Fascinating new definition of Free Software

December 05, 2007 at 07:37 PM | categories: python, oldblog | View Comments

On the backstage mailing list, out of the interminable rantings and ravings about whether DRM is a good or bad idea, whether people should call Linux GNU/Linux of "that piece of software I use" or just Tux, or indeed on a dozen other things, a (not to hot) flame war about BSD licensing vs GPL licensing came about. Now I've seen this argument played back and forth dozens of times (at least) over the past 10 - 15 years and it just get repetitive with the same arguments thrashed back and forth on both sides.

Well, this time, it surprised me. Someone - one Vijay Chopra specifically - came up with an argument I'd never seen before and whether or not you agree with it, it's just stunning to see something new on this whole issue. Vijay's position is in support of the BSD style licensing over GPL. Vijay was challenged with the following standard response that you'd expect:
> My usual response to this argument is that essentially you are asking
> for the freedom to restrict the freedom. This is patently absurd.
Which has always struck me as odd. Using the BSD license doesn't restrict anyone. It just means that it doesn't prevent anyone else from doing so either. This is often denigrated for not having a strong copyleft provision. Well, there's lots of possible next moves in this, and Vijay's was totally unexpected:
> Actually I'd compare free speech; it's not free speech unless it difficult
> to hear what I'm saying. Similarly it's not software freedom unless it's
> hard to bear what I'm doing to your code.
Think about it. The argument is this: unless someone has the ability to do something with your speech which upsets you, they don't have free speech. If they don't have the ability to do with code you wrote, they don't have free coding.

Whether or not you agree with it (not totally sure if I do), it's an absolutely fascinating argument due to its simplicity and completeness. It's also radically different from taking the perspective "There should be a right to do X" and then applying Kant's Universality Principle to that rule. It also naturally embodies the reason why freedom in coding may have good reason for restriction, because freedom of speech is often curtailed as well. (cf hate speech for example).

Fascinating. Didn't think I'd ever see a new argument in this arena :-)

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