Subject: Re: Exploring the limits of free software: Cygnus, and GPL
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Sat, 22 May 1999 19:16:47 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "John" == John Gilmore <> writes:

    John> I strongly suspect that Cygnus would not be contributing at
    John> this level in the absence of the GPL.  [...]  Virtually all
    John> the companies that started with "Berkeley licensed" software
    John> are today shipping proprietary versions rather than free
    John> ones.

Food for thought.

    John> If they want to give people the option to make my code
    John> proprietary, sorry; they'll have to rewrite it.

You should rewrite that sentence.  You cannot make BSD licensed code
proprietary, as far as I know.  Not even the copyright holder can, I
suspect, at least as a practical matter.  You can, of course, use it
as a component (even the whole) of a proprietary product, but the
original code is still available to the public.  (The reason I am so
emphatic about it is that it took me several years to realize that
fact.  I consider this usage "make my code proprietary" deliberately
obfuscatory, as obfuscatory as the proprietary vendor who releases
binaries of publically available code under a brand name, as though
they had contributed some improvement.  Equal but opposite lies.)

The great thing about the GPL is that it gives a necessary power to
authors like you who feel strongly about using your code (and the
leverage that its quality gives you on other developers) to encourage
future development of free code.  This is an important technique, and
I am glad it is available.  I use it myself (although my contributions
are nanoscopic ;-).

But please don't obscure the contribution made by people who release a
product under a BSDroid license.  That is libre software, and will
remain so, no matter what future developers may do with it in other

Economically, it's a good question which license produces more
consumer value.  GPL'd software is code that keeps on giving and
growing, but of course BSD-licensed code is likely to be used more in
the first round of add-on development---but then a lot would become
proprietary.  But even proprietary software produces consumer value,
although less than free software does (per program; economy-wide,
there is no doubt that the aggregate net consumer benefit of
proprietary software is enormously greater than that of free
software).  And the free fork of a BSD program can "chase the
taillights" of a proprietary fork, a potential advantage that GPL
developers must forego.

University of Tsukuba                Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
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What are those two straight lines for?  "Free software rules."