1984 wasn't just the year Richard Stallman started writing GNU software

by Jonathan Wellons

I was lucky enough to read J. Michaelson's classic (well, 2004) magazine article entitled "There's No Such Thing as a Free (Software) Lunch."

He digs deep into the details of licensing and corporate acceptance of Free Software. He's a lawyer so he doesn't speculate, but I'll connect the dots where he doesn't. I'm going to reveal the dark secret of so-called "Free Software".

Ignorance is Strength because if developers, corporate lawyers and corporations knew how complicated, varied and legally untested the licenses were, there would be much less innovation and confidence in Open Source.

Freedom is Slavery because code freedom is inversely proportional to developer freedom. The more "free" a piece of code is, the less a developer or corporation can do to integrate it into their products.

War is Peace because in the midst of flamewars, vicious IP lawsuits, and MS/Linux hate, the masses of Free Software users are productive, trusting, happy and idealistic.

You've seen this before, in George Orwell's novel 1984 the three slogans of The Party are War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength! Big Brother anyone?

10 Comments


2007-04-12 05:14:12
I don't mind open source code so much as the idea of Open Source, a religion where you have to hate everything that isn't approved by Stallman, Raymond, or Perens. True freedom is using Microsoft when I want, Gnu when I want, or anything else when I want. If another person doesn't like that, they can do something different.


And, as much as Stallman may complain that he doesn't use devices with proprietary code (cell phones, and the like), he doesn't note that he does it when it's convenient for him (such as using the internet and all of its proprietary switches, obeying traffic lights, &c.). His real beef is that he wants people to turn on and drop out, and not making money to pay for proprietary code is just part of that message.

Eduardo Padoan
2007-04-12 06:08:40
> Freedom is Slavery because code freedom is inversely
> proportional to developer freedom. The more "free" a piece of
> code is, the less a developer or corporation can do to
> integrate it into their products.


Can you explain to us how to integrate non-free software with anithing? Also, you can integrate LGPL/BSD code even with proprietary code.
Free software *can* give freedom to developers, because must of the time a developer is using another people code.


> War is Peace because in the midst of flamewars, vicious
> IP lawsuits, and MS/Linux hate, the masses of Free
> Software users are productive, trusting, happy and
> idealistic.


No one is advocating "software peace", and that is nothing wrong with idealism. George Orwell was an idealist. What he wasn't is a totalitarist. Who is spreading FUD (must of the time), AFAIK, isn't the free software people. But maybe I was brainwashed by the GNU party alread. You Goldstein!


Some doblethink: I like your text a lot, and agree mustly with it!

Aaron 'Teejay' Trevena
2007-04-12 09:16:42
I'm afraid your orwellian doublethink doesn't actually work..


* 'ignorance is strength' : the problem with licenses is not exclusive to free/open source software - in fact proprietary licenses are *more* complex, *less* understood and considerably less tested than the GPL and other licenses.


* 'freedom is slavery' : you can apply multiple licenses to your own software, and developers are more free to integrate open source code into their products than proprietary code, usually with less onorous conditions.


* 'war is peace' : I'm a free software user, I don't hate Microsoft, I'm merely underwhelmed by most of their technology (some is rather good, there are quite a few hidden gems), and find their business practices distasteful, I'm not particularly idealistic either - I'm very pragmatic, ideals won't pay my mortgage, although I'll concede that F/LOSS does occasionally make me happy and productive.


Jonathan Wellons
2007-04-13 13:20:38
Dear Aaron 'Teejay' Trevena,


You make some good points, which I'll try to address:


> * 'ignorance is strength' : the problem with licenses is not exclusive to free/open source software - in fact proprietary licenses are *more* complex, *less* understood and considerably less tested than the GPL and other licenses.


It's true that these licenses are restrictive, but at least you know they are. Nobody is going to experiment or take the brazen chances with incorporating Commercial software into their products that they do with Free Software


> * 'freedom is slavery' : you can apply multiple licenses to your own software, and developers are more free to integrate open source code into their products than proprietary code, usually with less onorous conditions.


The more free the code is, the less free the developer is. If it is pure-GPL ("viral"), that's less I can do with it. If it is LGPL, that is more I can do with it.


> * 'war is peace' : I'm a free software user, I don't hate Microsoft, I'm merely underwhelmed by most of their technology (some is rather good, there are quite a few hidden gems), and find their business practices distasteful, I'm not particularly idealistic either - I'm very pragmatic, ideals won't pay my mortgage, although I'll concede that F/LOSS does occasionally make me happy and productive.


Yeah, this was the hardest one for me to cram into that analogy :P

Anonymous++
2007-04-16 17:33:57
Anonymous wrote:
> I don't mind open source code so much as the idea of Open Source, a religion where you have to hate everything that isn't approved by Stallman, Raymond, or Perens.


Open Source is not a religion. Open Source is a practical methodology for developing software. Free Software is a religion. And if you're going to be a religious zealot, being fanatical about freedom beats most of the alternatives...

JJB
2007-04-17 02:02:30
Open Source == "Inter arma caritas"?
Jonathan Wellons
2007-04-17 02:18:35
Dear JJB,


>>> Open Source == "Inter arma caritas"?


I had to look that one up. "Inter arma caritas" is Latin for "Mercy Between Armies," often used in the context of the Red Cross. Correct me if I'm wrong, but do you mean that F/OSS is a no man's land of constructive idealism in the midst of warring corporations?

JJB
2007-04-17 03:11:52
Hello Jonathan,


Q: "... do you mean that F/OSS is a no man's land of constructive idealism in the midst of warring corporations?".
A: Yes. Only sometimes it seems that F/OSS is one of the warriors.

Michael R. Bernstein
2007-04-26 16:48:25
"The more free the code is, the less free the developer is. If it is pure-GPL ("viral"), that's less I can do with it. If it is LGPL, that is more I can do with it."


That sort of depends on how you define *do*. If *do* includes 'incorporate into a proprietary codebase which I then distribute without source', then you are of course correct. If, however, you mean 'accomplish some task', or even 'build an integrated system to accomplish some task', then you're dead wrong.


Guess which one is more common?


Yes, the reciprocal licenses restrict your freedom to restrict other people's freedoms in turn. So what?


This moral conundrum (is a licence that restricts the freedom to restrict other people's freedom more or less free?) is very similar in structure to 'is a culture that does not tolerate intolerant behaviour more or less tolerant?'.


Both are asking a misleading question, because the right question isn't which regime allows more freedoms (or which is more tolerant), but which regime results in people (on average) having more exercisable freedoms (or being more tolerant).


To me, it's obvious: Reciprocal copyleft licenses, on average, give more people more freedoms.

Jonathan Wellons
2007-05-07 16:03:57
Dear Michael,


You're surely right from that point of view. Mr. Michaelson is a lawyer, and I interpreted the paper as if it were written from a Corporate Law perspective where the first scenario you describe may be quite common.


Best,
Jonathan