Subject: Re: Open letter to those who believe in a right to free software
From: Ian Lance Taylor <>
Date: 22 Oct 1999 01:58:42 -0400

   From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
   Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1999 13:57:53 +0900 (JST)

   RMS tells me "that's not so, there are absolute ethical reasons for
   free software that you [== Turnbull] are refusing to see, but I can't
   explain any better than I already have."  Well, I just don't see them.
   RMS seems to believe that because _after_ I have written software,
   there is no further cost to me of sharing, I am morally obliged to
   share.  Well, maybe my source code is embarrassingly ugly.  I don't
   see an obligation to share that overrides my desire to wait until it's 
   clean, and, hmmm, I've got better things to do than clean it up, like
   write new programs.

I didn't save the message, but I don't think that was quite what
Richard said.  I think he said that because he could not bear to live
under the domination of proprietary software, it was unethical for him
to impose proprietary software on anybody else.  I don't think he said
that you were morally obliged to share.  He merely encouraged you to
do so.

(Obviously Richard can speak for himself, and I'm not trying to speak
for him here).

I believe you then said that you do not feel dominated when you use
proprietary software, and I think that is when the conversation became
completely disconnected.

I think Kant's moral imperative suffices to show that if I find some
situation unpleasant, I may not put others into that situation.  So
that disposes of the ethical side of Richard's argument.

The other side is whether it is reasonable for him to feel dominated
by using proprietary software.  I understand the feeling myself,
though I'm sure I don't feel it as strongly as he does, so I think his
feelings are reasonable.  You don't feel it, and that's fine.  The
question is whether you accept that he feels it.  If you can accept
that, then Richard's actions are both ethical and rational.  If you
can't accept that, then I think you have to conclude that Richard is
either crazy or lying.

Richard often seems to be saying that all software should be required
to be free, but he rarely actually says that.  What he actually says
is that we should all work on free software.  He doesn't say that we
should be somehow prohibited from working on proprietary software; he
merely says that it would be better for us to work on free software.