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

From: David Kastrup
Subject: Re: [AUCTeX-devel] Hello and a question about missing AUCTeX features
Date: Mon, 13 Apr 2015 11:35:05 +0200
User-agent: Gnus/5.13 (Gnus v5.13) Emacs/25.0.50 (gnu/linux)

Marcin Borkowski <address@hidden> writes:

> 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.

They are changed from time to time, and the copyright clerk might pick
from several according to the exact circumstances.

> 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.

You won't likely find an employment contract on the Internet when
applying for work there either.

> (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.)

I don't really see the problem.  You get the exact text applying to your
case when requesting the assignment, and of course you are free not to
accept it.

> 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.

The contract cannot possibly cover material that cannot be considered
handed to the FSF.  The FSF does not magically get to search your hard
drives or web presences and gets to scoop up and claim ownership to
anything related to the project.

Any such notion is plainly silly.

> 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.

The agreement for your case will be made available to you upon request
and you are free to ask whoever you want for it.  Some people have
published the text of theirs: there is no non-disclosure agreement
involved either.  It's just not canonical and thus may be misleading.

> 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.

It's not hard to find total jerks among highly skilled programmers,
neither among skilled legal practitioners.  And working on free software
is not really something decreasing the quota since it favors people with
strong beliefs and opinions.  Most non-jerks don't even go to the bother
of reading through what they are agreeing to.  However, if it is just a
single jerk, that's somewhat suspicious.  Because, really, there is no
shortage of them in the free software world.

> But again: I have no way of knowing without actually requesting those
> papers.  Strange, isn't it?

Not really.  Try finding anybody else flaunting his individual contracts
to the public.  It's not anything like a public license.

> (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.)

But you don't get a guarantee that for a certain case a certain
assignment form will get picked.  There are also cases where the
circumstances are such that a one-of-a-kind document needs to get drawn

> 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.

So you are disappointed that the FSF did not even react to an off-topic
post on a mailing list they host, yet blame them for hostile reactions
to advertisements of non-free software by non-FSF list participants?

> (In fact, before that discussion I was close to asking for the FSF's
> papers and signing them.)

There are no generic "FSF's papers".  Assignments are always for
specific projects.  There is a single person who ever managed getting an
assignment for _all_ of his work, and it was a really big hassle.

> (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".)

As long as he does not _own_ the elevator or the car, the status of the
software running on them does not interest him.  Also he is not
interested a lot in fixed firmware not subject to updates.  I would
expect him to object to car firmware that _gets_ updated outside of the
owner's control.

He does not own all that much and so the cost of being picky for him
fits his life style.  I still consider it ridiculous for people to
reject him based on hyperbolic standards they don't apply to themselves.

At any rate, the personal life of Richard Stallman has absolutely
nothing to do with the FSF's actions as warden of the copyrights they
get assigned.  The FSF is a tax-exempt charity and have that state not
because RMS is a great guy or not, but because they provide a public
service as warden of free software.

> 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).

Nonsense.  They don't have the means to do that.  They might deprive you
of feeling great about yourself and flaunting it on FSF-hosted lists
(though in my experience it is hardly ever the FSF itself which bothers
taking any moderation measures: other list members tend to get unwelcome
contributions sorted out instead: any actual moderation tends to happen
using technical measures on mass-generated SPAM mails).

> 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".

Until the software gets pulled from him.  See the Bitkeeper fiasco which
forced Linus to write Git from scratch.  The problem is that you get to
_depend_ on software and have an ongoing investment in it.  The whole
point of creating the GPL was that RMS did not want a repetition of the
Gosling Emacs fiasco which forced him to rewrite GNU Emacs from scratch
even though Gosling had just extended Stallman's original Emacs before
selling it off.

At any rate, I fail to see how the FSF's or RMS' ethics have a negative
impact on you except possibly on your self-image.  But frankly that is
not a problem that they can fix.

> 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.

So how do RMS' or the FSF's morals restrict your freedoms?

> 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.
> `----

So you want to see people actively prosecuted if they do things not
fitting your morals.  I don't see RMS or the FSF clamoring for
prosecution of people who install non-free software.

What you are objecting to is that you don't feel as good about things as
you possibly could, and that this is the fault of the FSF.  Tough, but
not really an ethical shortcoming of the FSF as far as I can tell.

> 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
> "free-as-in-FSF".

Shrug.  I guess as long as your "ethics" work like that, there will be
little point in continuing.  But it would be good if you managed to tell
apart the FSF which is basically political just in respect to its
charter and its relation to software freedom from RMS who is a single
human being _very_ politically active and outspoken in various respects.
They have different web sites and different agendas.  And the FSF, not
least because of its position regarding the proliferation of free
software, again draws people with string opinions to their projects and
mailing lists, people that one can easily disagree with on a number of

> 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).

Until you've got screwed over.  Proprietary software is not evil in
itself, it facilitates doing evil things in manners that free software
does not.  And the insane copyright laws do their part in that.

> 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.

So you don't have anything better to offer and don't want to be seen
helping people who do make an effort.  You'd rather poke fun at them.

That's a rather common sentiment these days but I fail to see how it is
compatible with sitting on a high moral horse and talking about
"ethics".  But then I am likely ethically challenged.

> 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.

You are aware that the FSF's copyright papers are not competing with
current copyright law in insanity but are a direct consequence of them?

> I believe that RMS might find the Middle Ages

You really need to get over your obsession with RMS.  He is not the FSF.
Just their president.

> I (obviously) cannot promise that I /will/ change my mind.

My experience with recruiting developers is that investing large amounts
of time and effort tends to end up disappointing both.  When the
developers are a reasonably good fit, they'll blend in and help.  If
they aren't, the work will fizzle away and there "will be reasons" or
rather self-defenses and fingerpointing for that.

Your qualms with RMS and the FSF will not go away by discussions on this
list, and both RMS and FSF will remain completely unaware of any
personal processes and opinions of yours.  If you feel unable to
contribute according to the legal framework the AUCTeX project works in,
then that's that.  RMS also refuses to contribute to stuff under legal
frameworks he considers inacceptable.  But he tends to have invested
some thought in such decisions.  That's not necessarily the case for
everyone on his side: like with anyone with a reasonably sized overall
following, there are people who just trust in his judgment rather than
being able to follow every of his reasonings.  And they can be sometimes
embarrassing to listen to.

David Kastrup

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