The mind boggles …

Posted on October 18, 2006, under general.

o.k. I’m subscribed to various blog aggregators, one of which is PlanetIlug, where I picked up Ciaran’s latest post on GPLv3. I usually find these posts amusing enough, since they are so firmly rooted in a reality different to mine, but this latest post takes the biscuit. It’s classic doublethink.

I’d just comment on it there, but unfortunately the blog requires me to become an FSFE fellow, just to comment for crying out loud. Anyhow, Ciaran correctly points out that

… some people have raise the question of what to do when some regulation requires that software must not be modifiable. Examples of this may include government, or standards body, regulated technology such as radios, network cards, or medical equipment.

And offers us;

  1. Give people the software, with all the usual freedoms
  2. Give people the software but use DRM to prevent them from being able to run modified versions
  3. Put the software in a ROM chip (or put a locked door on the device containing the software)

Both options 2 and 3 are bad for the free software movement.

Well firstly, I’d like to know exactly how 2 or 3 are bad for the free software movement. Is there any actual evidence to back that up? harmed in what way exactly? Even in the language of the FSF, what freedom is impaired? just Freedom to run modified versions? But only on that specific piece of hardware, right? not in general.

Rather than increase the prevalance of option 1, surely if the license bans these types of modifications, then it’s at least as likely that the vendor won’t use free software at all. Especially, as pointed out, it’s externalities like Government regulation that force many of them to do this in the first place. What are they supposed to do about that?

I guess it leaves it less philisophically tainted. It reminds me of the US ban on export to Cuba; it lets some people feel better about their politics, and their idealogical stance, but in practical terms it does nothing but harm to both sides.

But since even the post provides ample reason why – rather than jump on the Free Software idealism train – the vendors might be much much more likely to just not use Free Software at all. Is that really a benefit? I accept that there can be an economic argument, that their increased costs might make them less competitive, and eventually feed into pro-free-software business policy, but is this really going to affect externalities like neccessary regulation? Hard to see happening from where I’m looking.

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