Software, Not Ideology

I’m still pissed off about the FSF’s adoption of GPLv3.  The changes between GPLv2 and GPLv3 have more to do with ideology than software and freedom.

Jem Matzan comments that GPLv3 marks GNU’s decline and that people “will look back on this and say that June 29, 2007 was the day when the Free Software Foundation jumped the shark, creating an impassable chasm where there was already an uncomfortable rift between the Free Software Foundation and GNU Project, and the larger free software and open source worlds.” He addresses GPLv3’s new set of restrictions and explains how these will affect the open source community.  And the point that bothers him the most is that the license is  overly legalistic:

This is a license written by and for lawyers, not programmers or users. I’ll reiterate the fact that I have read through dozens of complex software licenses. I have seen many unusual clauses (particularly in Sun licenses), but nothing so convoluted as the GPLv3. The above quote is only a single example of an overlong and tedious license that no end user or software developer — the people who most need to understand what their entitlements and limitations are — can ever hope to fully understand. This puts all users and programmers in a powerless position in which we must trust the interpreters to accurately convey what we can and cannot do with this program. When you are powerless, you are not free. In a sense, the GPLv3 authors have robbed us of the freedom to understand the terms by which we use, modify, and distribute GPLv3-licensed software. They have made free software into something that cannot be reasonably understood, nor explained to a newcomer.

Then there’s adoption of GPLv3 (many projects have stupidly and blindly opted for FSF’s default “GPLv2 or greater” language)  that will affect other operating systems. Matzan points out:

Linux distributions are not the only operating systems affected by GPLv3. More threatened than anyone are free software projects that abhor licensing restrictions imposed by the GPL, such as the BSD variants.

The BSDs are evaluating how to proceed with GPL code. OpenBSD has tried to rid itself of as much GPL-encumbered code as possible, rewriting many tools from scratch.

Indeed, that may be what’s eventually needed to avoid software contaminated by ideology and restrictions.


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