Subject: Re: forking the list considered harmful
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Thu, 2 Dec 1999 23:49:24 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "Kragen" == Kragen Sitaker <> writes:

    Kragen> Stephen Turnbull writes:
    >> You _cannot_ "sell a GPL program", unless it's your sole
    >> copyright.  That's the essence of the "copyleft hack."

    Kragen> You can sell a GPLed program in the same sense you can
    Kragen> sell a book.

No.  You can sell a CD-ROM (which happens to contain a bitcopy of a
GPLed program) the same way as you can sell a book.

    Kragen> Can you please explain in what sense you cannot sell a
    Kragen> GPLed program?

What I meant (besides being wilfully obtuse in response to Brian) is
that it is important to keep the medium in mind.  You don't sell a
program (which in some sense encompasses all the copies in existence
and its use as a model for future development, as well as a number of
other properties that are not captured by a single copy), you sell
rights to certain usages of recorded bits on a medium generated as a
transformation of the program, as well as ownership of the physical

Note that at Kinko's prices, it's still cheaper to buy the book than
copy it in most cases.  It's certainly not multiple orders of
magnitude cheaper to make a copy.  It is multiple orders of magnitude
cheaper to make copies of typical shrink-wrap programs.

And don't forget, even if published by O'Reilly you cannot copy and
resell the book, even if we accept your sense of "selling a program".
So you cannot "sell a GPLed program," _with draconian restrictions_,
the "way you sell a book."  So there are real differences no matter
how you look at it.

The point of the GPL, as you say below, is to reduce the frictions in
sharing.  One effect of that is that for many programs competition
will drive the price of the naked bitcopy to near zero.  I don't know
what Red Hat customers are buying, but it's not the program Linux.
Not in the sense of copyright, and not in the sense of "embodied as a
bitcopy on CD," either.  By and large they are aware of the existence
of both the Red Hat FTP archive and of CheapBytes, and they buy the
Red Hat package anyway.

I guess I can sum up by saying that what I should have said is "it's a
dangerous distraction from the real problems of running an FSB to try
to think in terms of `selling a program'."  It just doesn't mean the
same thing when the program is GPLed as "selling soap" or even
"selling a book" means.

    >> Right.  That's the point of the GPL, is it not?  To force you
    >> to volunteer your derivative work back to the community that
    >> contributed the original to you?

    Kragen> No.  The first version of the NPL required this, and RMS
    Kragen> argued that this requirement prevented it from being a
    Kragen> free-software license.  The point of the GPL is to make
    Kragen> sure that any time anyone is using a program, there are no
    Kragen> artificial obstacles to their ability To use, modify,
    Kragen> copy, and redistribute it.

OK, point taken.  However, the effect of the GPL, in many cases, is to
make it nearly impossible to run a business using the software without
your derivatives leaking into "community domain."  And in any case you
need to be careful about who you transfer copies to; one of them may
very well be a volunteer.

And although RMS quite properly insists that this effect be
voluntarily accepted by the developer, there is no question in my mind
that he hopes and expects that it will encourage people to volunteer
their work back to the community.

The word "encourage" (substituted for "force") is all I need for my
point.  Is that acceptable?  I retract my overstatement, and will be
careful to use appropriate phrasing in the future.

University of Tsukuba                Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences       Tel/fax: +81 (298) 53-5091
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