You can thank Unipress for this, I think. If I recall correctly, they're the ones that pushed RMS over that cliff.
Whilst it was RMS who came up with the GPL itself, it's another case of there would have been someone else to step into the breach had he not done so. There were lots of rumblings during the late-80's (GPL1 was written in 1989) over these same issues, especially credit-stripping. Some people by that time were already putting their own usage and distribution restrictions in their README and/or documentation files. RMS was probably the first one to came up with a popular set of restrictions, but my licence history isn't so good here.
But if RMS had decided to go into gardening instead, we'd still be pretty much where we are today, just with different players but similar licences and projects.
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