and Web browsers, and
the inclusion of such programs in the base/default installation, without
even clearly marking them as non-free.) The crowd that these people are
selling to are completely unaware of what "free software" is-- so they
don't give their friends copies, and I'd wager that the majorty, when
asked for a copy of their GNU/Linux dist, would say "Well, if you want
a copy, you have to go to CompUSA and pay $59.95 for it like everyone
else, you "pirate.""

These effects are certainly not made any smaller by the proliferation of
the term "open source", rather than "free software". I can't tell you how
many times I've had to explain to people that NO, I am NOT an "open
source" advocate.

By the time anyone outside the ivory tower of computer geekdom realizes
what's going on, I'd wager that these companies will have replaced
numerous core elements of their OSes with non-free code. At this rate, I'm
fully expecting a vast network of licensing agreements to spring up. Some
commercial entity will come out with a nice GCC replacement that's
completely non-free, then every commercial Linux dist will license it...
and this process will repeat for other pieces of the GNU/Linux system
until virtually every major component of the canonical GNU/Linux dist is
no longer GNU at all.

Or, put another way, I don't trust the commercial software world. I fear
that either they're going to contaminate the freedom of free software
packages, or they're going to replace them wholesale, but either way, the
way in which companies have been handling their move to Linux has
demonstrated that they're in the "free software" world only because they
feel that it might make them money. Their true preference is for
software to be non-free, their sole interest is money, and antics like
Corel's make both of these facts abundantly clear.

Or, put more simply still-- the GPL acted as a deterrant only until the
commercial world finally was pressured to enter the GNU world. Now that
they have done so, they're finding ever more clever ways to create less-
and less-free distributions from mostly GPLd code. The GPL is no longer
serving as a convenient deterrent to keep money-loving hoarders out of the
community formerly occupied chiefly by computer-loving hackers and free
software coders. Now, they're invading our turf. The GPL is no longer
stopping them. They're ignoring it in some cases and avoiding it in
others, but in any case significant inroads have been made to eradicate
the free software world, and those creating those inroads have come from
two sides-- namely, from the ESR-esque "Open Source" people, who are
willing to sell out on one, many or all of the principles behind free
software in the interest of money (ESR even -admits- on
that what the "Open Source Initiative" is is a marketing campaign for free
software. He literally admits this! It's not a philosophical movement at
all, but a marketing campaign.), on one side, and from the traditional
post-PDP-era, pre-GNU/Linux-era proprietary software world on the other

Between these two influences, I see the actual free software world, the
actual free software advocates like myself and thousands of others, losing
their voice, losing all ability to speak above the roar of huge commercial
entities like Corel on the left, and traitors to their causes like Eric
Raymond on the right.

Something-- SOMETHING-- must be done, or in five to ten years the Linux
(and I do say "Linux" here, since it will no longer be "GNU/Linux")
community will more closely resemble the Microsoft/Adobe/Lotus world than
anything RMS would be proud of.

Look at Corel's EULA and think-- is this a step forwards for free
software? Or is this a step AWAY FROM it?


On Thu, 2 Dec 1999, Tomasz Wegrzanowski wrote:

> On Wed, Dec 01, 1999 at 07:28:06AM -0500, Caspian wrote:
> > Maybe at this point, what's really needed is something -stricter- than the
> > GPL. Companies are already starting to walk all over the spirit-- if not
> > the letter-- of the GPL...just one idea, eh?
> The strictiest still-DFSG-compatible licence I can invent is :
> 0:
> you can use, modify, sell and redistribute both code and binary in
> both modified and original form
> you can not sublicense, mix with non-free code neither by libs nor corba
> you have to preserve this note on all copies of package
> you have to include the note `This distro is partially made of free software'
> in all ads of distros mixed from either free and non-free code
> 7:
> line 3 : closes corba hole
> line 5-6 : old-BSD is DFSG-ok so it is either
> Do you like it ?
> ( I dont )
> counterproposal :
> --- policy.sgml.old Fri Nov 5 00:46:28 1999
> +++ policy.sgml Thu Dec 2 15:22:47 1999
> @@ -228,6 +228,16 @@
> other fee for such sale.
> </p>
> </item>
> + <tag>Free Advertising
> + </tag>
> + <item>
> + <p>
> + The license of a Debian component may restrict some
> + kind of advertisement ( references to author )
> + but can not force inclusion of any text nor any
> + other element in it's advertisement.
> + </p>
> + </item>
> <tag>Source Code
> </tag>
> <item>

 = Jon "Caspian" Blank,  right-brained computer programmer at large =
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