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Re: My Favorite soapbox : XML linkage (was Re: [DotGNU]Jabber-thon)

From: Seth Johnson
Subject: Re: My Favorite soapbox : XML linkage (was Re: [DotGNU]Jabber-thon)
Date: Mon, 10 Jun 2002 11:57:04 -0400


Of course, that the protection of code offered by the GPL is
reduced, is still a valid issue, exactly for the reasons you

It's clear to me that you would like to do some stuff with
the introspector, and you hope that the GPL will be modified
to provide protections that will enable you to do some of
that stuff in a way that protects free software.  However,
there do not appear to be any legal means available,
consistent with the design of the GPL and the freedoms it
protects, that would allow it to address the ethical
considerations in terms that specifically address the
problem of protecting free software in the web services

The GPL is profound and unique in its purity:  it represents
*information freedom* by hooking up to *copyright law*, not
contract law.  It's not a license in the sense of something
that stands on the basis of users' consent to its terms. 
You don't have to sign the GPL, and that's why it's able to
represent the freedoms so purely and irrevokably.  The
freedom principles are served because 1) copyright law
applies without regard for contractual relationships, and 2)
copyright law has always had provisions recognizing the
intrinsic freedom of information.  Other areas of so-called
"intellectual property" law don't do that so clearly. 
Contract law doesn't do that.  General practice on the part
of proprietary interests and the way they see copyright
doesn't do that, either.  The GPL relies on copyright law
because it gives it a place where it can rest its trust. 
This is also why it's not viral; what it really does, is
simply stand on principle.

I might conceivably be proven wrong (though it seems pretty
plain that it's not likely), but the only recourses
imaginable for the kind of protection you are looking for,
would either violate the freedoms represented by the GPL, or
resort to contract law, which immediately moves away from
the special design and nature of the GPL.

It's just unfortunate, but there doesn't appear to be any
way to serve the goals of the free software movement by
modifying the GPL in any conceivable way that would give it
solid protection from proprietary uses in the web services

So the ethical situation isn't about whether the free
software movement is willing to do what would be entailed in
protecting free software in the web services context.  It is
simply a choice -- one that might seem strange, but one that
makes sense from the standpoint of working in concert with
others who are committed to the principles served by the
copyleft concept -- between whether one works according to
the prescribed practices of the group, or not.  The
consideration that you seem engaged in, that the GPL might
be changed in some way that can handle the implications of
the introspector, does not reflect the core ethical
situation, which is actually about the freedom principles. 
That's why, unless some legal means consistent with the
GPL's design and principles gets worked out, that
consideration has to come second.  But know well that the
free software movement would really like to have a solution
to the problem you raise; it's just that there does not
appear to be one that upholds the principles of the

Now, I said a lot here in a very verbose fashion, and people
might need to correct it, but I present it in the interest
of helping bring about understanding and reconciliation with
the situation in what seems to me to be its most important

Seth Johnson


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