[PD] [semi-OT]: Licenses [WAS] Re: expr alternative

Andy Farnell padawan12 at obiwannabe.co.uk
Sun Oct 30 08:52:46 CET 2011

On Tue, 25 Oct 2011 10:58:19 -0400 (EDT)
Mathieu Bouchard <matju at artengine.ca> wrote:

> Le 2011-10-25 à 15:06:00, Julian Brooks a écrit :
> > I for one find all the license talk fascinating.  I'm still smarting 
> > from Mathieu's response to the question 'what is free software? - answer 
> > " a set of licenses", from a while back.  Whereas I like to think of it 
> > as an ethical and political manifesto/code of conduct, he's quite 
> > correct that yes it is just a bunch of licenses.

> It's reductionist to call it just a bunch of licenses, but for certain 
> aspects, it's all that matters. However, if we're thinking about why those 
> licenses exist and why people use them, we have to think of people, 
> manifestoes, and the events that led people to change their minds so that 
> they would want to write manifestoes and licenses, etc.

It is both. You cannot have a legal instrument, a license or contract,
that is free from values. All human values are necessarily political
and ethical. 

Even though they are not contracts, in simplest terms licenses 
invoke some payment of a debt. Somebody did some work. Repayment for 
that work could be made in promissory notes backed by a bank. Or by an 
agreement to observe certain behaviours. So licenses can stand in for a 
contract by which the parties basically agree that monetary compensation
is not the kind of consideration required, but some other value, like 
recognising a copyright or propagating a freedom. 

Let's put this in another light. A license bypasses the coercive power 
of money and goes straight to coercion. With GPL the author wants
something in return, a behaviour. With BSD the author wants
something in return, a different kind of behaviour. One is not a 
crusader while the other is a nihilist. You can see where the whole 
split in BSD and GPL philosophy arises now. BSD basically abdicates 
that power and by saying "Do what thy will" protects the value of the 
code. GPL says "Do what I will", which is to protect the wishes of 
the coder. On the one hand BSD puts product before producer, which 
seems systematic and anti-humanist, on the other GPL ignores the zero 
sum fallacy of a zero cost reproduction, because the loss to freedom by
one is a loss to freedom for all. 

Two conceptual precedents might be useful. The first is in Rousseau's
social contract where he claims that freedom starts where the law begins.
The other can be found in Marcuse's analysis of tolerance as a potential
form of tyranny. Through these you can see that there are _no_ devices 
that grant, remove, or simply ignore the behaviour of others, that are 
somehow free from values. It is this Pre-enlightenment thinking, where 
the Law is an abstract eternal point of view, beyond and above society,
that is out of date.


Andy Farnell <padawan12 at obiwannabe.co.uk>

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