Free Speech, Free Beer, and (sogenannte) Free Software

Simon Phipps of Sun Microsystemsis preaching Free Speech, Free Beer, and Free Software,in a transparent attempt tocurry favor withthe Socialist Software Revolutionary Front. While he doesn’t really say much, and seems to be trying to justifySun’s ambivalence to the party line, he does manage torepeat a few of the propagandabuzz-phrases, including “Free Software is about Liberty”.During the daysof German partition, when East Germany was locked in socialist hell but insisted on calling herself a democracy;West German old men andnewspaperswere careful to be precise and refer to the East as“das sogenannte DDR” (“the so-called German Democratic Republic”). By the same token,every time I hearFSF equated with liberty, I think “das sogenannte FSFanything else would be dishonest.

Larry Lessig tries to propagate the same untruth as Phipps, saying “Software gets compiled, and the compiled code is essentially unreadable; but in order to copyright software, the author need not reveal the source code.” This is wrong on so many levels. Forget the fact that people routinely reverse-engineer other people’s code without the source, and pay no attention to the fact that the source code of Linux is essentially unreadable to 90% of the people who identify themselves as open source advocates (this is not sarcastic; I am being charitable). The fact is, my computer reads compiled code just fine.

In fact, not only is most “open source” unreadable to its advocates; it seems the licenses themselves are unreadable. Dare Obasanjo’s informal survey is showing that less than 90% of the Kuro5hin population can score higher than 75% on the FSF’s GPL quiz.And if the GPL is not dizzying enough, try reading the Redhat LinuxEULA, which is pretty typical for “open source” distros: “Red Hat Linux is a modular operating system made up of hundreds of individual software components, each of which was written and copyrighted individually. Each component has its own applicable end user license agreement … you must review the on-line documentation that accompanies each of the Linux Programs included in this product for the applicable Linux EULA. Review these Linux EULAs carefully, in order to understand your rights…”

That’s a whole lot of liberty; at least 31 flavors of it. I wonder if any humans exist who actually understand the interactions of all of these intermangled licenses. But I guess liberty is better served by being able to read someone else’s C routines than by being able to understand what sort of legal commitments you are making.

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