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[ossig] Freedom Fighters

>From Jeremy Allison's LowPoint series of articles:

The other articles are available here:

In particular, Jeremy sums it best here:

"Saying we don't need the GPL is like saying we can do without criminal
law and replace it with the chilling Aleister Crowly statement; "Do what
thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law", because most people are
basically decent. That may be true but it's not the decent people we
need to protect ourselves against."

Jeremy is a Samba core dev.


Freedom Fighters

As I write this the GNU GPL license is undergoing some robust
discussions about its future. Eric Raymond used a keynote speech to
state: "We don't need the GPL anymore. It's based on the belief that
open source software is weak and needs to be protected. Open source
would be succeeding faster if the GPL didn't make lots of people nervous
about adopting it.". There have also been many articles in the trade
press about the future revision of the GPL license, version 3, claiming
everything from the fact that major vendors will be able to dictate
terms to Richard Stallman (or Linux won't adopt it so it "won't be
successful" they say) to the possibility it'll make commercial use
"impossible" by prohibiting use with any Digital Rights Management or
"Trusted Computing" scheme.

The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between. I am lucky enough to
have actually seen an early draft of the GPL version 3, and was able to
scribble some hasty comments on it before having to return it to Bradley
Kuhn, Director of the Free Software Foundation. The one thing I can say
for certain about it is that it isn't finished yet. What gets released
will almost certainly be very different from what I saw, which will be a
good thing in my opinion. The strength of the GPL (version 2) is that it
doesn't read like a legal document. Having read enough legal documents
when dealing with the Microsoft Anti-Trust case in the EU I can only say
that is probably its greatest strength. I'm a programmer, not a lawyer,
and the more something can be parsed by simple English and not have to
be interpreted with legal help to clarify it the better. The draft I saw
was too close to a legal document (in the words of Peter Shaffer's
"Amadeus" it had "too many notes") and hopefully will be much simplified
before being released as a discussion document.

The thing people forget about the GPL is that it's a document dealing
with human Freedom. Eric doesn't get it, because he doesn't see creating
software in those terms, he just wants to have more efficient and better
software and thinks that allowing others to see and modify the source
code will achieve that. In fact, one thing the Bitkeeper fiasco taught
me is that Linus doesn't get it either. He doesn't care about Freedom,
just getting a more efficient way to develop the software he finds fun.
He's quite willing to sacrifice Freedom (yours and mine) in order to
help out his mates.

I disagree. I'm going to put my cards on the table and say I'm not an
"Open Source" person, I'm a Free Software person. Freedom is the most
important part of what we do in developing this code. Hopefully an
example will illustrate this.

One of the most successful companies shipping data storage appliances (a
particular concern of mine for obvious reasons) is NetApp. NetApp could
be said to have created the category in fact. What isn't commonly known
is that NetApp was originally based on Open Source (note not "Free")
software. The underlying operating system for their filer appliances was
originally FreeBSD. I'm sure since then it's been heavily modified, I
know just as one example it's been made SMP-aware to cope with multiple
processors. The reason few people know this is not one line of those
changes (to my knowledge) has been contributed back to the FreeBSD
effort. Open Source, in the form of the BSD license, was certainly weak
in that case. Too weak to compel NetApp to participate in the community.

"Why pick on NetApp" I hear you ask ? After all Microsoft did exactly
the same with their initial TCP/IP stack for Windows. The reason they
make such a good example of the difference between Free Software and
Open Source is when you look at their contributions to Linux. To their
great credit, NetApp are a big contributor to Linux, under the GPL of
course. They actually employ Trond Myklebust, the maintainer of the NFS
code in the Linux kernel, who busily releases large amounts of code back
to the community. The magic difference of course is the license.

The same can be seen in many other cases. "Weak" Open Source code is
taken and used, "strong" GPL code is taken, used and contributed back
to. Yes, I'm sure there are companies that don't use GPL code because
they're "nervous about adopting it". These are companies we don't need
to help. After all, they don't want to help us. As a counter example
many people mention Apple, as they are probably now the largest
contributor to the FreeBSD effort by releasing the core code of their
"Dawin" operating system (the basis of Mac OS X) back to the community.
But for every Apple, there are a hundred NetApp's. They do contribute,
but because the GPL means they have to not because of altruism. Saying
we don't need the GPL is like saying we can do without criminal law and
replace it with the chilling Aleister Crowly statement; "Do what thou
wilt shall be the whole of the Law", because most people are basically
decent. That may be true but it's not the decent people we need to
protect ourselves against.

I'm going to put my trust in people like Richard Stallman, Eben Moglen,
Georg Greve (of the Free Software Foundation Europe) and Bradley Kuhn,
because they've earned my trust over the years. Whilst we may be out
there writing the code, that's the easy part. Writing code is fun, it's
the glamorous side of the Open Source/Free Software community. The
people who do the hard work, the real Freedom Fighters, are the people
who have created the GNU Free Software foundation, who have written the
GPL, the legal basis for our community. They are the ones out there
giving talks to the public, working with legislators, creating the
framework that allows us programmers to safely write our code and
release it in what would otherwise be an incredibly hostile and
predatory environment for Free Software.

Freedom fighters of the Free Software Foundation, creators of the
GNU/GPL, I salute you ! I hope this column will inspire more people to
join them and contribute money and resources to their fight. After all,
they're fighting for our freedom.

      * Jeremy Allison,
      * Samba Team.
      * San Jose, California.
      * 27th September 2005.

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