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Re: [AUCTeX-devel] Hello and a question about missing AUCTeX features

From: Marcin Borkowski
Subject: Re: [AUCTeX-devel] Hello and a question about missing AUCTeX features
Date: Sun, 12 Apr 2015 22:56:14 +0200

On 2015-04-12, at 20:04, David Kastrup <address@hidden> wrote:

> Marcin Borkowski <address@hidden> writes:
>> Oh.  This probably settles the thing.  I had some hope that AUCTeX is
>> outside the scope of this FSF-papers insanity.  I don't have those
>> papers signed, and unless there is some serious change (either in FSF,
>> or in my ethical standpoint - either one is possible, but not very
>> likely), I'm afraid I cannot sign them.
> Shrug.  If you call it "your ethical standpoint", you are saying that
> the FSF has behaved unethically regarding the copyrights they have been
> handed for safekeeping.  Or that you expect them to do so in future.
> [...]
> So it may make sense to consider whether the consequences of making your
> point against the FSF are actually effective in promoting your ethics.

0. TL;DR: I have serious doubts regarding FSF copyright papers and FSF
itself, and I'm generally disappointed by FSF's MLs.  A list of
issues I have (in the form of four questions) closes this message.

1. I tried to find the actual text of the copyright agreement on the
Internet.  I did not succeed, and from what I heard, I'm not alone.
I haven't seen any explanation for that phenomenon, either.  A situation
when some organization has claims about freedom and openness and at the
same is so secretive about these documents is a red flag for me.  (Maybe
there is some explanation for that.  I'd be happy to learn that - I'm
not a lawyer, there might be something I cannot see.)

2. There was a discussion some time ago about the possibility of
actually /withdrawing/ the FSF copyright agreement.  (Not to things that
were contributed before, of course, just about termination so that
future work would be unaffected.)  Also, about the precise scope of the
works I "give away" to the FSF.  This problem is actually a corollary to
item 1: if the text of the copyright agreement were freely available, it
wouldn't be a concern.  OTOH, the issue was raised by someone who /did/
sign those papers, so these things might not be obvious.  OYAH (=on yet
another hand;-)), that person was clearly a total jerk, so this might as
well be FUD.  But again: I have no way of knowing without actually
requesting those papers.  Strange, isn't it?  (Even though you rightly
point out that I could request them and then throw them away.  It's just
that I think that they should be available /on principle/, so that the
whole process is more transparent.)

3. Some time ago, certain person wrote to one of the FSF-hosted mailing
lists about his software project, which was not "free" (as FSF defines
it) and closed-source.  There were extremely hostile reactions to that,
and it was just plainly disgusting.  While I understand that the policy
of FSF's MLs is "no promoting proprietary software", and I'm indeed not
very far away from that ethically (even though I'm much less dogmatic
about that issue as RMS), plain jerkassery (without anything that might
look like a reaction from anyone on behalf of the FSF) was a huge
disappointment for me.  (In fact, before that discussion I was close to
asking for the FSF's papers and signing them.)

(BTW, one thing that makes me wonder is the question, whether RMS uses
an elevator or a car; I suspect that software running on the controllers
of these devices is not "free/open-source".)

4. Also, from the very same discussion I mentioned I drew the conclusion
that FSF might want to deprive me of /my/ freedom to choose which
software I use or how I license my software (or other works, for that
matter).  Even though I disagree with Mr Torvalds on some things, I have
to admit that I'm closer to his standpoint on this: "I use whatever
software gets the job done".  I usually do research and try to use
open-source software whenever possible, even if this might be a bit
inconvenient, but I'm not very dogmatic about it: I have no problem with
using an Android phone or playing a game on Windows.  Note: in
principle, I have no problem with restricting people's freedom based on
moral reasons.  For instance, I am convinced that pornography (child or
not) /should/ be illegal and actively prosecuted (whether on the web or
anywhere else).  I just do not agree that proprietary software is evil
(in the ethical sense of the word), or maybe /evil enough/, to justify
restricting other people's freedom, like in this quote:

| [Redacted] is non-free software, and people should not install it, or
| suggest installing it, or even tell people it exists.

Note that precisely because of this, which I consider a warped
understanding of freedom, I chose /not/ to use the term "free software",
and if I have to do (since, as RMS rightly points out, "open-source"
does not mean the same), I use the tongue-in-cheek term

OTOH, let me repeat: even though I disagree with the above quote, I /do/
agree with the /implication/ whose antecedent is the standpoint that
proprietary software is morally evil and whose consequent is the above
quote.  I just do not consider proprietary software evil (or evil
enough) to justify that antecedent (and hence the implication as
a whole).

5. A long time ago (15 years or so), I read the "GNU Manifesto".  In
fact, I found it rather amusing: I thought that there are no more people
believing in "post-scarcity world" and similar, socialist-utopistic (if
this is the right term) things.  (In fact, any promises of
"paradise-on-earth" are at least suspicious.  My country underwent at
least three experiments involving similar promises, and all three were
epic fails, two of them with many actual lives lost.)  And, AFAIUC, FSF
is rather left-wing-ish, and hence automatically suspicious for me.

6. That said, to be honest, I have to admit that I /do/ agree with
RMS/FSF (I do not know enough to know of any ethical/political
differences between these two entities) on /many/ things.  For one, the
current copyright law is /insane/, admittedly, much more insane than the
idea of FSF's copyright papers.  I believe that RMS might find the
Middle Ages (when, according to my limited knowledge of history, the
idea of "intellectual property" was completely unknown: knowledge was
considered to belong to everyone) a much nicer time to live in.  (OTOH,
one thing I cannot fathom is that apparently there are many more
open-source or even GPL-licensed projects out there, and FSF is the only
one requiring anything more than just stating that some piece of
software is GPL'd.  Why?  Again, I'd like to know the answer.)  The
question of how to fight the insanity of the current copyright mess is
IMHO open, it /might/ be the case that the FSF way is not the worst one.
And definitely, it is a hackish one (in the classical sense of the word
"hack") - subverting the mechanisms of copyright law to do something
that is clearly against the spirit of the said law, which is in reality
authored by media corporations and not by the clueless politicians, is

7. I also have to say that I was quite astonished to learn that RMS
actually believes in the notion of "natural law", which is rather
unpopular nowadays (especially amongst left-wing people, if I'm not
mistaken).  This is something that I wholeheartedly agree with, even
though I'm not really sure that I agree with him on whether copyleft (or
freedom of sharing) /is/ an instance of the natural law.  Maybe it's the
other way round, that e.g. the right to prohibit people from disclosing
source code of my software is natural law?  Note: I write it only as an
intellectual experiment, I personally suspect that RMS might be right
(pun intended) here.  OTOH, to get closer to your email: maybe the right
of my descendants to make decisions about my work /is/ natural law?
I just ask, I really don't know.

8. As you can see, I do not claim that FSF or RMS are "evil".  As
I hinted in my email, it /is/ possible that I do change my mind, though
this would require some additional information (which I don't have, and
which is not readily available, which is particularly strange) /and/
some serious thinking on my part.  I even do not claim that FSF "has
behaved unethically regarding the copyrights they have been handed for
safekeeping.  Or that [I] expect them to do so in future" - I only claim
that (a) FSF behaves /strangely/, and this makes me suspicious, that (b)
I don't generally trust left-wing(-ish) organizations, and that (c) I am
utterly disappointed by some discussions on FSF's MLs, and want to
distance myself from the jerkassery there (though I admit that such
behavior is not common), and the fact that I do not want to sign the FSF
papers is my (partly emotional, I admit) reaction to that.

9. To sum up: I understand that you ("you" as in "this mailing list",
not "you" as in "David Kastrup") might (and maybe should) ignore me as
a troll (which I sometimes tend to be... sorry!), but I'm genuinely
interested in learning the answers to the questions I raised, in

(i) why is FSF so secretive about the copyright papers, that they are
not available on the Internet?

(ii) what are the exact consequences of signing the papers, and is it
possible to withdraw the agreement for the FSF to have copyright on
things I write (excluding, of course, things written/given away before
said withdrawal)?

(iii) why is "promoting proprietary software" not tolerated (and
actively fought against) on FSF's MLs, and /at the same time/ hostility
against people writing (in good faith, as I believe) about their
"non-free" projects (related to the "free" software discussed on that
ML!) is tolerated (and maybe even encouraged)?

(iv) what are the reasons for the view that just releasing some software
with a license like GPL, MIT license, LPPL or other is not enough to
ensure that no-one would be able to "change his mind" about /already
contributed/ software?

I (obviously) cannot promise that I /will/ change my mind.  But I can
promise that I will be thinking really hard about the answers, if I get


Marcin Borkowski
Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science
Adam Mickiewicz University

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