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Stallman and Kuhn on the freedom to choose license

Nov 23, 2001, 01:11 (136 Talkback[s])

Mikael Pawlo writes:

As reported by Gnuheter, a new essay published by Bradley M Kuhn och Richard M Stallman carries the title "Freedom or Power?". The authors state something that we might have suspected from essays from Kuhn and Stallman before, but now is a little more clear, if still ambiguous:

"However, one so-called freedom that we do not advocate is the "freedom to choose any license you want for software you write". We reject this because it is really a form of power, not a freedom."

The essay is interesting in the light of an earlier essay published by Eric S Raymond. Raymond states:

"In other words, Stallman and Kuhn want to be able to make decisions that affect other developers more than themselves. By the definition they themselves have proposed, they want power".

Tim O'Reilly started the debate with his weblog of July 28, 2001: My definition of freedom zero, where O'Reilly states:

"If Freedom Zero for developers is the freedom to offer software on whatever terms the developer sets and a user will accept; Freedom Zero for users is the right to choose whatever software they like, without interference from platform vendors who try to deny that choice."

The issue is not simple. Stallman and Kuhn could be attacked on liberal grounds and even more so on libertarian grounds. This notwithstanding, you probably find a point in their statement:

"We believe you should decide what to do with the software you use; however, that is not what today's law says. Current copyright law places us in the position of power over users of our code, whether we like it or not. The ethical response to this situation is to proclaim freedom for each user, just as the Bill of Rights was supposed to exercise government power by guaranteeing each citizen's freedoms. That is what the GNU GPL is for: it puts you in control of your usage of the software, while protecting you from others who would like to take control of your decisions."

I am not sure whether Raymond, Stallman or O'Reilly is right, but to paraphrase Esther Dyson: the conversation continues.