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Community: An Open Letter to LinuxPlanet's Dennis Powell

Sep 08, 2000, 11:29 (32 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Jim Peters)

By Jim Peters


I just read your article "Peace in our Time." I think you are forgetting something. The free software community does not consist of a bunch of savage barbarians, ready to murder one another in the name of competition. We're used to working together. I don't know what your background is - military, big business, commerce - but things are different around here. This isn't a war.

If Richard Stallman is going on and on about something, he has good reason. It is through his efforts to design a licence that is pretty well invulnerable to the efforts of cut-throat big-business greed, that all us free software types can relax and get on with our coding.

Free software has a lot of enemies - a lot of people don't want to see this succeed. For that reason we have to be careful that we leave no minor flaws in our defense that can later be exploited, because if there is a way, believe me, they will find it. They have commercial reasons to do so, and they can hire big guns in their legal departments.

The proof that the battle is still not over is big business's attempt to find another way to restrict our freedom - through software patents. This is complete nonsense, as I'm sure you would understand if you were a coder.

You're not a coder, are you ? I don't think you really understand what we are about, and why these things are important. This isn't hippy nonsense either - a hippy ideal may have been the seed, but this has grown now into a mature tree that is starting to bear fruit. All this has grown on the foundation of the GPL.

We need to show that we are willing to defend our rights under the GPL, because if we don't, then we are starting to let ourselves and our code be misused. We can't let people get away with this. This is what RMS is saying. Maybe his timing seems inappropriate to you, but this is easily forgiven when you consider what he is trying to do, and what the alternative might be without his insistence on legal correctness.

As free software starts to enter the main-stream and attract commercial interest, the pressure on the GPL as an instrument to safe-guard our freedom is likely to increase. We may start to see attempts to abuse free software, and it may become necessary to prove that we mean what we say by taking legal action at times. That would be a very costly way to go, so any sabre-rattling that RMS is doing at this stage to dissuade GPL abuses is literally worth its weight in gold.

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