The GPL and secrecy

Francois-Rene Rideau
Tue, 18 Jan 2000 05:20:19 +0100

Dear Richard Stallman, dear cybernethicians,

After all the fuss there was on slashdot about these messages,
it seems that I was not clear enough, and that a lot of people got confused.
Hence the present clarification.

* In my messages, I've been talking about several distinct things,
 even though I didn't take the effort to make them clearly distinct enough,
 especially for quick readers:
 = personal freedom vs "collective freedom" (aka oppression)
 = how the law should be, how the law is.
 = how the license should be (if it is not already), and how it is.

* I explained that personal freedom includes the freedom for employees to
 distribute code, even though management pretends to put it under "corporate
 secret". Of course, the employee is also free to _not_ distribute it. The
 corporation as a whole will keep the code secret only if every single
 employee agrees that way. This is _personal_ freedom, as opposed to
 so-called "corporate" freedom (a name for abusive management power).
 A corporation (or individual) may pay someone to not reveal a secret
 (and be liable up to this payment plus incidental damages plus interests);
 it may not otherwise sue anyone for disclosing any information.

* I omitted to explain that "corporate freedom" is but oppression of the
 public by company managers and company owners. If anything is rotten in
 "capitalism", this is it: denial of liberty to individuals at large,
 in favor of a cast of people hidden behind privileged corporations.
 Several slashdotters submitted a relevant URL:

* I explained how the law should be to me: respecting individual liberties,
 which includes not supporting intellectual property at all, and not
 supporting oppressive "collective liberties". Collectivities should be
 legally but what they are factually: collections of individually
 right-endowed and responsible individuals, that use up some of their rights
 for the collectivity (that has no more no less rights that these), and are
 liable exactly up to this participation (the collectivity being no more
 no less liable than this).

* Since no one is meant to ignore it, I ommitted to remind how the law is:
 iniquitous, through its recognition of collective entities that have the
 rights of individuals without their responsibilities.

* I explained how the license should be to me: strictly personal.
 Because the freedoms we want are individual freedoms.
 So-called "collective" freedoms are only a way for those at the head
 of the "collectivity", or for those outside it, to oppress those within.

* I asked RMS how the license was, according to him.
 I know that courts may decide otherwise than he says,
 and that other authors using the GNU GPL may have different interpretation.
 However, RMS' opinion will certainly influence a possible court decision,
 and set the tone for uses of the GNU GPL until courts take over (if ever).

* RMS said acknowledged the hole, considered it relatively unimportant.

* I explained how the hole might be used to circumvent the GNU GPL v2,
 if the license is valid collectively instead of individually:
 a collectivity gets a license, whereby anyone within the collectivity
 can use and modify the software under rules defined by the (head of the)
 collectivity. Distribution may be impossible due to the license,
 but as long as the software is used and copied within the collectivity,
 there is legally no external distribution so to speak.

* This is precisely how licensing "to a corporation" works: the employer
 gets a license, and has people work under his conditions (typically,
 proprietary secret). Why couldn't it work for associations, or some
 creative form of collectivity? Do some corporations have more rights than
 other corporations, especially when these "rights" are a direct detriment
 to both their partners and the public?

* For instance, an incorporation association may sell (or give away) partial
 membership forms to indidivuals or other collectivities, with member being
 entitled to run the binaries of modified software (or do things otherwise
 prohibited by distribution restrictions). If needed, the CPU cycles and
 electromagnetic memories that run and contain this software will have to
 be partially and temporarily transfered to the corporation's asset, so that
 the software be still an internal copy within the corporation, instead of a
 distributed copy outside it.

* Lack of precautions made previous GNU GPL violators such, and forced them
 to disclose source under the GPL. Future "violators" will take more
 precaution; or will choose to only deprive their own employees from liberties,
 and not disclose any code or binary.

* Instead of being used to enforce proprietary restrictions,
 the same hole could be used to allow freeer software use and copy:
 allow to mix&match source of various origins with otherwise incompatible
 licenses, as far as _distribution_ is involved (you're still subject
 to use&copy restrictions).

* I proposed that there be an incorporated association named WWBA or
 something else (for World-Wide Bugroff Association), that would gather
 licenses from as much software as possible, and do just that: allow
 unlimited use and copy of the software within the association. That is,
 under the terms of the bugroff license.
 Of course, even then, not giving proper credits will be frowned upon
 (but not subject to prosecution by those lawyer parasites).

* In effect, given such an association, the software is no different that
 with a BSD or MIT license, except for the legal mess. So why use the GPL?
 Unless the GNU GPL can and does enforce the strictly personal aspect of
 its validity, it is only a very complex way and lawyer-feeding way to
 provide no more freedom than simpler licenses.

* I still ask you, Mr Stallman, to fix this hole on next version
 of the GNU GPL.

* I also ask you, RMS, to release a position statement for even the current
 versions of the GNU GPL: they should be considered to be valid at the
 individual level, and/or within the boundaries of corporations (i.e. even
 inside a corporation, employees may not be deprived from their rights by NDA
 or suches).

* Indeed, if not considered valid at the individual level, the intricacies of
 the GPL are useless (as below exploit shows), and it would be stupid for
 a court to recognize a load of rules that ultimately amount to nothing:
 if ultimately, the rules are to hold, they can but hold at the individual
 level; if they are not to hold, then let's drop the legal junk right away.

* In any case, there is no use to a holed GPL. If the GPL is holed,
 either the courts will have to reject the hole, or they will have to
 practically reject the GPL (by considering the hole as legal). It depends
 mostly upon your treatment of the hole whether it be the former or the

* I hope that my disclosing the hole and its exploit will lead to the hole
 being promptly fixed, and people being more aware of the underlying deep
 philosophical issues (IMNSHO).

* Now, of course, if you consider the definition of politics by Karl Schmidt,
 as being not choice of philosophy, but choice of your friends, then choosing
 the GNU GPL as a software license is definitely a political act, that has
 implications independent of the technical and legal qualities of it (as long
 as the latter are "good enough", that is).

* In as much as the GNU GPL is affirmative in fighting use of the abusive
 intellectual property laws, I (personally) prefer it to BSDish licenses,
 that suffer in a non-violent and even accepting way the violence of
 corporations. The other license I like is the bugroff license, that
 affirmatively displays its contempt for the whole mess.

I hope this all makes things clearer (if a bit longer).

Thanks for your attention,

[ François-René ÐVB Rideau | Reflection&Cybernethics | ]
[  TUNES project for a Free Reflective Computing System  |  ]
May your desire to be correct overcome your desire to have been correct
(which you were not, anyway).		-- Faré