GNU A Possible Ally?

Ingemar Hulthage
Sat, 10 May 1997 15:37:53 -0700 (PDT)

"Dwight Hughes wrote: "
> Most of the discussion has centered around the question of 
> licenses -- whether to go with the GPL/LGPL or something
> like the FreeBSD license -- rather than the FSF/GNU 
> organization as such. Should we decide to adopt the 
> GPL/LGPL for this project then I'm sure the FSF would
> support us in spirit - what tangible benefits might be
> gained from this I have no idea. Publicity perhaps, to 
> bring others into the project as it goes along.

My vote is against that.

> Fare makes a number of arguments for the GPL/LGPL - many
> of which I find debatable, but two factors finally
> convinced me in their favor: 1) the protection against
> some bastard getting a patent on some piece of previously
> free software (the Patent Office being *totally* clueless
> concerning software) and removing it from general use
> and benefit to all; 

I believe this is factually incorrect. First, I don't see how GPL
gives any more protection than a simple "Copyright 1997 N.N".  Second,
the real protection against frivolous patent claims is the ability to
demonstrate the existence of 'prior art'.  That is, if it can be shown
that an invention existed and was publizised before the patent claim
was made, then a court will rule the patent claim invalid.  This
happens all the time with all types of patents.

2) the GPL/LGPL sets forth a framework
> to protect the free nature not only of the original free
> work and source code, but of all derivatives of it --
> this means that any improvements, updates, extensions,
> whatever will likewise return to increase the value
> and utility of the original work (you might have to chase
> the new sources down, but they will be available and free).

The GPL license is based on the, in my opinion, false assumption that
commercial use of free software is detrimental to the purpose of free
software.  I believe the best that could happen to LispOS is that
somebody figured out a way to make it a commercial success, but
frankly that's to much to hope for.
> There is *no* such mechanism to aid any work under a
> simple "free to use however you like" license -- 
> regardless of how much work is done on it by any 
> number of people you might only ever see the initial
> release, so all that advancement goes to nothing (as
> far as benefiting you anyway).

Most enhancements would be released freely just as enhances to GPL
software are.  Some advances would only be available at a cost, but I
think it's underestimating the sophistication of the software consumer
and the free market system to think that it's possible to charge
unreasonable amounts of money for minor enhancements to free software.
Furthermore, GPL discourages enhancements because the possibility to
cover the cost of them are limited.  GPL also tempts people to make
improvements and not release them to anybody under any condition,
which is allowed under the GPL license (and it would be an
unenforcable restriction if it wasn't).

> In this light, the bit of additional complexity to follow
> their framework seems to be well worth it to me.

I don't agree.  On the contrary, I believe the chances of success for
LispOS wold be significantly lowered if GPL is adopted.