Subject: Re: the walls have ears
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Tue, 25 May 1999 18:51:50 +0900 (JST)

I wrote:

    However, what _I_ disagree with, Richard, is what I perceive as your

    strongly held belief that there is only one way to free software, and
    that is monopoly[1] free software, namely GPL programs with copyright
    assigned to a single holder powerful enough to defend them, in a pure 
    free software environment.

>>>>> "rms" == Richard Stallman <> writes:

    rms> I hope you'll be glad to know that I don't think this way,
    rms> and I never have.  I think that all the ways of releasing
    rms> free software are basically good.

I am glad.  I wish it was easier for me and those like me to see it in 
your public and private statements on the matter.

    rms> I have said this time and again, in speeches, in interviews,
    rms> and in messages--every time the issue comes up, for a decade

You have memories of all of those available.  I do not; I can only go
on what I have seen.

    rms> or more.  I am sure I would never say the opposite.  If you
    rms> thought so, it must be due to a miscommunication.

You often say "I am sure I would never say the opposite."  That is
surely true.

However, you often do play rhetorical games.  For example, I am sure
that you would never condemn any way of releasing _free software_.

There are, however, as is natural, different opinions about the best
technical definition of software more or less implementing the four
freedoms.  Out of respect for you (ironic, considering that you now
regret the choice of the word "free"), when I am thinking of a
different definition, I use the term "open source".  Yet you[1] ask
that this term not be used!

The result is that you, because of my respect for you, control my use 
of the term "free software."  But you ask me not to use a convenient
abbreviation that doesn't infringe on the definition you have
proposed.  Do you wonder that I perceive you as attempting to control
the free software movement, and objecting to what I would consider to
be free software in the sense of trying to implement the four
freedoms, although not meeting the technical definition?  Do you
see why I perceive you as attempting to define anything other than
free software according to your technical definition, as non-free and
therefore damnable?

You have told me, and others, that working on the version of GNU Emacs
known as "XEmacs" is wasteful, inasmuch as code contributed to XEmacs
cannot be used in the mainline version.  Here we have the ridiculous
(IMO, of course) situation that you are asking people not to work on
_entirely_ GPL'd software whose copyright is _mostly_ assigned to the

Of course, I have come to understand your position on that, although I
continue to disagree with it.  It is, of course, my error that I
associate that with you condemning any kind of free software release.
But it is a subtle error, one that took a while to track down.

    rms> But I wonder, how did you become so *certain* that I hold a
    rms> view which I have never endorsed, and often denied?  Didn't
    rms> you feel at least a little doubt?

I gave two examples above, one a trope on your part, the other a leap
to conclusion on my part.  Multiply this by many, many others.
Unfortunately, you do _not_ have a property right in the term "free
software".  As with any technical term, we humans tend to "abuse the
notation."  You would never condemn any way of releasing free software
according to your own technical definition; you often make statements
that are very easily perceived as condemning what many people perceive
as "free software", because it does not meet the technical definition.
And you are very concerned about "backsliding" and "principle" in
general, which gives me the impression that there is probably no
"give" in the definition as far as you are concerned.

My impressions are, of course, not your fault.  If you wish, however,
you can use this information about my misperceptions to perhaps write
in a way that more effectively communicates to me.  If many suffer my
style of misperception, then it might be worth your while.

    rms> Another person wrote to me privately, urging me not to
    rms> condemn people who write non-copylefted free software; he too
    rms> was completely sure that I do condemn them, and saw no need
    rms> to confirm that.

    rms> This seems to happen often; many people are quite sure I
    rms> think this or that ridiculous or outrageous thing, when I
    rms> don't.  This pattern seems to play a significant role in the
    rms> waves of criticism I receive.  Does anyone understand why
    rms> these misunderstandings happen so often?

The GNU Manifesto and the "What is Free Software" Web page are quite
balanced and well-reasoned in my opinion.  I cannot say the same for
your posts and email.  The main trope that causes this kind of
problem, I think, is that (as I explain above) it is easy to perceive
you as using the same narrowly defined term to simultaneously exclude
certain plausible (to others) candidates for inclusion in "free
software" and allow you to assert truthfully that you believe all
kinds of free software are good.

Like it or not (I don't, but I've learned to live with it), in
political discussion people expect a certain elasticity in terms.
You, for example, started by refusing to admit to me any utility of
neoclassical economics because you don't want to use the somewhat
useful technical definitions that allow measurement, preferring
instead looser ideas that you can directly perceive.  Then you
proceeded to question my (and other economists') professional ethics
because I give credence to technical measurements that have
implications opposed your direct perceptions of justice, and are
subject to abuse by politicians.

I don't think there's anything wrong with your unscientific approach
to these problems of values in economics; in the end, you have to do
what's right.  But my scientific approach is just as valid, and a lot
easier to justify technically and teach to students and computers.
And it allows me to calibrate my errors; since you don't model or
measure, you can't.  I think those are important, but I see no reason
why they should be important to you.

And it allows me to say to you "Why, I never said such a thing." when
you accuse me of ignoring this or that important aspect of the real
world.  I can say "well, it just doesn't fit into my model, and I was
talking about my model."  I didn't do that; I have come to different
conclusions than you about what is just, in part on the basis of such
models.  But I have seen (and you probably have seen) many economists
do just that.

I think this is _precisely_ analogous to your claim to never oppose
any means to free software.  Note: you are not sleazy the way some
economists and many politicians are.  That doesn't prove you aren't
using the same trope.

[1]  I don't know if it is correct to attribute the opinions there to
you and you only.  If it is incorrect, I'm sorry, and will amend it;
but here the point is exactly my perceptions.

University of Tsukuba                Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences       Tel/fax: +81 (298) 53-5091
What are those two straight lines for?  "Free software rules."