Subject: Re: up2date
From: Tom Lord <lord@emf.net>
Date: Sun, 27 Oct 2002 22:08:06 -0800 (PST)


Ian,

Thank you for the concentrated collection of facts.


       Note that the interesting part of the Red Hat Network (RHN) is
       mostly in the RHN server.  

I find it somewhat astounding how the R&D budget of a company
leveraging the gratis R&D investment of a generation of volunteers is
so focused on a selfish (and RISKS-ridden) mechanism that those
volunteers would have refused on principle to create in that form.

I said "somewhat astounding" because, hey, bottom line, their _margin_
on subscriptions is remarkable (not that similar margins couldn't be
arranged in better ways).  Subscriptions blow their consulting
component out of the water (heh-heh -- watch your job security, RH
hackers).  It's just that: I don't think it's sustainable, both
because it fails to directly feed the process that created the
valuable software they are distributing, and because, hey, it ain't
legal (IMO, and in light of your elaboration).

What really galls me, and I'll be deliberately vague here, is seeing
competent RH hackers express incompetent opinions in public forums,
apparently because the competent opinion contradicts RH business
practices.  Hegemony and corporate imperialism in action.  Feminists
call this kind of failure "internalizing the value system of your
oppressors" -- it's an extremely pernicious, subtle, and subliminal
phenomenon.




       I believe that the code is Red Hat proprietery--it's definitely
       not widely distributed.  I'm certain that the data is Red Hat
       proprietary.  The data is information like who has signed up
       for RHN, and the set of RPMs which are being distributed.


So, doesn't that seem to be Missing The Point of free software?
Missing The Point of SourceWare(tm)?  My amply circulated "six goals
for our industry" paper outlines an alternative.



	Clearly if you obtain a GPL RPM using RHN, Red Hat will not
	prevent you from redistributing it.  However, it does seem,
	based on the RHN license, that if you make a habit of using
	RHN to fetch RPMs and redistributing them to others, Red Hat
	would be entitled to cancel your RHN service.  I don't see a
	GPL violation here--they don't restrict you from
	redistribution, they just don't go the extra mile to help you
	out.

I see a clear GPL violation.  up2date is a mechanism of distribution.
The threat of cancelling your subscription is a restriction on
redistribution, prohibited by the GPL.  I recall Cygnus playing 
bogus GPL-circumvention games with NDA's -- apparently the tradition
of hostility towards free software infected the new host.



	The up2date client does not provide vendor lockin as a legal
	matter-- only as a practical matter in that it's necessary to
	write the server code yourself.  Once you've written that
	code, it becomes possible to compete directly with Red Hat as
	an up2date server.

Possibly.  In other words, possibly my amateur legal opinion is
completely wrong.  That's why I think this is a critical issue for the
free software movement -- the law can't solve everything;  the law can
establish the preconditions for free software, but it can't assure it.

Call me naive [*], but I think business and ethics should harmonize.  The
sustainable, long-term business is the ethical business.  The business
worth participating in is the ethical business.  (Of course,
non-believers in the ethic of free software can portray _any_
software-based business as ethical.)  Ethical principles, conversely,
are often best expressed through business activity.  As I said to
someone else:

     Back in the day, I was first attracted to the movement because it
     promised to preserve and expand a pattern of human interaction
     that I recognized as valuable on the face of it: communities of
     hackers, playfully sharing ideas, making improvements,
     innovating, and often interacting with tight feedback with the
     community of non-programmer users.  "Work a little bit of the
     time; Make enough money to live on; live happily ever after."
     It's hard to imagine a situation farther removed from that ideal
     than the current free software industry, and it's hard these days
     to see much left to the movement apart from the industry.


-t


[*] > "You're naive."  -- there.  Saved you the effort.