Subject: Re: A company's appeal to the community
From: <kmself@ix.netcom.com>
Date: Mon, 17 Jan 2000 01:27:36 -0800
Mon, 17 Jan 2000 01:27:36 -0800
On Mon, Jan 17, 2000 at 01:54:38AM -0500, Brian Bartholomew wrote:
> > Ok.  What would it take to prove to you otherwise?  That's basically
> > what I am asking.
> 
> I've been trying to incite conversations for (a) what kinds of
> business plans deserve what amounts of goodwill, and (b) how can we
> verify compliance.  I know I don't have these answers, and I'd like to
> hear others' thoughts.  Perhaps we can turn the question around.  Tell
> companies what we care about, and have them explain why their business
> model is a good deal.
> 
> > The initially released codebase, if released under most of the
> > OSD-certified licenses, would remain available.  That of itself
> > would be a major step.
> 
> Tonight I read the license page for a video recorder implemented with
> video compression hardware, that saves to a hard disk, and is
> partially based on Linux.  Highlights I remember are:
> 
> 	a) The Linux portion is available for copying costs.
> 
> 	b) This product contains some video copy-protection code.
> 	   Reverse engineering is prohibited (I wasn't sure whether
> 	   this applies only to the copy protection or to the whole box).
> 
> 	c) Any modification may remove your authority to use this system.
> 
> Given b and c, what good is a?

This sounds like TiVo.  Is it?

What good is it, or is it compliant with the GPL?

(a) sounds conformant to the GPL, AFAICT.  GPL v2 (3)(b) allows one to
accompany a distribution in binary form with an offer valid for at least
three years, available to any third party, and charging no more than the
physical cost of source distribution.

As you relate them, (b) and (c) sound like they may be additional
restrictions above and beyond the GPL on ability to copy and distribute
(GPL v2 (1)), or modify your copy (GPL v2 (2)), which is expressly
prohibited under GPL v2 (4).  Can you point to the actual text of the
license you're referring to?


What good is it?  Good for what?  If the terms are in fact conformant to
the GPL, then the I suppose you're asking whether or not the goals of
the GNU GPL have been met, RMS's four freedoms:

  - The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0). 
  - The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your 
    needs (freedom 1). 
  - The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor 
    (freedom 2). 
  - The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to 
    the public, so that the whole community benefits. (freedom 3). 

If the video compression software is an independent work from the Linux
kernel (and any other GPLd software on the device), then your basic
rights to the GPLd content haven't been diminished.  It's more or less
the same situation as occurs when you get a Linux distro which has some
other proprietary software on it.  Your rights to the proprietary
software haven't been increased by virtue of it being on a Linux system,
unless it forms part of a larger work including GPLd components.

So long as access to the GPLd components of the system are maintained,
and right to use the code isn't constrained, I'd say you have as much
access under the terms you describe as elsewhere.  The box itself is
somewhat hands-off, but that's a different story.  I think.


> > While I see where you're getting at, I don't think free software is
> > something that needs to set up a morality police.
> 
> Then what's the point of free software?  I tried to avoid the landmine
> of "morality" by saying "win-win" or "win-lose".

That's the crucial question:  what's the point of free software.

It depends on whom you ask.

RMS will say that the point of free software is freedom, and that this
goal is sufficient in and of itself.  [1]

If you ask me, I'll say that free software isn't an end unto itself, but
it is a process and mechanism which produces higher quality software,
more efficiently, and at greater social benefit, than proprietary
development models, IMO.  (I say IMO because while I *feel* that this is
true, I don't have hard figures to support me on it).  I don't subscribe
to ends of themselves.  I don't feel "social benefit" is an end to
itself, though the definition of why is a bit involved.  Take it as a
premise for the moment, we can return to if if we must.

Other people might have other reasons.  Among several you might hear
enumerated:

 - Free software is a good way to make money on the stock market.
 - Free software feels right.
 - Free software is what we feel we have to do to compete in the current
   software market.
 - Free software is what management told us to do.
 - Free software is the only tool available which does the job I need
   done, and I'm locked into it by the licensing terms.

etc.

I'm not judging the basis for deciding the various points of free
software.  I *am* convinced that a party's objectives with free software
drive its behavior, and particularly its licensing decisions.

A rational business decisionmaking approach would be to look at free
software and say:

 - What does it buy me (benefits, upside, revenue, goodwill).
 - What does it cost me (costs, downside, liability, risk).


I think the question is key though, and I think that companies which are
approaching the idea fo free software need to look long and hard at the
question, and the answer or answers they develop.

> > The companies I've talked to about free software initiatives (not
> > just this one) are very concerned about community impressions.  Look
> > at the prospectuses and/or SEC filings for RedHat and VA for a
> > detailing of business risks.  The same concern is also voiced for
> > established companies now approaching the idea.  Moral suasion seems
> > a powerful force in this arena.  Interesting.
> 
> I agree that community goodwill is important to the business success
> of companies in this arena.  I don't agree that current attention to
> goodwill proves a company is pursuing a long-term win-win strategy.

Which is why, if evidence of long-term alignment is an important issue,
that looking to committments which are themselves long-term in nature
may be important.  Committing a code base to an OSD-certified 
free software license is itself a pretty significant step, IMO.

I expect I'll get more guidance on this in the coming week.


> A member of the League for Programming Freedom (LPF) http://lpf.ai.mit.edu
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Brian Bartholomew - bb@wv.com - www.wv.com - Working Version, Cambridge, MA

-- 
Karsten M. Self (kmself@ix.netcom.com)
    What part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?

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[1] While I generally try to avoid saying things for RMS, this was a
question I asked him directly, and the above was his response.
Specifically, I asked whether free software was good because it was good
software, or whether it was a goal unto itself. 


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