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Political software licences?
May 12, 2001 2:16 PM   Subscribe

Political software licences? The GPL prevents commercial use. Should it also try to enforce human rights?
posted by andrew cooke (6 comments total)

The GPL does not prevent commercial use. A business can take EMACS or any other program and change it all they want. They can even sell it, provided that they allow people to get the source code at cost. The GPL doesn't prevent commercial use, nor should it prevent human rights abuses. True freedom takes the good with the bad.
posted by bonzo at 2:44 PM on May 12, 2001

OK, I wanted to avoid a long qualification to my post. While the GPL doesn't prevent legal use directly, the condition on providing source means that it can often be difficult.

And what makes "true freedom" more important than any other moral value? If the GPL values freedom, couldn't a licence (perhaps not the GPL) value human rights?

In other words, I'm not interested in the GPL issues (and already regret mentioning it). What interests me is the idea of moral conditions in licences.
posted by andrew cooke at 3:03 PM on May 12, 2001

Lay off the funny stuff, Cooke.
posted by brantstrand at 3:23 PM on May 12, 2001

If you treat the GPL'd software like a product it is non-commercial as cheap copies with source-code will be available - and most folk will choose the cheapest one. When you treat GPL'd software as a tool to do schtuff and sell your service of implementing the tool it's commercial. Most open-source software needs to have ties to either services or other proprietry software.

When a group of HeReTiC muslims make a town... don't bother anyone... I don't see why they can't do as they wish (same with KKK groups, feminist festivals that deny males, et al). Laws against racism, sexism, only benefit those involved and only have a place in wider society.

Aside from merely existing I don't see how anyone using GPL'd software is affecting me. I don't think a moral code should be included in the GPL (the second they start going against "hate groups"...bah!).

There's no reason it couldn't be another licence (each to their own). The GPL might have been chosen as the licence is retroactice when they don't specify a GPL version and they'd pick up a legacy of software - er, the whole thing seems like a troll. I don't know why I bother.
posted by holloway at 6:20 PM on May 12, 2001

Obviously the logical end is software which quizzes you on your poltical beliefs (akin to the SelectSmart philosophy matching service), and denies you a license if your worldview doesn't match the author's. (RMS would love it.)
posted by darukaru at 7:31 PM on May 12, 2001

Some of the same issues are discussed in a kuro5hin thread on whether computer book authors should include examples with a moral point or purpose, and the implications for programmers; and then the MeFi thread on the question of IBM's complicity in Nazi genocide for providing punch-card database computers.

In a way, many shareware licenses enforce a modest form of an ethical license, stating that they are free for personal use but must be paid for in commercial use. Difficult to enforce, mainly relying on corporate anti-piracy policies in combination with the SPA. In a sense, then, the commercial software companies that underwrite the SPA efforts support the non-commercial shareware authors using this sort of license. Without such an enforcement methodology, the idea of a moral license is probably a practical nullity.

I do like the idea of programmers refusing to support immoral ideas; for instance, the CPSR's campaign against SDI; but I think it's more likely that someone could make an impact proactively, for instance the people (OMCT?) who are using encrypted laptop databases to report and track incidence of torture in Latin America so that they can identify and follow the careers of individual abusers. (I used that one before at k5, too.) This of course goes head to head with the enormous resources of a state to create and abuse database technology for immoral ends, and a strong argument of futility can be made.
posted by dhartung at 7:47 PM on May 12, 2001

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