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    I wish I could could vote this up about 10 more times. Not because I nessicarily agree with it, but because it’s given me something to think about. Over the past few years I’ve been sliding toward RMS-light opinions on free software, but this has kinda made me at least pause for a brief moment.

    I don’t really have anything profound to add, I haven’t really finished digesting this yet, I guess just: highly recommended.

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      I like a lot of what he said here, particularly the later bits about Kierkegaard. But I think he’s missing some important points when he talks about giving away software as a form of altruism.

      As he says, contributing to open source software feels in some sense giving a gift to other programmers. But in practice what this means in the vast majority of cases is giving a gift to the companies who employ the programmers. It’s fine if that’s what you want to do to make it easier for you to get a job further down the line or something, but you should recognize it as such. On the other hand, free software puts the goals of the end user above those of the developer, so participating in free software is giving a gift to humans instead of corporations.

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        right there with you.

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        I definitely enjoyed reading this! I would like to point out though (and i may butcher the explanation) that there is a position which supports property rights in general but strongly opposes copyright/the idea of “intellectual property”, on the basis that property rights are a necessary result of scarcity, so it does make sense to have scarce things have an owner and it doesn’t make sense for not-scarce things to have an owner - under this view i have no objection to Disney retaining full ownership of Disneyland and using it for their corporate profit, but I do have an objection to them maintaining full ownership of every idea they have ever imagined, because that kind of “ownership” does actually take freedoms away from me (I can not, for example, create a mod for a video-game that adds characters which Disney claims to own without expecting them to eventually come make me stop.)

        I feel like that’s a long winded way of saying that precisely because I do agree with the author that this new world of postscarcity (at least as regards the world of software) we live in allows for an unrestrained/nontransactional giving that was totally impossible in the past, I can’t agree that we should look at Stallman/Linus/etc as misguided because they are more quarrelsome, because there are real ways that these freedoms CAN be taken away from us. There’s a reason the MIT license still has to be a license and not just “do whatever you want” because there are people who are not “mere” freeloaders but who would happily, if allowed, take what was given freely, claim ownership themselves, and then use litigation to prevent other people from also receiving the gift (and there are a lot of subtle ways to effectively do the same thing.)

        But really I enjoyed the post, I don’t mean to be contentious/split hairs. :P

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          Is it just me or does his argument about proprietary software and free software hinge on the equivocation of proprietary software licenses protecting its authors against users being the same thing as free software licenses protecting its authors against companies?

          In the article he uses the word “users” in both cases, but everyone knows free software licenses don’t protect authors from the end-users. Free software licenses don’t protect the author at all, except in so far as the author is just another user.

          Edit: OK fine; free software licenses do protect the author from the user from a liability perspective, but that’s unrelated to the argument in the article.

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            I thought the same thing immediately and am surprised no one else commented on it.

            DHH claims Stallman was afraid he wouldn’t get modifications back, when in fact Stallman was afraid he wouldn’t be able to ensure his software being given away – because others could first make modifications to it before passing it on and then hold those modifications back as a means to make their users dependent on themselves. Legally enforcing the publication of those modifications wasn’t so Stallman could get them, it was so that users could get them.

            DHH tries to get in front of objections by saying this:

            You might find this comparison a stretch (or even offensive), and I’m sympathetic to the challenge.

            But I find it neither a stretch nor offensive; I simply find it entirely invalid. That doesn’t invalidate the argument that that there is a shared architecture in Gates’ and Stallman’s strategies, which is in fact interesting to consider. But it does mean that the extrapolation from that shared architecture to a shared mindset of scarcity is unsound.

            Indeed, while such a mindset can be attributed to Gates, Stallman’s motivation is, in fact, a mindset of abundance and a fear of manufactured scarcity, as a look at their “origin stories” makes clear: Bill Gates’ Open Letter to Hobbyists vs Stallman’s printer driver anecdote.

            The whole article hinges on a complete mischaracterisation of what copyleft licenses demand. DHH claims that a user who modifies the software must give those modifications back – which, highly ironically, is exactly the old Microsoft FUD scare tactic against the GPL. The reality is that modifications have to be given back (in source form) only if those modifications are being distributed already (in build artefact form).

            All DHH has to say to that (indirectly, so I’m paraphrasing) is “well nobody ever attempted a proprietarily controlled fork of Rails”. It’s certainly interesting to consider that one particular case, but it does nothing to address the known cases where such a thing has happened, nor Stallman’s motivating experience.

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              I agree with this. I find the article in its entirety interesting as a whole, but the lumping together of RMS and Gates is unfair. DHH could develop Rails and give it away for free and build a reputation and a company on it because Stallman thought through the consequences of Free Software and carefully designed the GPL to address a bunch of issues.

              In other words, he’s arguing from a position of privilege he owes in large part to RMS.

              I have a lot of sympathy for the views of the BSD/MIT license crowd. The GPL isn’t for everyone. But without RMS’ tireless advocacy there would be no Free Software or Open Source. The BSD/MIT licenses software would be developed in universities and be monetized by companies, and kept away from users outside universities and companies. RMS expanded the userbase of Free Software for everyone, creating the ecosystem in which DHH could even consider writing Rails.

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            I think he has a very narrow perspective of open source, because not every open source software maintainer can build a multi million dollar business on top of their project without having to extract that value from the project itself. I doubt he would hold the same perspective if he was the author of Zulip or even Webpack.

            But this is not to say that it’s entirely wrong. Just need to put things in context and perspective.