Principle behind freedom zero
Bradley M. Kuhn
bkuhn at sfconservancy.org
Mon Jul 4 19:45:14 UTC 2022
Valentino Giudice wrote:
> The reason the ESM got lashback from many, myself included, has nothing to
> do with whether the kind of licensing they are promoting is good or bad,
> but rather with the fact that they described them as licenses "for open
> source", while this was not nearly the case.
Please also see my criticisms of this initiative that I already linked to in
a prior post; I provide the link again as I think you may have missed it:
> "Free software" and "open source" … movements are different and separate,
> but the class of software is quite well defined and nearly the same, with
> disagreements only on its very boundary.
I think we should be willing to philosophically question these 20+ year old
arguments that focus on a world that doesn't exist anymore.
More to the point, I don't really agree that the classes of software are
particularly well defined. I do think we need to be very careful in changing
the reliability of what folks consider acceptable and unacceptable in FOSS
licenses … which is why I opposed OSI's certification of Van Lindberg's
so-called “Cryptographic Autonomy License” (see
But, that debate shows that drifting the definition of copyleft w.r.t how it
interacts with OSD in ways that are disturbing is already happening over at
OSI — whether we like it or not. (I happen to not like it very much.)
As explain below, the definition of copyleft has often pushed the edges of
what some considered freedom 0 / “field of use” restrictions. Obviously the
Hippocratic License errs for the reasons I outlined in my essay linked above;
but we should be cognizant that any adjustments made to copyleft historically
have been met with opposition that they impugn freedom 0 / field of use.
> It seems to me that something quite similar is happening here.
I think we must be open minded to moral and ethical questions as technology
changes. Simply parroting the prior generations moral conclusions is
unlikely to help software freedom activists deal with these new problems.
> One question is whether a license which prevents running software to make
> proprietary software is acceptable. A very different question is whether
> it qualifies as a Free Software license.
My previous emails already show examples where the latter is the case: The
GCC RTL can be removed, and if you do, you can't use GCC to produce
proprietary software as output. It can be called unfair (probably
legitimately, I dunno? 🤷) but to argue the GPLv3 isn't a Free Software
license would be quite a position to take, indeed. ☺
Nevertheless, you are correct in stating a distinction which my previous
emails already discussed: there are clearly activities that are an affront to
software freedom so much that would certainly criticize them, but would feel
squeamish about preventing them by license.
My point in bringing up the GCC RTL example is to note that these lines are
more blurry than they seem in traditional Free Software rhetoric.
We also have to be willing to stare at that blurriness closely. Pretending
these issues are well-settled denies the history of copyleft and possibly
buries our heads in the sand about new challenges.
> While the first question is inherently subjective, I think the second can be
> answered quite clearly with a resounding "no".
As I said, concluding that the GPLv3 becomes not a Free Software license for
GCC when you remove the RTL (which the license permits you to do) would be
quite a strange position indeed.
Ian Kelling added elsewhere in the thread:
>> On the other hand, releasing software under a license which forbids the
>> creation of proprietary software is not moral. I think the difference is
The rote application of traditional Free Software theories is
unlikely to help us in these newer areas. “There are more thing in heaven
and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
How copyleft works is not ultimately a moral position, although many treat
it as such. It's a very easy logical trap to fall into.
The GPL *is* a license that forbids the creation of proprietary software!
There is no bright line, and treating a legal conclusion about combined/
deriviative work as if it sets a moral line appropriate seems quite
ill-advised to me.
> Freedom zero has always been understood to include participating in quite
> morally tainted activities. In fact, agreeing on morality is not necessary to
> know whether a piece of software meets this criterion.
Do you then, argue, that there is *no* activity that one can engage in that is
permitted by freedom 0 that does not curtail the software freedoms of others?
> Copyleft is the strongest, and most controversial, restriction which can
> exist in a free software license.
Yet, the requirements of copyleft changed with the Affero GPL. I know a
thing or two about how that happened — the change was controversial, some
argued that it was not necessary because Web 2.0 was a “fad”, and the
powerful relegated it to a separate, oft-ignored license. Yet, no one
disagrees *now*, these twenty years later, that copyleft requirements should
not have been changed to include disclosure of source when deployed over a
If those of us working on the network services issues had been swayed by
close-mindedness about how the copyleft strategy should adapt to answer new
problems of the age, Affero GPL wouldn't exist.
While I do appreciate your reminder of the pre-Affero GPL philosophical
underpinnings of software freedom, I think you'll find that everyone looking
at this problem is well versed in it, and wouldn't seek to undermine any key
I just point out that there were those that argued (including very loud
statements from Google) the Affero clause violated Freedom 0 / field of use.
Bradley M. Kuhn - he/him
Policy Fellow & Hacker-in-Residence at Software Freedom Conservancy
Become a Conservancy Sustainer today: https://sfconservancy.org/sustainer
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