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I was initially skeptical that rescission of an open license was possible in the way described, but was surprised to find legal research from 2010 suggesting that it is.

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    Does anyone know if any actual kernel devs have been involved with this threat? Something that isn’t pointed out in this (imo pretty biased) article is that the initial email was sent more-or-less anonymously, from an account hosted on cock.li, which seems to be at least spiritually 4chan-related. This makes me suspicious that the whole thing was invented as a “look how much backlash there is against these grievous CoCs!” stunt. This suspicion is strengthened by the misleading reference to the Drupal case, which seems to have been mostly in spite of a lack of CoC violations.

    [edit: there is some discussion of this type of issue on LKML]

    I mostly found it interesting because I had always assumed that you couldn’t rescind viral licenses like the GPL.

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      There is a reason the GNU foundation requires a copyright assignment for contributions. An author is allowed to revoke licenses to any code they write under many licenses.

      Google also requires a copyright assignment for any code you contribute to projects they oversee for similar reasons.

      Linux sides not have such a requirement which gives the contributors a lot of power.

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        How does that change anything? The point is the law permits the transfer to be terminated.

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          There is a reason the GNU foundation requires a copyright assignment for contributions. An author is allowed to revoke licenses to any code they write under many licenses.

          But not under the GPL. You absolutely cannot rescind your license under the GPL.

          Google also requires a copyright assignment for any code you contribute to projects they oversee for similar reasons.

          No, Google requires a copyright assignment for the same reason as many other companies: so that they have complete control and can use the software commercially and sell it under a proprietary license.

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            On what grounds do you believe that the GPL doesn’t allow you to rescind your license?

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              On the grounds that there’s no mention in the GPL that it allows you to rescind your license.

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                I’m not sure that the GPL has to specifically allow it.https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/17/203

                In the case of any work other than a work made for hire, the exclusive or nonexclusive grant of a transfer or license of copyright or of any right under a copyright, executed by the author on or after January 1, 1978, otherwise than by will, is subject to termination under the following conditions

                It does indicate that there are restrictions on when 35 years after you can do the revoking and how much advance warning (on the order of 2 years) is necessary. But no where in the relevant US code do I see anything saying that you must specify that a license is revokable in order to allow for revoking a license.

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                  The GPL is a contract with consideration. As I understand it you cannot simply terminate a contract without reason, but if you do so and then you’re sued I don’t think you’ll necessarily be forced to honour the contract by the court. Courts are generally apprehensive about forcing people to do things and prefer to impose damages.

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                  GPL is still copyright, it’s just an attempt at subverting it. The developers are still the actual owners, and whenever it’s redistributed, it’s always redistributed under their own terms, namely those specified in the COPYING file. They aren’t slaves to their own conditions, they have the same right to remove it as they have to enforce it – it’s not public domain after all.

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                    You can’t just unilaterally revoke a contract. If you download and then redistribute my software under the GPL I can’t just tell you to stop. That’s literally the whole point of the license.

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                      No, but I can stop distributing newer versions under that license.

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                        Absolutely. But then the ‘kill switch’ these developers have is just the freedom to stop working on the kernel. That’s a freedom they’ve always had, nothing new. The suggestion is that they can ‘rescind’ or ‘revoke’ their license and stop others from continuing development or continuing distributing existing versions. I see no reason why that would be true.

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                Did you not read the article? GPL2 definitely DOES allow one to rescind the license.

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                  that article was awful. I mean, if your quoting anonymous comments from 4chan, what you’re doing isn’t journalism

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                I always thought projects did this to be able to change the license.

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                  Changing the license is a similar operation to revoking a license in my mind so it makes sense that both reasons would behind the practice.

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                I mostly found it interesting because I had always assumed that you couldn’t rescind viral licenses like the GPL.

                You were and are right: you cannot do so. The idea that you can’t because it doesn’t explicitly say you can’t is utterly absurd. The entire point of a copyright license is that you are licensing the work to others. There’s nothing in that license that says you can rescind it, thus you can’t rescind it. It’s pretty simple. The entire world of free and open source software is built upon this premise. If people could just go around and rescind the licenses to their contributions it would destroy free and open source software.

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                  So the analysis link seems excessively long, but here’s the relevant part of the law.

                  https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/17/203

                  You don’t have to build a rescinding clause into the license. It’s provided by law. Unless there’s some other reason this isn’t applicable.

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                    Seems like (section a.3 is saying) revocation can only occur after 35 years after initial grant, and within a 5 year window? Weird.

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                      Ah, this is a good point that I had missed: This particular way of rescinding a license actually isn’t possible for the next few years, since Linux isn’t that old. So the argument described by the possibly-troll lawyer is closer to the way this might actually work, though it seems way more tenuous to me now.

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                        But that part is only relevant for people who have already been granted the license correct? I am very definitely not a lawyer and could easily be wrong here. However it seems like there could be an argument that Current users of the kernel would be allowed to continue to exercise their use under the license but that no future versions of the kernel could be published with the code in question. That could have the effect of preventing bugfixes to current kernel versions, as well as stalling kernel development for some time as the core devs worked to strip out and replace all of the code that is no longer licensed to be used.

                        How the relevant law applies with a viral license is a question that seems unsettled to me and likely would need to go through the courts to settle the question.

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                Don’t mistake ‘couched in neutral language’ for ‘not trying to convince you’. ESR is trying to pretend these assumptions are true, and the only relevant assumptions:

                • that a group’s unwritten rules (ethoses) come exclusively from a group’s shared purpose (telos)
                • that successful groups have only the minimum of rules needed to achieve the shared purpose
                • that you can only judge a group by its success in its shared purpose

                Notice the implication: that group rules ostensibly do not come from shared values, or from balancing the group’s purpose with the needs of its members.

                ESR then invites you to ask which shared rules do and don’t flow from these assumptions. He already knows the answer to that. He does not mention his desired outcome, but is pushing for it via ‘framing’: introducing assumptions that lead there, and hoping you don’t question them.

                His argumentation entirely fails to address the actual questions at hand:

                • what are the benefits and drawbacks, to the shared purpose and to group members, of adding the proposed code of conduct to our (un)written rules?
                • what are the benefits and drawbacks, to the shared purpose and to group members, of the current situation?
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                  that group rules ostensibly do not come from shared values, or from balancing the group’s purpose with the needs of its members.

                  Isn’t that where the telos comes from? The telos of the linux project is probably at its most basic just “create a kernel,” but further expansions include consideration of its members. For example, it could also be “create a FOSS kernel,” which carries with it considerations for the needs of members in the form of recognition and the freedoms associated with FOSS software. Additionally, shared values shape the telos. There is a good chance that Linus might have never have open-sourced the linux kernel had he not had a community with a strong preference for FOSS projects. Of course, yes, I do think he is “framing the question.”

                  • what are the benefits and drawbacks, to the shared purpose and to group members, of adding the proposed code of conduct to our (un)written rules?

                  Isn’t the whole ethos/telos discussion for creating a framework to evaluate this? He explicitly directs the reader to use this framework to make a decision. Although he didn’t address this directly, I don’t think it’s fair to say he “entirely fails to address” this.

                  what are the benefits and drawbacks, to the shared purpose and to group members, of the current situation?

                  I think his general tone implies that he dislikes all the conflict, but I’d be hesitant to read further in than that.

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                    There is a good chance that Linus might have never have open-sourced the linux kernel had he not had a community with a strong preference for FOSS projects. Of course, yes, I do think he is “framing the question.”

                    This is in fact precisely correct: Linus did not originally distribute the kernel under an open source license but a non-commercial license. I believe he took a fair bit of convincing to switch to the GPL, and the convincing was from free software people - the ‘open source’ movement didn’t really exist at that stage from what I understand.

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                      Isn’t the whole ethos/telos discussion for creating a framework to evaluate this? He explicitly directs the reader to use this framework to make a decision.

                      Many of the calls for a code of conduct have mentioned, with reference to specific cases, how asshole behaviour has affected individuals. To present a framework that includes telos as something to consider, but really obviously omits the the wellbeing of individuals (group members) – that is a framework that would make us ignore those arguments instead of addressing them. Whether he’s pushing this broken framefrom incompetence or knowingly … I know he self-identifies as ‘anti social justice’, so I suspect the latter, but you can make up your own mind. His motivations aside: ESR’s framework is incomplete, and people should not use it.

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                    I was reading through an earlier thread on the linux CoC situation, and I noticed that many lobsters were fairly dismissive of CoC detractors as being nothing more that outsiders engaging in a proxy conflict on lkml. For example, /u/gerikson writes

                    This entire issue has been hijacked by the alt-right/gamergate crowd as another front in their “culture war”.

                    While many of the commenters on the issue are not members of the community (on both pro- and anti-CoC sides), there are some legitimate criticisms of the new CoC which should not be dismissed out of hand. ESR hits the nail on the head in this post about why some people are apprehensive about all the changes, and why it is important to address criticism without lumping all opposition into one group. I think this is perhaps the most level-headed take on the situation I’ve seen this far.

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                      In my comment, I was referring specifically to the linked post from lulz.com. It had been literally spammed over multiple channels in what I consider a concerted attempt by its backers to create controversy. It was not argumentation in good faith, but an attempt to leverage reasonable critique and doubt of the CoC into outrage and dissent.

                      I wrote in some anger and frustration and should probably have moderated my comment to not exclude reasonable critiques of the CoC, and the specific situation and history of the LKML.

                      Edit to expand, I am not a Linux kernel developer. My interest and fascination/disgust with the debate around the CoC is to see the same motivations, prejudices and methods from “GamerGate” being used in this campaign against the CoC - and probably from the same people and “communities”. That’s what I meant by using the term “hijack”.

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                        In my comment, I was referring specifically to the linked post from lulz.com.

                        Yeah, I agree that that is probably the most egregious example of an outside influence sparking conflict. I mostly used your comment because it was the most straightforward instance of the mentality I found throughout the whole thread.

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                      I have a lot of issues with the idea that asking people to behave professionally (in what is essentially a professional setting) is somehow offensive or autocratic. Threatening to throw toys out of the pram does not reassure me that people have good points.

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                        This entire issue has been hijacked by the alt-right/gamergate crowd as another front in their “culture war”.

                        (Edit, changed “the” to “their” in reference to “culture war”).

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                          Except it isn’t just in a professional setting, it’s in every public forum.

                          It’s also impossible to know what they define to be “professional” because of comments like this:

                          Threatening to throw toys out of the pram

                          Bizarre ageist rants which foreclose on the idea that this is even up for discussion, and which assume everyone knows what “acceptable” or “professional” are as if those ideas were cross-cultural (they’re not, of course, and you’d need to be racist to imagine they were) and as if everyone were neurotypical.

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                            Ageist, racist and ableist. I got the trifecta!

                            Bizarre ageist rants

                            Threatening to retract past contributions, particularly over a perceived abuse of power that hasn’t happened yet is childish behaviour. Spouting ad hominem attacks against people you disagree with qualifies too, and gets you a ‘troll’ downvote.

                            which assume everyone knows what “acceptable” or “professional” are

                            This sounds like a very good argument for some sort of document which defines what “acceptable” and “professional” might be. If only the Linux kernel had one.

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                          They make it clear; they signed on to participate in a meritocracy with reputation rewards, and they think that is being taken way from them.

                          Oh look, we’re back at that meritocracy bullshit, and asserting that people develop the kernel for some imaginary reputation rewards. I’m sure there’s some pride in working on the kernel, but that being a significant factor? C’mon.

                          This is nothing more than another “Look at me, I’m still relevant!!1!” take by ESR, dressed up in fancy words to sound legit.

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                            Oh look, we’re back at that meritocracy bullshit

                            What BS? As far as I was aware, the kernel was perhaps the most meritocratic institution we have today. If there’s any project which ticks those boxes, it’s linux.

                            I’m sure there’s some pride in working on the kernel, but that being a significant factor?

                            Why do you think they do it? Getting paid doesn’t count, as the kernel had much development before people started to get paid for it.

                            This is nothing more than another “Look at me, I’m still relevant!!1!” take by ESR, dressed up in fancy words to sound legit.

                            I have to admit, there does seem to be a bit of that feeling on his blog lol

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                              What BS? As far as I was aware, the kernel was perhaps the most meritocratic institution we have today. If there’s any project which ticks those boxes, it’s linux.

                              Oh, but it doesn’t. Unless you’re part of the small elite, it’s nowhere near “meritocratic”. There have been many, many takes on this topic, like this in 2009, or this from 2014, with plenty of other links. They may not specifically mention the kernel, but it applies there just as well.

                              Getting paid doesn’t count, as the kernel had much development before people started to get paid for it.

                              Because they had an itch to scratch, or enjoyed working in a particular area. Pride and reputation rewards (whatever those may be) are not sustainable motivators, and never were. For very few people, maybe. For ESR, most likely - but ESR has little to do with the kernel. (Perhaps there’s a correlation there, somewhere, hm… :P)

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                            Let’s say that this research from 8 years ago still represents the state of the law (as it well may).

                            This doesn’t mean you have to shutdown your Linux machines and throw out cds with the code. Distribution and copying of that specific code would have to stop, in the United States. In practice, US-based cloud infrastructure would not be able allow customers to spin up new Linux vms. Or they could just take the risk that these complainers won’t have the appetite to risk the cost of litigation against substantially the entire tech industry, and sponsor some relatively quick replacement code.

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                              This sounds very similar to how Bukkit, a popular Minecraft server software, died in 2014(ish?) when one of the contributors got angry for some reason and rescinded the rights to the code he wrote.

                              It’s surprising that the Linux license has the same flaw.

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                                It’s not actually similar, though. Bukkit was actually violating Wolvereness’s license (GPL, by linking his code with the closed-source Minecraft server); he did not rescind it, just threatened to assert his rights.

                                (The situation was odd in a number of other ways, of course. For instance, the code in question couldn’t actually be used in a conforming manner.)

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                                  This seems a little incomplete. If you revoke your own license to your own code, perhaps you lose the right to the rest of the kernel. But you can still do it. It’s not clear that you can actually waive the right to termination.

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                                  Read the parent post and stop feeding the trolls, please.

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                                    When will people realize that imposing CoC tramples on peoples feelings of moral autonomy?

                                    I want to know, what do CoC proponents think whats causing the backlash?

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                                      The backlash is caused by some folks wanting to be assholes. A piece of documentation saying ‘respect others’ should not be threatening to anyone.

                                      How can anyone defend the attacks on Linus right now? Him and his family are having threats on their lives over a document asking others to be respectful.

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                                        So the best argument you could come up against people disagreeing with you is basically the equivalent of “have you stopped beating your spouse yet”?

                                        I think it’s largely a matter of people from the US trying to force their cultural norms onto the rest of the world, and frankly I’m not willing to lower civilizatory standards to accommodate largely US-specific social issues.

                                        There are certainly issues to be solved, but adopting US-style problem-solving approach of “war on bad behavior” will be similarly effective as their “war on drugs” or “war on terrorism”. Thanks, but no thanks, I want to improve things, not make them worse.

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                                          I want to be right or at least to say things I believe are correct even if they make me an asshole.

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                                            If you think human conflict is solved the “show the asshole the boot” way, then you probably lack experience, because your opponent will claim that you are the asshole.

                                            Also, take a step back. Where did i approve of harassing other people? That i approve a thought does not mean that i approve all methods of enforcing or implementing it. That i think stealing is illegal does not mean that i approve of going around and lynching burglars.

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                                              If you think human conflict is solved the “show the asshole the boot” way, then you probably lack experience

                                              The counter-argument to this is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox_of_tolerance

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                                                If you think human conflict is solved the “show the asshole the boot” way, then you probably lack experience, because your opponent will claim that you are the asshole.

                                                Have you ever worked in an office, volunteer organization, missionary group, art collective, or literally any other group human endeavour?

                                                They all have expected norms of behavior and ask those who don’t conform to them to leave.

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                                                  I don’t remember any such group needing a pseudo-law HR-babble document to accomplish that, at least not in the last 30 years.

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                                                    They literally all do. Every single organization you’ve ever been involved with that wasn’t just you and some buddies had an employee handbook or volunteer agreement or something in which this sort of thing was spelled out.

                                                    To not have one opens them up to “well I didn’t know I couldn’t do that” when they get mad at someone, or a lawsuit if they get fired because they didn’t know some behavior wasn’t acceptable.

                                                    And apparently these sorts of things are necessary, because a lot of people can’t just…not be a dick.

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                                                      To all of that: No. Please stop applying your cultural expectations to the rest of the planet.

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                                                        https://i.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/original/001/143/769/86b.jpg

                                                        ;)

                                                        Seriously though, if you don’t like it you’re free to start your own kernel with blackjack and hookers if you’d like. Stop telling others how they can run their projects.

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                                                          Stop telling others how they can run their projects.

                                                          Oh, the old Fox News “if the argument is lost, just accuse others of the thing you are doing yourself to turn any discussion into a fact-free ‘you did it! no you!’”.

                                                          I think we can stop here.

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                                                      There’s a long unbroken chain from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Hammurabi to present day, by way of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_law (among other such pseudo-law HR-babble documents, including of course https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript).

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                                                        None of these are even remotely related to the topic at hand.

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                                                  assholes

                                                  OK, that’s a start. Now define it, as opposed to thinking anyone who acknowledges it’s a complex topic is a horrible human being. Define it in a culture-neutral fashion, and define it such that the non-neurotypical don’t get thrown out or made to feel less than.

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                                                  I don’t even think that’s the biggest problem directly, but the fact that “imposing” (not a word I’d choose) a CoC on a community that’s (obviously) not prepared for it will be divisive – and why should it not? It’s kind of the point of a CoC – a “motion of confidence” of sorts that a community poses to itself. Either it’s admitted which forces the reactionaries to split of or if it looses the progressives don’t feel welcome anymore. And frankly, I don’t know if this is a good thing or not.

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                                                    I love reading the replies to https://lobste.rs/s/uyriow/linux_4_19_rc4_released_apology#c_yl3d7r in retrospect.

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                                                    I think the date (edit: On the merged groklaw article) should be 2008. The article lists 2008, and comments are all from 2008, this comment thread which suggests there was a software mistake that printed 2006 but that the real date was 2008.

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                                                      That’s one of the beauties of the GPL, actually, that even if some individual gets a bug up his nose, or dies and his copyright is inherited by his wife who doesn’t care about the GPL and wants to take it proprietary, or just to imagine for a moment, a Megacorp were to buy off a GPL programmer and get him to pretend to revoke the GPL with threats, and even if it were to initiate a SCO-like bogo-lawsuit (based perhaps on a theory under Copyright Law § 203, termination of rights – lordy do we have to endure a living demo in some courtroom somewhere of every antiGPL theory found on every message board before they give up?), it doesn’t matter ultimately, I don’t think, as to what you can and can’t do with the GPL. The GPL is what it is.

                                                      That does not sound like a particularly robust counter argument to the termination clause. That’s more like ad hominem word salad.

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                                                        I think it’s because it was written in the style of the then-ongoing debate over the SCO lawsuit.

                                                        Unfortunately the linked post that inspired this one is lost to bitrot.