Cutting Through The Anti-Copyleft Political Ruse

Saturday 11 February 2012 by Bradley M. Kuhn

I'd like to thank Harald Welte for his reasoned and clear blog post about GPL enforcement which I hope helps to clear up some of the confusions that I also wrote about recently.

Harald and I appear to agree that all enforcement actions should request, encourage, and pressure companies toward full FLOSS compliance. Our only disagreement, therefore, is on a minor strategy point. Specifically, Harald believes that the “reinstatement of rights lever” shouldn't be used to require compliance on all FLOSS licenses when resolving a violation matter, and I believe such use of that lever is acceptable in some cases. In other words, Harald and I have only a minor disagreement on how aggressively a specific legal tools should be utilized. (I'd also note that given Harald's interpretation of German law, he never had the opportunity to even consider using that tool, whereas it's always been a default tool in the USA.) Anyway, other than this minor side point, Harald and I appear to otherwise be in full in agreement on everything else regarding GPL enforcement.

Specifically, one key place where Harald and I are in total agreement is: copyright holders who enforce should approve all enforcement strategies. In every GPL enforcement action that I've done in my life, I've always made sure of that. Indeed, even while I'm a very minor copyright holder in BusyBox (just a few patches), I still nevertheless defer to Erik Andersen (who holds a plurality of the BusyBox copyrights) and Denys Vlasenko (who is the current BusyBox maintainer) about enforcement strategy for BusyBox.

I hope that Harald's post helps to end this silly recent debate about GPL enforcement. I think the overflowing comment pages can be summarized quite succinctly: some people don't like copyleft and don't want it enforced. Others disagree, and want to enforce. I've written before that if you support copyleft, the only logically consistent position is to also support enforcement. The real disagreement here, thus, is one about whether or not people like copyleft: that's an age-old debate that we just had again.

However, the anti-copyleft side used a more sophisticated political strategy this time. Specifically, copyleft opponents are attempting to scapegoat minor strategy disagreements among those who do GPL enforcement. I'm grateful to Harald for cutting through that ruse. Those of us that support copyleft may have minor disagreements about enforcement strategy, but we all support GPL enforcement and want to see it continue. Copyleft opponents will of course use political maneuvering to portray such minor disagreements as serious policy questions. Copyleft opponents just want to distract the debate away from the only policy question that matters: Is copyleft a good force in the world for software freedom? I say yes, and thus I'm going to keep enforcing it, until there are no developers left who want to enforce it.

Posted on Saturday 11 February 2012 at 10:30 by Bradley M. Kuhn.

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Both previously and presently, I have been employed by and/or done work for various organizations that also have views on Free, Libre, and Open Source Software. As should be blatantly obvious, this is my website, not theirs, so please do not assume views and opinions here belong to any such organization. Since I do co-own ebb.org with my wife, it may not be so obvious that these aren't her views and opinions, either.

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