jrick.devio.us

The GPL is not a Free Software License

Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.

-- Benjamin Franklin paraphrase

Open-source? Sure. I completely agree that the General Public License (GPL) allows for open code. In fact, it requires source code to be released in an uncompiled form. However, openness and freedom are not necessarly the same thing, even though one may require the other. By enforcing subsequent releases, modifications, and programs linked to GPL-licensed software be open, the GPL restricts what users are able to do with the software. The Free Software Foundation (FSF) makes up for these restrictions by defining their own meaning of the word "free", all the while trying to convince you to submit to their political agenda.

Openness and Freedom

Open up any dictionary and you will see that open and free have entirely different meanings. If something is open, it means that it is available for everyone to view. If something is free, it means that it has no restrictions on what you are able to do with it. Can the GPL be considered to be free by the term's dictionary definition? In case you don't feel like reading the entire text of the GPL, you are not allowed to:

These are all restrictions of what you are allowed to do with the code. However, it is absurd to believe that freedom is something that can be enforced through restrictions. These restrictions force code to be open, but by doing so they also virally spread the requirements of the GPL to other software.

Free software, on the other hand, is software that is released under terms that allows it to be used in any manner and for any purpose. While the GPL does provide developers and users many freedoms (like the freedom to make changes and release improvements), it also places restrictions on how these freedoms may be executed. True free software does not restrict your freedom to fork and close the code. Free software does not prevent you linking to it with code from another license. Free software simply provides the ability to do anything you want for whatever reason without any restrictions.

The Language of the FSF

The FSF is very quick to point out that it does not associate itself with the "Open Source Movement". How can this be? Their own license promotes openness of code, not freedom. These kinds of statements can only be made if the definition of freedom is skewed. This can be easily seen as the FSF holds their own definition of free software. These are all good things that they are promoting, but true free software includes more than just these freedoms.

Licensing Free Software

The most free form of any idea, software included, is for that idea to be in the public domain. By definition, anything in the public domain has no author, or the author's copyright has expired. However, releasing something in the public domain has problems: ownership of a product can change under different jurisdictions. For example, some countries will not recognize releasing anything in the public domain as they still see the author as the copyright holder.

Another method of freely licensing software is to use a license which provides all the freedoms of public domain while still maintaining copyright to the author. The 2-clause BSD, MIT/X, and ISC licenses all do this using different wordings. Unlike the GPL, which strictly restricts the distribution of code, these licenses give complete freedom of the code to anyone while granting attribution (but not responsibility) to the copyright holder.

See also