GNU Emacs Developers Will Fix It; Please Calm Down

Friday 29 July 2011 by Bradley M. Kuhn

fabsh was the first to point me at a slashdot story that is (like most slashdot stories) sensationalized.

The story, IMO, makes the usual mistake of considering a GPL violation as an earth-shattering disaster that has breached the future of software freedom. GPL violations vary in degree of the problems they create; most aren't earth-shattering.

Specifically, the slashdot story points to a thread on the emacs-devel mailing list about a failure to include some needed bison grammar in the complete and corresponding sources for Emacs in a few Emacs releases in the last year or two. As you can see there, RMS quickly responded to call it a grave problem … [both] legally and ethically, and he's asked the Emacs developers to help clear up the problem quickly.

I wrote nearly two years ago that one shouldn't jump to conclusions and start condemning those who violate the GPL without investigating further first. Most GPL violations are mistakes, as this situation clearly was, and I suspect it will be resolved within a few news cycles of this blog post.

And please, while we all see the snickering-inducing irony of FSF and its GNU project violating the GPL, keep in mind that this is what I've typically called a “community violation”. It's a non-profit volunteer project that made an honest mistake and is resolving it quickly. Meanwhile, I've a list of hundreds of companies who are actively violating the GPL, ignoring users who requested source, and have apparently no interest in doing the right thing until I open an enforcement action against them. So, please keep perspective about what how bad any given violation is. Not all GPL violations are of equal gravity, but all should be resolved, of course. The Emacs developers are on it.

Posted on Friday 29 July 2011 at 12:45 by Bradley M. Kuhn.

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