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Community: An Open Letter to LinuxPlanet’s Dennis Powell

By Jim Peters

Dennis:

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.