Signal and Noise in GPLv3: Page 3

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By contrast, open source supporters are less likely to be interested in how code is used so long as it is shared. That is why a group of kernel developers in the summer of 2006 published an open letter in which they expressed the opinion that the existing GPL2 needed no modification -- for their purposes, the license was working. This viewpoint was famously expressed by Torvalds in a March 2006 interview with Forbes when he said, "The GPLv2 in no way limits your use of the software. If you're a mad scientist, you can use GPLv2'd software for your evil plans to take over the world ('Sharks with lasers on their heads!!'), and the GPLv2 just says that you have to give source code back. And that's OK by me."

This difference in orientation goes back nearly a decade. Not unnaturally, then, when the difference becomes emphasized the way it was during the GPLv3 consultation process, tempers are going to momentarily flare.

This history was evident when, in an interview with me last spring, Peter Brown tried to diminish Torvalds' role, commenting that "Linus doesn't care about proprietary software. He's a developer. He wants to develop good code. But don't portray him as the leader of a movement that wants people to have control of their computers. He doesn't belief in that stuff. He's distanced himself from it. People have crowned him the leader of a movement, when he's not. He's the leader of a software project." In effect, Brown was calling Torvalds an open source supporter, and, to a free software supporter, no epithet can be more damning.

Torvalds answers in kind when he said, in an email to me, "I'm not a big fan of the FSF, because I think they've always alienated a lot of interesting and worthwhile people with their morality spiel. Quite frankly, I detest people who come to my door and try to sell me their morals and religion. I think they are the lowest of the low. Get the fuck out of my face -- your morality is your morality and keep it to yourself. It has nothing to do with me."

Such comments on both sides do nothing to fan the flames of moderation. Yet what the media often fails to reflect is that they are only half the story. No one could oppose open source ideals more than the FSF, yet, during the consultation process, the foundation was careful to involve open source supporters, including those in business -- despite its alleged anti-corporate position.

And in talking about the differences between the two camps last spring, Stallman was careful to emphasize that they were both part of the same community. "When people are free to choose their own views, they're not all going to agree," he told me. "It's normal in a community that you have people with different views and values." Similarly, Brown has said to me that, "It's good that the FSF hasn't tried to rule the free software world by controlling everything. It would be unhealthy."

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