Wednesday, March 14, 2007

GPLv3, DRM, and Han Solo - Part 2

Charles Babcock has posted an article concerning GPL3 and Linus Torvalds' criticism of it. Charles says -
"I am struck by the contrast between the lofty ambitions that Stallman and the Free Software Foundation are now placing behind GPL 3.0 versus Torvalds' common sense."
First of all, I find it somewhat generous to state that Linus is exhibiting "common sense" in regard to GPL3, but I'll address that later in this post. With regard to "the lofty ambitions", I must say that this mischaracterizes why GPL3 is being implemented. GPL3 is not striving for anything more (i.e. "loftier") than GPL2 ever did. GPL3 is a response to unforeseen attacks upon computer users' freedom that GPL2 doesn't cover. Unfortunately, it seems quite common to paint the GPL3 process as an act of reaching - as if the license goes "too far" in trying to take something from software developers that they have a right to. This is false. GPL3 is simply protecting our freedom. The GPL is a shield. GPL3 is a more comprehensive shield than GPL2, but it does nothing offensive whatsoever.

Babcock ends his article by saying -
"Or maybe we should pause in our rush toward the bans, the prohibitions and the rules being discussed for GPLv3 and consider the wisdom inherent in GPLv2's minimalist approach."
Clearly Babcock has been mesmerized by Torvalds' meaningless praise (found often in the article) over the now-archaic GPL2. The "wisdom" of GPL2 is of an identical nature as that to be expressed through the upcoming GPL3. The GPL has always been about protecting the users' rights to study, share, modify, and run for any purpose the software in possession. That is all. GPL3 asks for no more and no less. The basic nature of what we ask has not changed since our movement started decades ago. What has changed is the degree of cleverness of those who wish to profit from the revocation of our freedom. We're not making any transgressions - it's the same old story from our end. We're simply plugging leaky holes in a roof (i.e. GPL2) that served its purpose well for its time.

Babcock is fortunate to have gotten Linus Torvalds' permission to post parts of his email exchange. Linus did not grant me that opportunity - so for all the reader of my post knows, the following is totally made up...

I calmly went back and forth with Linus (CC:ing Stallman and Moglen) over 6 months ago regarding the DRM provisions in GPL3 and for the most part agreed with Linus' logic. After about 5 or 6 exchanges, it came clear that although Linus didn't necessarily think DRM was a good thing, he felt strongly that if one wanted "hackable hardware", then one should vote with one's wallet and leave copyright licenses out of it. That is, he felt buyers who want "hackable hardware" should simply demand so from manufacturers. To be honest, I thought Linus made a lot of sense. Well, a lot of sense in a reasonable world. My last email to Linus was as follows:
"You say buyers should make clear their desire for hackable hardware and that they should not pay for hardware they cannot modify. Fine, but I the copyright holder am going to take you, the hardware manufacturer, to court if you dare make this "hackable hardware" and have you charged for "circumvention" under the DMCA. How is the buyer who desires "hackable hardware" going to stop me?"


P.S. May I have permission to publish parts of our conversation so that others can benefit from hearing your thoughts on this issue?"
Linus never responded.

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