"Freedom Zero" and "Freedom or Power": Tim O'Reilly and FSF Leaders Debate
Aug 17, 2001, 12:28 (33 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Tim O'Reilly)
WEBINAR: On-demand webcast
How to Boost Database Development Productivity on Linux, Docker, and Kubernetes with Microsoft SQL Server 2017 REGISTER >
"Craig Burton captured my off-the-cuff redefinition of
Freedom Zero in the Q&A period following the debate between
Craig Mundie and Michael Tiemann at the O'Reilly Open Source
Convention. I was responding to Brett Glass's comments on why
BSD-style licenses are preferable to the GPL. After an initial
statement of agreement that BSD-style licenses are my personal
preference for many of the same reasons that Brett has given,
here's what I went on to say:
"Freedom Zero for me is to offer the fruit of your work on the
terms that work for you. I think that is what is absolutely
critical here. Let there be competition in the marketplace; that is
the answer. Let people use whatever license they choose and if
their customers don't like it they will have other choices. Because
of the technological changes, we are entering an era of greater
choice. The fact is, Microsoft's past history is past. We are
entering a new era, not of just open source but of profound
technological changes. The future is open and we can make that
future be what we want it to be."
Some people might not recognize the reference to "Freedom Zero"
as a takeoff on the first of Richard Stallman's four freedoms from
the Free Software Definition:"
Bradley Kuhn and Richard M. Stallman:
"Freedom is being able to make decisions that affect
mainly you. Power is being able to make decisions that affect
others more than you. If we confuse power with freedom, we will
fail to uphold real freedom. That is what Tim O'Reilly did in his
essay, My Definition of Freedom Zero. He advocated a "basic
freedom" which is really a form of power.
Tim O'Reilly says the most fundamental software freedom is: "The
freedom to choose any license you want for software you write."
Unstated, but clearly implied, is that one person or corporation
chooses the rules to impose on everyone else. In the world that
O'Reilly proposes, a few make the basic software decisions for
everyone. That is power, not freedom. He should call it "powerplay
zero" in contrast with our "freedom zero".
We in the Free Software Movement want programmers to have
freedom. Most of us are programmers, and we want freedom for
ourselves as well as for you. But each of us uses software written
by others, and we want freedom when using that software -- not just
when using our own code."
"Bradley clearly misunderstands my article and my
argument. First off, if you accept his definition of freedom as
"being able to make decisions that affect mainly you" versus power
as "being able to make decisions that affect others more than you",
then clearly the GPL is just as much about "power" as any Microsoft
license, since it is binding on all who use the software, and has
the explicit goal of "world domination."
Second, I did not say that "Microsoft has put its past behind
it." What I said was that the market conditions that allowed
Microsoft to act in such an abusive way have passed their peak, and
that history is on our side in making them act in a more open way.
It is really important not to make distorted distinctions based on
temporary conditions, such as Microsoft's abuse of its monopoly
I want to be clear that I am in no way attacking the free
software vision, which Bradley articulates so very well. I
completely agree that a community of users who share software is a
far better and more productive environment than one in which they
are captive to vendors, especially if those vendors are doing
things that are bad for users in order to maintain their