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

Benefits of truly free licensing

Author:Brett Glass
Posted:8/23/2000; 6:26:42 PM
Topic:Next survey: Are you an open source developer?
Msg #:20034 (In response to 20031)
Prev/Next:20033 / 20035

The GPL severely limits the amount of good code can do in that it does not allow the code to be used by commercial software developers as well as non-commercial ones. Let's look at a specific example: the BSD TCP/IP stack. This code was developed at the University of California at Berkeley with money from DARPA, and was licensed to all comers under the BSD license.

Had the code been licensed under the GPL, commercial software vendors would not have been able to adopt it. Many would have opted for protocols other than TCP/IP, such as SNA, NetBIOS/NetBEUI, XNS, etc. The Tower of Babel that would have resulted from this would have been daunting indeed.

Fortunately, the UC Regents had the foresight to release the code for use by everyone. This led directly to the adoption of TCP/IP as a near -universal standard. The code was incorporated into virtually every operating system -- commercial or non-commercial -- and promoted standardization. We owe the Internet as we know it today to the fact that the BSD TCP/IP stack was licensed under an ethical and truly free license.

The GPL fails to produce the maximum benefit because it is designed to exclude commercial software developers. Have you ever watched the childrens' game that is sometimes called "Keep Away," or "Monkey in the Middle?" In this game, an object of value to the victim (the "monkey") -- for example, his or her lunch bag -- is passed from hand to hand but kept away from him or her. This is a cruel game, and it is very much analogous to the situation which the GPL is designed to create. Everyone can use the code in a way that benefits him or her except for the commercial developer -- who is stuck "in the middle." His markets are destroyed, and he is deprived of the use of a public resource to which everyone has access but him.

This is unethical.

If you release software under a truly free, ethical license, it will always be available to the world -- as is the BSD TCP/IP stack. What's more, others will often choose to release their improvements to it. Some will keep their changes to themselves, but that's fair; no one should be forced to contribute if he or she does not want to.

A truly free license shares freely and does not coerce. The GPL, on the other hand, was designed explicitly to hurt programmers' livelihoods. The author, Richard Stallman, says so in his essay "The GNU Manifesto," in which he says that good wages for programmers should be "banned." At, Stallman says:

For more than ten years, many of the world's best programmers worked at the Artificial Intelligence Lab for far less money than they could have had anywhere else. They got many kinds of non-monetary rewards: fame and appreciation, for example. And creativity is also fun, a reward in itself.

Then most of them left when offered a chance to do the same interesting work for a lot of money.

What the facts show is that people will program for reasons other than riches; but if given a chance to make a lot of money as well, they will come to expect and demand it. Low-paying organizations do poorly in competition with high-paying ones, but they do not have to do badly if the high-paying ones are banned.

Which is what Stallman advocates: banning commercial software and commercial software companies. The stated purpose of the GPL is to destroy all programming jobs which pay better than what is earned by a poorly paid university researcher or a starving graduate student.

In short, by GPLing your code, you are participating in a vendetta -- Stallman's vendetta against commercial programmers. You may want to read up on Stallman's story and history before you continue to do harm in this way.

--Brett Glass

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