Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Linux Journal is not Hypocritical

Author:Mark A. Hershberger
Posted:8/26/1999; 11:46:58 PM
Topic:Opening Up Linux Journal and O'Reilly
Msg #:10073 (In response to 9840)
Prev/Next:10072 / 10074


I think you are misinterpreting what free software is about and, as a result, mis-applying its ethics to Linux Journal. The biggest free software advocate that has walked the planet, RMS, has said that documentation that is *essential* to using the software should be freely modifiable and freely redistributable. The important thing is the "modifiable" clause, though. It seems that much of the discussion here has focused on the distribution of LJ rather than the modifiability of it, which misses the whole point. It is important that essential documentation for free software remain freely modifiable. Why? Because if I make a change to the software (which is what free software is about, after all), then I might need to change the documentation to match.

Anyway, how does all this apply to Linux Journal? I see Linux Journal as an aggregator of content. They gather it up and publish it in a single volume. They aren't obligated to make the binary or source of their aggregated volume free in the same way that RedHat doesn't make the ISO image of the CD or the scripts to create the image availible. You can get all the components of a RedHat CD for free, you can even download the directory structure for free, but you have to do a little work to get it onto the CD. Compare this to the Mandrake or Debian releases which have freely-available ISO images and freely-modifiable/redistributable tools for creating slightly modified versions of those same images.

Back to Linux Journal. They aggregate content. You could go to each author and get their article from them if that author decided to let you have it. You could then publish a copy of Linux Journal (minus the ads, or with your own ads) yourself. To me, this seems very similar to the situation with different Linux distributions -- especially different RedHat-derived distributions. It is just that since the authors have clearly licensed and "published" their software it is much easier to make a RedHat-derived distribution than it would be to make a Linux Journal-derived publication.

(In fact, it seems to me that if you wanted to "force" Linux Journal to put their stuff on the web, you could publish your own version of the magazine on the web. If, in fact, Linux Journal does not restrict the author's right to republish, they would have no legal recourse. IANAL, though.)

So what about the "freeness" (speech) of Linux Journal? Their magazine is not essential to the use of the software. What is written in their magazine may be helpful, it may enlighten, but it isn't important that you be able to modify it if the software that an article describes changes. It isn't even important that the articles be freely availible for use. So, I don't think they are being hypocritical.

And I'm a free software zealot

Mark A. Hershberger

(Disclaimer: I've only perused one copy of LJ, so I may not be the best judge of the essentialness of the publication.)

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