No, No Hurdle

I just read this little bit of FUD about HD, Linux, and the move by content providers to protect their content. I don’t like the extremes of either position in this battle. On the one hand, I object to anyone or anything locking down my hardware or otherwise restricting my use of it without my consent. On the other, I object to the proposed GPL 3 — which has all the hallmarks of coming from someone whose mind is made myopic because his livelihood is secured by something like academic tenure rather than the demands of a free market — because it goes far (way too far) beyond the idea of software freedom and suggests that every bit of content on your computer is yours to do as you see fit.

The issue then is no longer just software, but everything with a copyright: books, music, movies, everything. GPL3 assumes that not only should any software you have on your computer be free, but also all the data — even if it’s not yours — should be.

This troubles me on two fronts. First, there’s an issue of data privacy. I’m protected by many laws that restrict what others who have data about me can do with it. In a GPL3 world, they should be able to do whatever the hell they want with it. Second, there’s the issue of rights for both the consumer of the data as well as the producer of it.

I believe freedom works both ways. Nobody should put constraints on either the producer or the consumer they won’t accept. If either party has an objection, find a substitute or a compromise.

It’s one thing if you choose to release your own code or data via GPL or BSD license. It’s another if you think you thereby have a right to make the Spielbergs and Metallicas of the world release their work in similar fashion, either by restricting their rights via change in copyright law (though GPL3 isn’t law or binding against others with copyrights) or by ignoring their rights and distributing their works in a manner which they — and their license (GPL, traditional copyright with various exclusions in how something can be redistributed, etc.) — allow. Prevailing law doesn’t support the mentality underlying GPL3. Ask the guys who started Napster.

I think there will ultimately be some kind of compromise between content providers, hardware developers, and those who use free software (the majority of whom appear to be little more tolerant than the Ivory Tower crowd behind GPL3). It’s not in the best economic interest of the providers or developers to lock out markets, and not everyone who uses free software is totally opposed to everything that’s closed: witness the popularity of “free” (as in beer) software like Opera among Linux/BSD users even though Opera won’t release code, or the popularity of other proprietary software or drivers for Linux and BSD. Then there’s the issue of DRM and Linux — Linus Torvalds has been on record since at least 2003 that this isn’t an issue to him. He’s not buying into the FUD from the extremists and says Linux will remain GPL2.

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