Subject: "Users fix bugs" & distributors
From: (L. Peter Deutsch)
Date: Tue, 30 Aug 94 07:55:51 PDT

In a recent posting, Russell Nelson observed that one of the benefits of
free software is that users can and do fix bugs.  I agree; this has been
one of the big benefits from free distribution of Ghostscript.  However,
in a recent exchange of e-mail with someone at a company that distributes
free software on CD-ROM, they asked me to send them bug fixes to the
software they distribute; at the same time, they charge $2.95 per minute
for technical support, and presumably make a small profit on every CD-ROM
they sell (containing software they didn't write).  Now why should I do
this?  In the 6 years I have been distributing Ghostscript, no free
software distributor has EVER forwarded a bug fix back to me.  What I'm
come to wonder is whether I should view the distributors as "free riders"
-- they're leveraging the free contributions of authors, and not returning
any value to those authors other than publicity.  If I were the suspicious
sort, in fact, I would think that they deliberately don't forward bug
fixes back to the authors, in order to create a commercial advantage for
their particular distribution.

I'm willing to participate in the free software game to the extent that
the other players are playing fair by the same rules that I do.  The GNU
License allows ripping off of free software by companies with non-free
commercial products who are careful to slip through the "aggregation"
loophole; if I search my records, I can find at least half a dozen
companies that do this with Ghostscript, and that's just the ones I've
heard about.  That's why I changed my license, so that only those who are
willing to distribute the software free (and I don't mean "free" in the
copyleft sense, I mean "free" in the no-charge-except-reproduction-costs
sense) will get the benefit of it.  I'm willing to support free software
by sending bug fixes to the authors; I'm not willing to support commercial
redistributors of free software who aren't playing by the same "share and
share alike" rules.


L. Peter Deutsch :: Aladdin Enterprises :: P.O. box 60264, Palo Alto, CA 94306, ...decwrl!aladdin!ghost ; voice 415-322-0103 ; fax 322-1734
	    "Implementation is the sincerest form of flattery."