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"free" as in "actually free"

not as in "free software"

20190712

There is a great, unknown enemy of the free software movements of this technological age. It is not Microsoft; it is not even the U.S. government; it is the attempted free license, the ironically restrictive license which is championed by some to grant freedom but which in fact hinders it.

There are several examples of this which I have found, the most horrible being the copyleft and its derivatives. Instead of a complete rejection of the ideas and purposes of copyright, copyleft creates its own restrictions that deprive the user of absolute freedom.

Copyleft unironically and earnestly claims, in a facade of freedom, that the material is not restricted, that anyone may use it in any way, distributing it, modifying it, blah blah, but that this license not be removed from the software or any modified or extended versions.

The intention of copyleft is clear: that these monstrously evil companies that we have come to know and hate, CEO's maniacally laughing at every uninformed purchase of Excel or Photoshop, not have the right to use this free software in their corporate products, which would supposedly go against the popularization and adoption of free alternatives in their benefit. Not only do they not give a damn about this insignificant piece of text, as their software can never be screened for compliance with RMS's sort-of-libertarian dreamwork (however, the impotence of this nonsense is not at all the focus or even a supportive point of my argument), but in actuality the effort to promote the production and adoption of free software is pretty simple: to produce it and to allow its use in every way absolutely, without restriction. Yes, I know it is unimaginable to not restrict something.

So-called "permissive" licenses, like ISC, MIT/X11, zlib, et cetera get the bullet too, although infinitesimally so, as they (usually) do not place copyleft restrictions on software derivatives.

Licenses like this invoke the power of the state just as copyright does, preventing absolutely free use of the material for any purpose. This does not reject the state and corporate power-by-extention-of-the-state, but indeed it utilizes it just as importantly, (attemptedly) ensuring that there are legal grounds to punish perpetrators for misuse of the material.

Fortunately, there are people who get it. Rob Landley, the author of the Zero-Clause BSD license (formerly Free Public License 1.0.0) created the perfect license. It does exactly what is necessary in a governmental system where someone can find grounds to sue a producer for just about any reason: it states erasure of liability for the producer. Unlicense does this and a little more. Arto Bendiken excellently articulates the underlying philosophy of the Unlicense: it does what the 0BSD does, with the added declaration of dedication of the material to the public domain. This is something which should be implied but which "some backward jurisdiction," as he puts it, might not see.

Without making this post an all-encompassing rambling about the various esoteric licenses, here are some comments on a few that I have seen. The WTFPL comes close to being free, but I would have excluded the name-change clause just for the sake of absolutism. I will probably never be buena onda, but this one is kind of cute. Finally, the maximal CC0 sucks (as any license that takes two years to write does). I am fairly certain that there are plenty more fun licenses that I have not mentioned which would evoke plenty of indignant huffs from Stallman and chuckles from people with a sense of humor, but I have not looked into them.

But how can authors possibly gain recognition without their names splattered all over the source code? How can one ever make the claim that a new feature of Windows started as free software? In order to prevent someone from distributing their software under your software's name or distributing your software under a different name, in essence, to prevent undue credit, let's take a different approach. It is my belief that, instead of using a restrictive license, is the responsibility of the original author to publish indisputable proof of their authorship in order to take credit and dispel false blame for unforeseen mishaps (e.g. erroneous use of the software and a subsequent lawsuit).

So far, I have not come across a simple solution to this problem that is accessible and (inb4 Wayback Machine) not centralized. An authorship system could be designed using blockchain or a similar technology such that an individual can publish material which is undeniably linked to a particular time and identity (i.e. through a key pair) through a decentralized system. Maksym Trilenko and several researchers have already proposed this idea. However, as far as I have looked, there does not seem to be a popular or even usable implementation of this yet. This should be soon-to-come.

The conversation about this concept is altogether very quiet. The importance of authorship from an individualist standpoint is powerful, and not enough recognition is given to recognition. People can make money from their proprietary software, but just give me a place in history.

Free software should actually be free. Make the right choice when publishing open-source material, and place it in the public domain, with or without a license. If getting those ones and zeroes far and wide is your objective, then give them that much more space to roam. Unencumber your software.

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