Subject: Re: the walls have ears
From: Russell Nelson <>
Date: 31 May 1999 12:48:01 -0000

Richard Stallman writes:
 > Here you are talking (I think) about free software that was developed
 > by party A, then non-free copies were distributed by business B.
 > Business B contributed nothing to the free software, but made money
 > from it.  So the question being addressed here is,
 >  "When I release a free program, which licenses for it would be good
 >   for the profits of all sorts of businesses that might use it?"

Yes, we must be careful not to fall into the glassmaker's trap.  The
following is taken directly from Henry Hazlitt's _Economics in One
Lesson_.  Some economically-naive people think that an economy is
stimulated by a natural disaster.  The classic example of this is to
go around and break windows.  This is (naively) a good thing, you see?
It makes work for the glassmakers, who spend the money on food, or new
shoes, which helps the grocer and shoemaker, who spend the money on
new clothes, which helps the tailor, etc.

The missing consideration is to ask what would have happened had the
disaster not occurred.  The window owner would have retained his
money, and had it to spend on food, or news shoes, PLUS he would have
had a window as well.  The disaster didn't create anything, or even
cause him to engage in economic activity.  It just forced him to
choose between food and a window instead of both.

So in this case, the proper question to ask is not "Did the BSD
license bring a great benefit to some participants", but "Would the
GPL have brought greater benefit to all participants in the economy."
Of course, that's a subject for public policy analysts, or theoretical
economists.  As RMS says, the more germane question for us is the

 >  "If I want develop and release some free software as a business,
 >   which licenses for it would be good for my profits?"

 > However, my reason for preferring copyleft has nothing to do with
 > business.  I'm not against business per se, but I think that
 > preserving and spreading freedom takes priority.  That's what the
 > GPL is designed to do.

Richard, I also believe that preserving and spreading freedom takes
priority.  That's why I run a free software business -- because I
believe it spreads power (and without power, freedom is meaningless)
more effectively than anything else.

-russ nelson <>
Crynwr supports Open Source(tm) Software| PGPok | Good parenting creates
521 Pleasant Valley Rd. | +1 315 268 1925 voice | an adult, not a perfect
Potsdam, NY 13676-3213  | +1 315 268 9201 FAX   | child.