public domain question

J.B. Nicholson-Owens jbn at
Tue Feb 1 23:41:08 EST 2005

Greg London wrote:
> Here is the simple logical argument in 4 easy steps.
> (1) GPL asserts it is "free as in free speech, not free beer"

Actually, the GPL doesn't say this.  Nowhere in the GPL will you find
that language.  The phrase "free as in free speech, not free as in free 
beer" has been used by the FSF and free software proponents to help 
describe the sense in which the word "free" is being used in the name 
"free software": you gain certain freedoms with free software, freedoms 
you don't get under the default status of copyright.  Specifically, you 
gain the rights to run, inspect, share, and modify the program any time, 
with anyone, for any reason.

The reference is meant to steer people away from solely thinking about 
the word "free" as a reference to price.  As I understand it, this 
phrase and this not used outside the US because most other countries use 
some language where the concepts of liberty and price are not tied 
together with the same word.

> (2) Free speech allows individuals to create proprietary works.

I'm not sure I'd say it is free speech which allows one to license a 
copyrighted work under a proprietary license.  That strikes me as a 
power copyright law grants us.  But, in any event, free speech has 
limits.  Free speech is not absolute and one cannot have all possible 
freedoms because some freedoms conflict.

> (3) GNU-GPL does not allow proprietary works.

Correct -- either the work licensed under the GNU GPL (no hyphen) comes 
with "complete corresponding source code" or "a written offer, valid for 
at least three years, to give any third party, for a charge no more than 
your cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete 
machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code, to be 
distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium 
customarily used for software interchange" (from section 3b of the GNU 
GPL).  Copies of programs ostensibly licensed under the GPL which have 
neither of these are either improperly licensed or incomplete copies of 
the program; in either case, one cannot redistribute them further 
because one can't fulfill the conditions of the license.  Distributed 
derivatives of GNU GPL-covered works must be licensed under the GNU GPL.

> therefore
> (4) GNU-GPL is not free as in free speech.

The GNU GPL disallows the power to take away someone's software freedom 
(power being choices one makes which chiefly affect someone else, 
freedom being choices one makes which chiefly affect oneself).  One is 
denied the power to license derivatives under a proprietary license for 
good reason: the GNU GPL was written to serve the GNU project whose goal 
is to provide users with a free software OS.  Spreading software freedom 
to as many users as possible is more effective when these freedoms are 
preserved in derivatives.

Overall, I'm not quite sure why the phrase irks some so much.  I don't 
treat it as policy, but a cute way to help guide someone's thinking away 
from money and on to liberties.

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