The GPL and secrecy
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© 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
* 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 | http://fare.tunes.org ]
[ TUNES project for a Free Reflective Computing System | http://tunes.org ]
May your desire to be correct overcome your desire to have been correct
(which you were not, anyway). -- Faré