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Re: lynx-dev Licensing Lynx: Summary

From: Brett Glass
Subject: Re: lynx-dev Licensing Lynx: Summary
Date: Wed, 06 Oct 1999 23:36:33 -0600

At 10:35 PM 10/6/99 -0600, Richard Stallman wrote:

>You may indeed be capable of making improvements in Lynx that would
>make it more useful for blind users.  I expect that many people are
>competent to contribute to the progress of Lynx; there is no reason
>why you could not be one of them.
>However, if the modified version is not free software, it is not
>really progress, not when we consider social effects as well as
>technical ones.

Not so, Richard. The social effects of getting paid for one's
work are very positive. On the other hand, the social effects
of your efforts are quite negative: they destroy livelihoods,
destroy markets, and limit progress. 

The GPL institutionalizes bitterness and spite against those who 
should be rewarded for what they have created. Ironically, the 
vast majority of GPLed software is not at all innovative; it 
merely serves to destroy opportunities for people who might 
otherwise advance the state of the art by kicking the foundation 
out from underneath them.

>   It is also not a contribution to Lynx.

It is, in that it points the way for new features in Lynx. The
hard part is not the coding but the design. And the delay between 
the time when a private company produces a product and the time 
when it's copied by those producing freely redistributable
software provides an opportunity for creativity to be rewarded,
just as the patent system does by reserving the inventor's rights to 
an invention for a limited time. In both cases, great good is done.
In cases where you have attempted to short-circuit that process,
you have done great harm.

>You have explained very clearly why it is useful for programmers to be
>able to build on each other's work (and incidentally given the false
>impression that this is something I would disagree with).  The GNU GPL
>gives you the right to just that; it also insists that we and others
>must be free in the same way to build on your work.  

No; it goes much further. It is confiscatory; it insists that the
author who makes substantial new contributions GIVE UP his work,
foregoing any rewards he might (and should!) reap for his efforts.
Contributions of one's work should always be voluntary, and when 
they are made, they should be NO strings attached.

Accepting the GPL is a Faustian bargain that ultimately deprives 
programmers of the ability to make a livelihood as anything but a 
"grunt." Ironically, the packagers and marketers who sell discs with 
the author's work on it (e.g. Red Hat) do far better financially than 
the author -- a situation which is terribly unjust.

>That appears to be the part you do not like.

This is because I can readily perceive the long-term effects: the
destruction of markets, and (unless the spread of the GPL is checked)
the development of monopolies which undermine new efforts every
bit as much as Microsoft now does. Only the GPL stands to do it
across the board, rather than singling out specific areas of attack
as Microsoft does. 

At the same time, the GPL sets up a situation which guarantees that 
any developer in a market which it has invaded starts at a disadvantage:
he must reimplement everything else that others have done before
his work can be sold for any money at all. (Until he surpasses the
capabilities of the GPLed code, his work has zero market value,
because their equivalent is already available for free.) Microsoft
would be jealous of the barrier to entry this creates.

The GPL also causes problems in another way: by preventing the adoption
of universal standards. The Internet as we know it today exists because
the Berkeley TCP/IP stack, licensed under a more enlightened license,
could be copied freely by all and sundry -- including developers of
commercial operating systems. Were it licensed under the GPL, those
developers would likely have gone their own way. The miracle that is
the Internet would never have happened.

In short, the destruction caused by the GPL stands to be much greater 
than what Microsoft has already wrought.

>If you want to make a free improved version of Lynx for blind users,
>the developers have already given you permission to do so, under the
>terms of the GNU GPL.  If you don't want to do this, someone else will
>do it sooner or later, and make it free software.  There is no super
>rush.  Your help is welcome, but we need not feel so desperate for
>your help that we would give up our freedom to get it.

I see that you use the pronoun "we," much as the Borg Queen does in
the recent Star Trek movie. As if the entire group of Lynx developers
have been assimilated into your "collective." 

Fortunately, we're not so desperate for the Lynx code -- or as gullible
as those who unquestioningly accept the GNU propaganda. We will not
give up OUR freedom, or compromise our principles -- to use it. 
Much of that code is still governed by licenses other than the GPL -- 
and remains so. And we are gradually finding sources for other pieces we 
need -- ranging from software libraries which can be licensed for a fee 
to open source products published under more enlightened licenses. Hardware
vendors are being very generous with their code, so long as we agree not
to compromise their source. 

We don't think, at this point, that we'll need to "clean room" any GPLed 
code, though this might be an option for others who wish to break through 
the GPL's destructive barriers to creativity and cooperation.

--Brett Glass

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