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Re: <nettime> GNU bitterness [3x]; Linux strikes [1x]
nettime's not so bitter digester on Sun, 19 Oct 2003 13:25:17 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> GNU bitterness [3x]; Linux strikes [1x]

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   Re: <nettime> GNU bitterness                                                    
     Benjamin Geer <ben {AT} socialtools.net>                                             

   Re: <nettime> Old bitterness                                                    
     august <august {AT} alien.mur.at>                                                    

   Re: <nettime> GNU bitterness                                                    
     august <august {AT} alien.mur.at>                                                    

   RE: <nettime> Linux strikes back III                                            
     Morlock Elloi <morlockelloi {AT} yahoo.com>                                          


Date: Sat, 18 Oct 2003 21:16:49 +0100
From: Benjamin Geer <ben {AT} socialtools.net>
Subject: Re: <nettime> GNU bitterness

august wrote:
> if a company was smart, they
> would hijack a free software project, rename it something else and market
> it as their own achievment [with or without releasing the source code].

If they don't release the source code, and it's a copylefted project, 
then they're violating the licence, and that is exactly the situation 
that copyleft is meant to protect against.  (See 
<http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/pragmatic.html>).  If their product is 
substantially similar to the one they've copied, the original authors 
will no doubt quickly become aware of it (one tends to be aware of major 
developments in one's own field), and realise what happened.  One of the 
main purposes of the FSF is to respond to exactly this situation (when 
the software question is GNU software, or when developers of other 
software ask for legal help from the FSF), and it seems to have been 
effective in that role.

If they do release the source code, then the question becomes: what are 
they providing which is more useful than the original free software 
project?  Unless they're adding some value, nobody will pay for their 
product.  If they are adding value, and they comply with the licence, 
then that's great: that's what Red Hat and SuSE are doing, and more 
power to them.  It's not hijacking; it's one of the freedoms that 
copyleft is meant to guarantee.

If they don't release the source code, and the original project was 
released under a non-copyleft free software licence such as the BSD 
licence, then according to the licence they have done nothing wrong, but 
I think this is indeed a social problem: they enjoyed certain freedoms 
regarding the software they copied (the freedom to study, to modify, to 
make a derived work), but they are denying others the same freedom with 
respect to their derived work.  Again, copyleft exists in order to 
remedy this social problem.  (See <http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/x.html>.)

> Most likely, a
> decent sized for-profit company would have enough resources to out-code
> and *out-shout* some individual hacker or small cohort of programmers.

The FSF's success in persuading GPL violators to release their source 
code, without having to take them to court, shows that most companies 
are terrified of being sued for this sort of offence, and of the bad 
publicity it would bring them.  A tiny outfit like the FSF is enough to 
bring them to heel.  Here's an example from 

"Consider GNU Objective C. NeXT initially wanted to make this front end 
proprietary; they proposed to release it as .o files, and let users link 
them with the rest of GCC, thinking this might be a way around the GPL's 
requirements. But our lawyer said that this would not evade the 
requirements, that it was not allowed. And so they made the Objective C 
front end free software."

> Here is one tiny and probably harmless example: Andrew Stevens'
> brilliant mpeg2 encoder, which includes a lot of high-level mathematics
> and is part of the mjpeg tools <http://mjpeg.sourceforge.net/>, was taken
> almost 1-to-1 into another set of really brilliant software at
> <http://heroinewarrior.com/libmpeg3.php3> written by Adam Williams.  At
> first the encoder came with almost no mention of the original author. 
> Now, the package has been changed into something else entirely.

That's not 'hijacking' either; it's called a 'fork', and it's a normal 
part of free software development.  The right to fork an existing 
codebase is one of the freedoms intentionally provided by copyleft.  The 
GNU project's compiler, GCC -- the same one that got the Objective C 
front end thanks to the GPL -- was, by virtue of that same GPL, forked 
by a group of frustrated programmers several years ago; they were 
dissatisfied with the slow pace of GCC development at that time, and 
with the difficulty of getting certain features accepted into GCC.  So 
they made their own version, egcs, which turned out to be a very 
successful project -- so much so, that a few years later, the FSF 
decided that the egcs should become the official version of GCC, and the 
two projects were merged again.  Thanks to the (temporary) fork, GCC got 
a faster, more open and more responsive development process, and many 
technical improvements as well.

> It's no wonder to me that Ogg Vorbis comes with a BSD
> style license <http://vorbis.com> & <http://xiph.org>.  They are after the
> attention. Their work depends highly on it. [...] But,
> what if someone changes the Ogg name or hides it under some other
> advertising umbrella and robs them of their due attention?

This is precisly the problem with BSD-style licences, as described in 



Date: Sat, 18 Oct 2003 22:35:08 +0200 (CEST)
From: august <august {AT} alien.mur.at>
Subject: Re: <nettime> Old bitterness

> august <august {AT} alien.mur.at> writes:
> > Stallman's bitterness is interesting to me.  His notions of
> > 'freedom' have introduced a shouting match in his advertising scheme
> > that he is apparently losing. I have to wince everytime I hear him
> > say 'it's GNU-Linux, not Linux'.  [1]

> It is not his notion of freedom that introduced the shouting match
> about what to title the collection of Gnu and non-Gnu software
> distributed with the linux kernel.  

well, sort of.  People, according to stallman, are 'free' to use the code
how they want, modify it and such....but they _should_ call it 'GNU Linux'
and not 'Linux'.  My issue is partly with the liberal use of the word
'free' and the sort of contradictory implications of branding.  Funny
enough, this same sort of 'free' rhetoric is used to invade sovereign
nations and exploit cheap labor forces.  I do see that as a problem, and
maybe I'm just mixing the two up. 

It would be an issue with any
> sizeable collection of software.  Even a proprietary license would
> have little traction in getting distributors, let alone the general
> public, to refer to it as GNU/Linux.

fair enough.  but, with the proprietary world, no one is making fuzzy
pretenses about what they are doing.  They are after money, attention, and
leverage over their consumers.  

> > Often times I feel that free software works in the same way as does free
> > trade. That is, winner takes all and only the strong and loudest survive.
> The winner takes all of what?  The loudest survive?  Hardly.  Even in
> the arena with the most money, the most shouting, Linux Distributions,
> there is no clear winner and new distributions pop up every month.

right, but the distrobutions have free software objectives and little
spare resources AFAIK.  What's going to happen with companies with other

Here is what I see.  I see free software as an inevitability.  A lot of
forces are converging towards this.  And, I can't really think of a good
example where a commercial venture has successfully exploited the work of
a free software project.   I like RedHat, but prefer gentoo.  I like
Mozilla as well.

But, the fact that it hasn't happend, doesn't mean it can't.  
I'm certainly paranoid, and see a danger there.  Maybe, as you suggest, it
doesn't have anything to do with software.

The world isn't nice, and I think the corporations are going to have to
smarten up if they want to keep their arms of control.  Branding will be a
part of this I think.  Attention is a part of any software project as you
point out.  The fact is, ppl refer to the operating system as Linux and
not GNU linux.  stallman's bitterness is showing a part of his human side
that doesn't exactly congeal with his idealogy as a whole, ...it's a turd
in a punchbowl, and this is a sign to me. 


Maybe you can answer a question for me.  If a company like nike can
litigate to have the t0 and 010..0101 crew take down their nikeplatz
project, could a free software project sue in the case that their name and
project was reappropriated for other, maybe less idealistic, means?  if
not, don't you see this as a problem?  maybe a seperate one, but still
very relevant.

I do remember the scenario with B92 radio in belgrade, where the milosevic
regime took over the radio staion, web site and identity and advertised
their intent to support free-software on their page ....trying to lure
an audience to their propaganda under a the guise of 'freedom'. 

I guess my point is that this sort of 'freedom' allows the door to swing
both ways.  Is this really what is wantend?  not saying that it is or
isn't.  just asking.  But, even in 'free' radio, there are clauses and
laws that are there to protect the right of minorities and individuals.
Even the GPL comes with conditions that are limiting to the
_redistrobution_ of the code, but done so in order to gaurantee the
'freedom' of its use.

The playing feild is not exactly fair.  The large companies do have an
advantage of resources and control.  Making it free does subject the
project (maybe not the code) to some exploitation. I think this _could_
unfold in other ways that aren't financial.  thus, my statement, free as
in trade. 

If attention is part of the software economy, is someone party's 'freedom'
to exploit that attention the same as someone's 'freedom' not to be
exploited?  Or is this really just too miniscule to bother with?


The sad thing at the moment, is that there is still no or little funding
for software development, something that is becoming more and more
culturally relevant. Programmers in europe, trying out all kinds of
financial strategies, are sometimes calling what they do 'art' so that it
fits in other , say wealthier, contexts.  This is fine, and a funny
offline hack, but I don't think its fair for free software developers who 
desever a better deal.

I don't see the sort of happy hand-in-hand solutions of free commericial
venture and free software development as an end-all solution.  not saying
that you do.  what about software that doesn't have commercial viability?
Maybe the point is that softwre doesn't have commercial viability
altogether.  Playing in that market is the wrong framework?


> This is not feasable, and not even venture capitalized, IPO popping
> businesses were able to pull it off with all the capital they had.
> For one, the company would have to flush google of all the references
> to the original development team who had been working on the project
> prior to the hijack attempt.

Well, I don't mean to introduce fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD), but
just because it hasn't happend, doesn't mean it's not possible.  

I do agree, the more I think about it the less likely it sounds.  Still
I'm skeptical.  And, I don't think one would need to go the google route. 
There is even more leverage still in Television to make a decent
advertising campaign.

> In reality what has happened is the company hires the original
> developers, or hires peripheral developers who were working on the
> project already.  Examples: RH, IBM, Caldera, Collab.net, SUSE,
> Compaq, HP, Dell, SGI, Sun...

good point.  but, I think this is just the first round.  What happens when
this sort of activity becomes popular?  What other techniques will other,
maybe more greedy companies come up with? 

I would love to see other non-commercial funding strategies for free

> After reading this, I have to wonder how much experience you have
> developing Free Software, or software at all.

Would this really matter? if you are looking for credentials, I do have
some but no where near that of stallman or alan cox or torvalds...etc.  I
do program in low level languages and have been involved in a coupla of
small GPL projects for streaming media on various levels. I use and
program exclusively open source software, most of which is GPL.  This is
partially besides the point. 

> There is no exploitation more critical than that which allows code and
> ideas to be accumulated into the hands of a few.  Overcoming this is
> the only way software can escape the profit and militarization pit it
> has been contained in for the whole of its life.

right, but what happens next? 
i guess free software and IP rights will need to evolve more
closely together.  I'm looking at the creative commons page now to brush

maybe one suggestion might be to seperate copyrights on code from
copyrights on projects.  How can the two come together? 

best -august.


Date: Sat, 18 Oct 2003 22:53:43 +0200 (CEST)
From: august <august {AT} alien.mur.at>
Subject: Re: <nettime> GNU bitterness

> > Here is one tiny and probably harmless example: Andrew Stevens'
> > brilliant mpeg2 encoder, which includes a lot of high-level mathematics
> > and is part of the mjpeg tools <http://mjpeg.sourceforge.net/>, was taken
> > almost 1-to-1 into another set of really brilliant software at
> > <http://heroinewarrior.com/libmpeg3.php3> written by Adam Williams.  At
> > first the encoder came with almost no mention of the original author. 
> > Now, the package has been changed into something else entirely.
> That's not 'hijacking' either; it's called a 'fork', and it's a normal 
> part of free software development.  The right to fork an existing 
> codebase is one of the freedoms intentionally provided by copyleft.  

well, not really a fork since the code didn't change much at all and there
was no intention to change the code. I would call it an assimilation.  it
is very different than the gcc example you sighted.  the code was cloned
from one project to another.  I generally see this as a healthy thing. 
its good for more software and is good for the code itself.  but, still I
was dissapointed a bit to see how credit wasn't properly given, especially
knowing how much hard work was involved.  in the end, it didn't really
matter because both projects were open and had similar objectives.

- -august.


Date: Sat, 18 Oct 2003 16:01:09 -0700 (PDT)
From: Morlock Elloi <morlockelloi {AT} yahoo.com>
Subject: RE: <nettime> Linux strikes back III

> You have a fine and distinguished career of naysaying on
> nettime.  Let's see a positive suggestion for a change.  What
> do you propose?
> If someone is interested both in writing code for others
> and in changing the system, then copyleft-like solution is
> the only way to meet their goals.  Otherwise, their efforts
> can be used to strengthen the very system that they want to
> change.

Let's see what the motivations and what consequences of free/open software are.

Fropen software sometimes introduces new patterns of behaviour. If you analyse
the system correctly and insert the appropriate viral code, viral in the
social/economic/technological sense, you may achieve some formidable effects.

Those effects are self-sustaining and radical only if they do not rely on
established power tools ("law").

For example, the GNU C compiler initially did this (the only interesting thing
Mr. Stallman ever did, although on his employer's $.) It enabled many to write
code and port it on various platforms, evening out the platform/OS space. The
same thing happend with *BSD and Minix' metamorphosis into Linux. Or
Zimmerman's compilation of several crypto primitives into PGP. Those were
successful viral insertions that created what didn't exist before and caused
significant impact onto the social machinery. All were acts of individuals who
at that point did not have significant capitalising agenda (which, BTW,
resurfaced in all cases and effectively prevented them to do anything else of

The real effect of all of these was a consequence of correct analysis and
effective execution. Authors at the time of creation didn't need any
quasi-legal structures as motivation - that came later, when they got older and
coopted into the System, time to make a buck.

And there are other things happening these days, some coming from authors
behind hard anonymity. They don't give a fuck who or how will use their code.
They want to create new patterns of behaviour.

If you want to make a change, and you are good enough, do your homework and
make the code, let it fly and it will make a change.

If you want to make money, and you are not good enough to be making $ in a
professional environment, don't delude yourself that you will achieve that in
software subculture.

And there is no evidence in the recorded history that you can do both.

(of original message)

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