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Re: [DotGNU]Forum Update 17-apr-2001

From: Barry Fitzgerald
Subject: Re: [DotGNU]Forum Update 17-apr-2001
Date: Thu, 18 Apr 2002 22:00:38 -0400

Silvernerd wrote:
> Plugins are a subject that's a bit on the conflict line between the
> DotGNU and GNU policy. DotGNU is open for commercial programs as long as
> they don't threaten the free-ness of the system. GNU is not open for
> commercial programs except for a few exceptions. Since I'm trying to
> make Forum a GNU program I'm inclined to follow the GNU policy on this
> matter and let plugins be GPL'd.

Actually, I disagree with your assertion on a handful of counts:

1. The GNU system most certainly is open for commercial programs, just
not proprietary programs.  This is a key distinction.  There's nothing
anti-commercial about the GNU GPL - there is much that is
anti-oppression about the GNU GPL.

2. If you mean to say that proprietary programs cannot be run on the GNU
system, that's not true either.  The GNU LGPL exists precisely so that
proprietary programs (or programs under non-copyleft licenses in
general) can link copyleft code into them.  The GNU stance is not any
different than the DotGNU stance as far as freeness and licensing are

Having said this, I don't at all disagree with your decision nor the
ethical backing on it.  However, there's little if any difference
between the GNU project and the DotGNU project regarding licensing and
base philosophy.

> There is also another reason for this that has to do with the difference
> between webservices and plugins. Forum webservices use the Forum program
> and therefore are free to chose whatever license they want. Plugins
> extend the Forum program, in some way they become part of the program.
> Non-free plugins would make the software non-free and that's something
> we cannot allow.
> I also found a second ethical argument for this. Plugins in Forum will
> be most commonly used to support new protocols of communication. Now
> think of this: MS makes a WMA plugin for Forum, the WMA protocol is
> non-free. That would mean that the Forum program would support a closed
> format. Of course MS will supply the plugin to the people, but in a
> sense Forum would support closed formats. And that goes against our
> principles.

The trick here is determining whether the GNU GPL protects against these
infractions.  Would plugins link code from the rest of the project into
them?  If so, then technically the GNU GPL would serve this purpose.  If
not (say, if the plugins are executed via a system call or some other
execution mechanism) then the GNU GPL probably would not legally protect
against them.  

Also, I'm not sure that one could under these circumstances.  That is of
course unless the license explicitely said that "This program cannot
call another program unless it is under the GNU GPL" which would be
nearly impossible to enforce.  Particularly since the technical
workaround for that is to create a GNU GPL'ed wrapper program that
itself calls the target proprietary program.  The result of this is an
arms race which would be very difficult to win.  

Then again, the wrapper technique could also be done with a proprietary
plugin even if it did link to the code.  

Having said that, the general stance is that the proper way to counter
proprietary software is with the production of Free Software.  This is,
of course, barring the outlaw of proprietary software - which we're
unlikely to see anytime soon. If Microsoft came out with a WMA plugin
for forum (even if it just used a wrapper to activate itself) the best
response is to try to counter with a Free WMA plugin.  If that's
impossible (say, because of patent encumberance) then you would try to
make it as difficult as possible for them to keep up with your changes. 
Ideally, this would show pragmatic disadvantages to proprietary
software.  However, this is all postulation as to how things could go. 
The best strategy is to stick with the GNU GPL and roll with the


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