[KLUG Advocacy] ESR: the GPL is holding back open source

Adam Tauno Williams awilliam at whitemice.org
Fri Jul 1 21:48:40 EDT 2005

> >  http://linux.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/07/01/1210258&tid=95&tid=8&tid=106
> >  http://www.onlamp.com/pub/a/onlamp/2005/06/30/esr_interview.html
> >    "We don't need the GPL anymore. It's based on the belief that
> >    open source software is weak and needs to be protected. 
> Unless ESR is speaking from special, personal knowledge about the movitvations
> behind the GPL, this strikes me as something of a glib misstatement of things.
> whether or not "open source software" is "weak" or not doesn't mean it can go
> into the world without any legal structure or licensing framework. The fact is
> that the whole licensing issue was framed nicely by the GPL, and a lot of dev-
> elopers were very happy to follow it.
> >    Open source would be succeeding faster if the GPL didn't make lots
> >    of people nervous about adopting it."
> Maybe, I tend to beleive that it's hard to tell. I've been in situations where
> the use of the GPL was simply another barrier thrown up by people averse to
> adopting new methods and tools. For purposes of those arguments, if it hadn't 
> been the GPL, it wold have been something else.

Agree, I haven't seen much evidence that anything has really been
stopped due to GPL induced fear.  Most of the time there are pretty
clearly other causes of project failure or abandonment.

> >    "It's 2005, not 1985. We've learned a lot in the last 20
> >    years. The fears that originally led to the reciprocity stuff
> >    in GPL are nowadays, at least in my opinion, baseless."
> Verbal candy, in the view of this observer. Was the "reciprocity stuff" put in
> place because of some fears, or to create strong prtections for some other 
> reasons. It is interesting to see someone who has embraced the GPL repudiate it
> when its suitable, although I don't see why. ERS's faith in the "free market"
> is newly discovered, he spent a long time doubting the freedon of that market.
> What's changed?

I think ESR is right in one regard - forking has not manifested as a
significant threat, and the forks that have taken place (Samba-TNG comes
to mind) have almost always fizzled out and died.  ESR talks about this
quite a bit in the C&B and my perception is this is primarily what he is
talking about.  Taking code into a proprietary product also has proved,
I think, to not be worth the effort;  for most solutions (except for
HUGE hardware and software shops) it is really easier to just play
along.  All but two of the ERP vendors we've talked to lately have been
very willing to work with Open Source,  this is VERY different than ten
years ago.  They may not agree with OSS on ideological terms but the
pragmatic benefits are undeniable (Do YOU want to create another Apache?
You need to shovel tons of HTTP requests... 'ahh, bugger this, just use

'faith in the free market' I assume refers to this quotation "Stronger
virality punishes defectors more effectively, but also has more tendency
to scare people away from joining the open source community in the first
place. Where the optimum point is all depends on how important punishing
defectors really is relative to the economic pressures in favor of open
source. My current belief is that the free market will do quite a good
job of punishing defectors on its own; thus, increasing virality is a
bad move."

I think he is correct,  and that increasing the virality <sp?> is a
pretty radical move.  But I'm not convinced that a reduction in
"virality" is in order.   The GPL seems a pretty fair balance to me,
although what constitutes "linking" seems to be growing fuzzier and
fuzzier due to the advance of 'the-network-is-the-computer' style
development.   When you can scan assemblies for classes providing given
functionality ("interfaces" in the .NET world, but Java, etc... have
equivalents) at runtime and marshal and use ("remoteing" in the .NET
world) objects across the world on potentially very different
platforms... what constitutes the delineation between one application
and another?

<aside>The concept that the market needed to be persuaded by "viral"
licensing, etc... to become "free" I find very telling of the
fundamental flaw in the 'virtuous free market' that makes the entire
concept untenable.  But I won't even get into that.</aside>

> Two final points....
>    * I urge you to read the above interview, because many of ESR's arguments
>      arew more compelling than the quotes presented. I still do not agree with
>      it, but there is interesting food for thought.

Agree.  I think in the full interview that ESR comes out as more
moderate than the captioned quotes might imply.  He isn't talking about
ditching the GPL for the LINUX kernel or pressuring developers not to
select it.

>    * We can raise this wirh ESR, as HE WILL BE HERE on August 9th. Our regular
>     KLUG meetying is being moved to Schnieder Hall at WMU to accomodate additional
>     guests. Meeting time is 7pm, but arrive early (doors open at 6) to get a seat.


> The GPL has provided a good framework for the development of the Free Software and
> Open Source Software communities, in my view. I do not see the level of acceptance 
> for this software that ESR does, 

It is interesting, perhaps more so than the issue at hand,  the
different levels to which people believe (or maybe, more accurately:
feel) that OSS has succeeded, penetrated, etc...

> but i do see less fear. Abandoning the GPL does not
> give us better legal frameworks 


> (unless we want to discuss areplacement, which ESR
> does not), 

At least not from this interview.  

<aside>It is hard to discuss positive and concrete solutions with people
who ideologically believe that 'the $SYSTEM will just take care of
itself by itself'.  That is just something I believe to patently false
and I struggle to understand how anyone could ever honestly come to such
a position.   I'm not stating that ESR categorically believes this,  but
he seems to hold it as more-true than I do.</aside>

> but it would removethe rights and protections a lot of people seem to 
> like, when all other licensing models are only becoming more restrictive.

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