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Social aspects of the BSD vs. GPL debate

(Research notes to the e-book Labyrinth of Software Freedom )

Copyright-related Links

Main page Ebook Reference Recommended papers BSD License Artistic License GPL
Shareware & Giftware Framing Plagiarism    Random Findings  Humor Etc
  1. Copyright Management Center of IUPUI, directed by Kenneth Crews
  2. The ILTguide to Copyright at Columbia, for educators
  3. Copyright Law Materials at Cornell Legal Info. Institute
  4. Copyright & Fair Use site of Stanford University Libraries
  5. Copyright Basics Circular from the U.S. Copyright Office
  6. Copyright Clearance Center (CCC)Online
  7. Digital Future Coalition (DFC)
  8. IIP Policy Gateway, Harvard Information Infrastructure Project
  9. ALAWON - ALA (American Library Association) Washington Office Newsline providing urgent and late breaking news
  10. ARL Federal Relations and Information Policy Program, Prue Adler
  11. CS 190 Intro to Computing Homepage





BSD License

This is the simplest of free/open source licenses. Essentially this is a codification of the idea of "pro-bono" work. there are two major flavors of he BSD license:

Excerpt from http://www.OpenBSD.ORG/policy.html

The GNU Public License and licenses modeled on it impose the restriction that source code must be distributed or made available for all works that are derivatives of the GNU copyrighted code.

While this may be a noble strategy in terms of software sharing, it is a condition that is typically unacceptable for commercial use of software. As a consequence, software bound by the GPL terms can not be included in the kernel or "runtime" of OpenBSD, though software subject to GPL terms may be included as development tools or as part of the system that are "optional" as long as such use does not result in OpenBSD as a whole becoming subject to the GPL terms.

As an example, some ports include GNU Floating Point Emulation - this is optional and the system can be built without it or with an alternative emulation package. Another example is the use of GCC and other GNU tools in the OpenBSD tool chain - it is quite possible to distribute a system for many applications without a tool chain, or the distributor can choose to include a tool chain as an optional bundle which conforms to the GPL terms.

Shareware & Giftware

Most free software for MS-DOS, Windows and Macintosh computers is distributed under principles of shareware which is a very influential movement of its own. One of the founders of the shareware concept, Bob Wallace left Microsoft in 1983 (the same year as Stallman started GNU project). Wallace had written a basic word processing program called PC-WRITE and (after a contest was held in 1984 to settle on a name for this new distribution method. The most popular choice was "shareware") started referring to his product as "shareware." Wallace stated that "My philosophy is that I want to make a living, not a killing."  In early 1987, Bob attended the pivotal Houston conference of virtually all of the top shareware programmers in those days. From that meeting, the Association of Shareware Professionals was formed. At its peak, his company QuickSoft employed over 30 people and did over $2 million a year in business, with over 45,000 registered users.

Shareware is copyrighted by the author and should include an explicit license that sets out the terms under which you can use the software. Shareware licenses typically grant you the right to use the unregisted version of software without any payments as well as redistribute it in unmodified form. sometimes it sets conditions under which you should cease using evaluation copy and must buy a licensed copy of the software. In the latter case evaluation version is granted for a month of free use or on conditions that you can only use it for non-commercial purposes. The shareware version may also have limitations which do not apply to the registered version: typically it may display nagging messages asking you to register.

Some shareware authors aren't really interested in money, but use the shareware model to track the spread of their software. These authors typically request payment in the form of a postcard, or perhaps just offer free email registration; such software may be called freeware or giftware.

Shareware is usually distributed in binary form only and the user normally has no way of adapting or using it in other work other than those provided by the original author, nor any right to do so; once the author leaves the field or abandons the software, further development of the software usually stops.

The shareware model is attractive to PC developers because it takes the burden of distributing and packaging software (by far the most expensive part of publishing software) off of the developer, and some companies (like McAfee, PKWare, WinZip and many others) have based entire businesses around the shareware model. Shareware provides sustainable business model and some shareware companies had grown to a significant size (McAfee).

  • Shareware Licensing and the Law
  • Google Web Directory - Computers Software Licensing Shareware Registration Services

  • Framing

    One thing that you can do is put this little bit of Javascript at the top of each page:"_top"
    if( != "_top") {
    top.location.href=window.location.href }

    This will break you out of anyone's frames. Frankly, it's just not right to link to someone else's content within your frameset to make it look like their content is your work.

    See also an excellent collection of links: Cyberspace Law - Linking and Framing


    Random Findings


    The GPL's main purpose is to make all software free "This page explains why the GPL contains some requirements that makes it hard to use in the real world".

    Caldera to introduce modified open-source license

    "Love said he thinks Microsoft was right in its claim that the GPL doesn't make much business sense. Consequently, Caldera is likely to add a non-GPL licensing mechanism -- most likely one based on the BSD license -- to its repertoire in the coming months."

    Is the GPL the weakest link?

    "Specifically, he thinks that, for commercial programmers and independent software vendors (ISVs), the GPL license, by requiring any code changes made to GPLed code, like Linux, can interfere with an ISV's business "

    A small point on Open Source vs. Free Software

    "We are talking about the GPL: the GNU General Public License. This is not an Open Source license; it is a Free Software license. The purpose of it is to eliminate proprietary software. "

    The GPL is not open source

    "As Richard Stallman himself says: "In the GNU Project, discrimination against proprietary software is not just a policy--it's the principle and the purpose." "

    The GPL is not open source (2)

    "The GPL is explicitly discriminatory and explicitly anti-business, as is reflected by the quote above and also by its effects on programmers and their businesses. My personal ethical code will not allow me to support such a thing."

    Differentiation is good.

    "But the GPL prevented them from creating an improved version of the software to sell the hardware."

    Freedom vs. Freedom  

    "The GPL was created to protect against such un-ethical behavior, but let's face it, if people are going to be un-ethical enough to blatantly steal from Open Source, you can also trust them to be un-ethical enough to not care for the license. At the end of the day, the license is nothing but words that can be easily ignored."

    LinuxPlanet - Judgment Day for the GPL - Determining the Legality of the GPL

    This summer could be a lot hotter than usual--not because of global warming, which may or may not be taking place, but because of a lawsuit which may or may not be taking place.

    Before summer's end, a long-awaited court test of the GNU General Public License may be filed, says Eben Moglen, professor at the Columbia University Law School and general counsel to the Free Software Foundation.

    "If you wait another couple of months I wouldn't be surprised if you see either a lawsuit or a voluntary agreement to comply entered into by a major international software house that has done exactly what you postulate, less in the 'embrace and extend' model than in the 'security through obscurity' model, which is another reason why those who build works on top of free software sometimes try not to disclose source," Moglen told me in an e-mail exchange dealing with the basic nature of the GPL, the licensing instrument of much if not most Linux-related software. (I had asked him whether it would be possible for a commercial software firm to envelop GPLed code, alter it, and sell it, sans source code, and whether it would be possible to obtain judicial relief under such circumstances.)

    Moglen would not reveal the details of the potential lawsuit, nor would he name the company involved, noting that if he did he would reduce the likelihood that court could be avoided.

    ... ... ...

    This won't necessarily happen in the first case, right out of the box. This has to do with the nature of the case itself--again, the FSF is smart enough to choose a test case that it is likely to win--and other factors that cannot be predicted at all. Because it will probably result in new law, random factors such as the judge assigned to the case, his or her mood and opinion of the lawyers involved, and competence of his or her law clerk are huge and unpredictable variables.

    "It's going to be interesting" one lawyer told me. "It's just a different paradigm entirely."

    (Moglen's manifesto, "Anarchism Triumphant: Free Software and the Death of the Copyright," can be found at In it, he argues for the elimination of intellectual property rights. It is a very interesting read, just as it is useful for the reader to contemplate whether the elimination of intellectual property rights is necessarily a good thing.)


    The Napster Revolution and the Law



    Some interesting letters from GNU adepts

    Linux Today - GNU libc 2.2.4 Release Notes Include Hard Words for Richard Stallman

    Kenneth Bernholm - Subject: Have a little faith ( Aug 17, 2001, 13:46:21 )
    It's sad to see so many people speak out against the GPL, GNU, RMS and FSF. If it weren't for RMS' dissatisfaction with the state of things in his MIT days (go to to read about the Xerox printer affair), there would be no barricades against M$ and AOL and the likes today.

    Personally, I feel confident that the FSF will fight tooth and claw when somebody tries to take official GNU packages away (by forking, embrace-and-extending or by other means). The glibc is such an official GNU package.

    Let me quote from

    "The GNU C library was originally written and maintained primarily by Roland McGrath when he worked for the FSF. During the development of version 2, Ulrich Drepper volunteered his efforts and became the foremost contributor. Ulrich took over as the maintainer when Roland left the FSF, and made the releases of versions 2.0 and later."

    I believe a man like Drepper to be highly intelligent not to enter a working relationship with his eyes closed. If he cannot agree with the FSF anymore, maybe it's time for him to move on.

    Personally, I compile my operating system software from official GNU packages when at all possible. I can't wait till Hurd is stable so I can dump Linux (not that Linux isn't a fine piece of work).
    You might call me a purist (and worse things), but I believe in FSF/RMS/GPL/GNU and I know that they're not compromising. The GNU OS will stay free and FSF has the capacity to make it so.

    And BSD? It's a beautiful system, but when The Man can swipe the code and use it against the developers, it's a license I'll never support. It's simple as that.

    Everybody! Free Software is about *freedom*. Let's not forget that in all our squabbles. And then let's have a little faith in those who have dedicated their lives to free us from the tyranny of corporations and governements.

    I for one am tired of being treated like a mindless piece of livestock by those in power.

    And perhaps most importantly: I do not mind if you have a different opinion that mine. As long as we can agree that no opinion is the only right opinion.
    Leo - Subject: GPL is a *great* license, regardless of who RMS is ( Aug 17, 2001, 04:01:05 )
    OK, I am noticing attacks on GPL that have nothing to do with GPL itself but rather with the RMS's character. That's just retardation people.

    GPL and LGPL are great licenses, and this has nothing to do with RMS. RMS could become Stalin-line tomorrow morning, and this wouldn't change the fact that GPL is a great license. The only questionable piece is the "or any later version" clause. But without that clause, the actual spirit of GPL is flawless.

    You can knock that one clause, but you can't complain about the spirit of GPL and Free Software. Or at the very least, your complaint would have nothing to do with RMS himself, if there was any validity to it whatsoever.

    And, also, BSD license sucks. The reason why was already discussed to death: it allows powerful companies to wrest the control of the software from you via an embrace-and-extend attack. You can own your BSD licensed software, but your ownership of it can become irrelevant if some company with majority market share extends it into an incompatible, but much much more popular version. At the very least, you wind up aiding and abetting a known criminal. Why give free help to a bunch of criminals? Keep your guns locked up.
    Leo - Subject: the truth lies somewhere in the middle ( Aug 17, 2001, 03:47:24 )
    I think one one hand, Drepper has a point about the "or any later version" clause. Drepper might also have a point about Stallman being rude and forceful (if it can be verified).

    But... Without some of those very same RMS qualities, Free Software movement wouldn't be here today in the form that we see. And for that, no matter what you think about RMS currently, we are in debt to RMS.

    Also, all the writings and speaches by RMS are very very well thought out, clear, and to the point.

    Since I don't know RMS personally, it's not up to me to judge his character on a personal level, as Drepper has done. From where I sit, I see RMS as a human being. He's got some good and some bad. But it looks to me like he's got more good in him than most other software professionals. In terms of coding, he's done his share of contributing, so he deserves the right to opine on the coding effort. Drepper and others might not agree with his estimation, but RMS sure deserves to speak his piece.

    I wouldn't be surprised if RMS had some nasty compulsive-obsessive habbit and a controlling streak. But so do many other people (and some good people among them too).

    My personal suggestion to RMS is that he needs to relax a little and stop running around as if a bee stung his behind. He just needs to get more laid back and more sagely, and speak only on rare occasions. At this point, I think everything that needs to be said by RMS was already said. If someone of RMS's stature keeps talking too much, he can only harm his cause by cheapening it with too much verbiage. Too much verbiage can be OK for a non-famous person, but for someone like RMS, who gets scrutinized constantly, it's a big drawback.

    This especially applies getting involved in politically irrelevant exchanges about things like glibc. RMS needs to trust the community he has created with things like glibc. If RMS can't trust the community, then why is he still alive? He made the community what they are. If people are consciously aware of their rights, it is because RMS has raised the level of consciousness. He should be happy that Drepper won't let anyone take him for a ride :). Just imagine, instead of RMS it could have been M$. You have to put the trust in every single individual of the community, instead of one community "leader". Any good leader will know this. Didn't RMS read Dune?

    RMS will have to step aside at some point anyway. I think RMS should contemplate that all things are impermanent, and that greed often destroys the greedy, no matter whether they are greedy for money or immaterial things. There is a healthy amount for everything.

    Disclaimer: this is just my opinion at *this* point in time. It is liable to change as I get more information.



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