Planning for decades
Posted Mar 29, 2012 12:50 UTC (Thu) by jzbiciak
(✭ supporter ✭
In reply to: Planning for decades
Parent article: A turning point for GNU libc
3-BSD conveys fewer restrictions on the recipient of the code than GPL v2. So are you saying future GPL licenses can only be more restrictive?
Let's consider the spectrum of freedom from the perspective of the recipient of the code, not the author. Public domain code is the most free of all. 3-BSD is a step back from public domain, but not by much. GPL v2 is more restrictive than 3-BSD, with all its wording about derivative works and the like, source redistribution requirements, and so on. GPL v3 is more restrictive yet. And then there's the default state of "copyrighted work," where the recipient has very few default rights.
Are you suggesting that the only arc future GPL licenses can take is toward less freedom for the recipient?
Ok, so perhaps I was leading you down a rhetorical garden path with those questions. And, since you're well steeped in Free Software, you're not persuaded to follow. But, imagine arguments constructed along those lines in court. Such arguments could be much more persuasive to a less deeply invested judge and/or jury. If someone used your code with an imagined GPL v5 that let them make a proprietary package that you didn't approve of, good luck winning over the court if you try to sue.
I realize that the FSF is trying to maximize the freedom of the ecosystem as a whole. But realize that it does so by limiting the freedom of individuals to appropriate the code and take it private. It lays that all out in the preamble, saying that to protect your rights, it puts limits on what you (or anyone using the software) can do, and places on you certain responsibilities in order for you to use the licensed software. That subtle, tricky and almost counter-intuitive balance of "protecting your rights by limiting your actions" can be a lot for folks to wrap their heads around.
What if the FSF decides that it's in the greater interest of the ecosystem to place fewer restrictions on the recipients of the software, thinking that yes, there will be some that abuse the additional privilege, but it's entirely likely be more new contributors that will not. There are those who find the GPL legally risky and don't contribute, and maybe someday the FSF will try to meet them in the middle to bring them into the fold. (Probably not as long as St. Ignucious is still kicking, but hey, there's an awful lot of future ahead of us. And don't think that I'm advocating that the FSF should do this. I'm only arguing about the potential range of outcomes here.)
The GPL v2 states:
The Free Software Foundation may publish revised and/or new versions of the General Public License from time to time. Such new versions will be similar in spirit to the present version, but may differ in detail to address new problems or concerns.
"Similar in spirit" is rather wide open to interpretation. The overriding theme is "freedom", and as we've all seen, there are many, many differing interpretations of what constitutes freedom. A license that shifts the balance of freedoms toward the recipient (ie. a move toward something more like 3-BSD, if not moving entirely to 3-BSD) would not necessarily be incompatible in spirit with the GPL in many peoples' eyes.
In any case, the only truly legally binding phrase in that clause is this one:
If the Program specifies a version number of this License which applies to it and "any later version", you have the option of following the terms and conditions either of that version or of any later version published by the Free Software Foundation. If the Program does not specify a version number of this License, you may choose any version ever published by the Free Software Foundation.
Sure, the preceding paragraph said "similar in spirit," but the FSF alone gets to define what their spirit is. After all, they wrote the license.
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