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In my interview with Craig Burton in the August 2000 issue of Linux Journal (“Uncollapsing Open Source Distinctions: Talking with Craig Burton”, p. 16), I said “historically, the Open Source movement has tried to move away from the Free Software movement's anti-commercial rhetoric and policies.”

A few days ago I got an e-mail from Richard Stallman, under the subject “Who's anti-commercial?”. His answer: not him. And not the Free Software movement, either:

We do not have anti-commercial rhetoric or policies, and I'm surprised you would say this.

I know why some people say we are “anti-commercial”. We criticize a common business practice, and people who do that are often accused of being “anti-commercial”. But, the fact is that if a program does not allow commercial use, or if you can't sell copies, we reject it.

We do not compromise our principles to cater to business; business today is so used to such treatment that anyone who stands firm when business says “Change!” is likely to be called anti-commercial. For instance, the GPL is designed to prohibit some anti-social practices, and this applies to business just as to individuals and schools. If people say the GPL is not “business-friendly”, they probably mean it dares to say no to some of the things their businesses want to do.

But the GPL extends the same rights to business as it does to everyone else. And we try to cooperate with business in ways that are consistent with our principles. For example, I asked publishing company people for advice when writing the GNU FDL.

So would you please post a correction to that statement about us?

Since I was making distinctions between two movements, I decided to share Richard's correspondence with the prime mover of the other one, Eric S. Raymond, hoping to triangulate a bit on the full extent of my error. “Okay,” I wrote, “did I step in it here, or (so far as what he quotes) am I right? Or sort of right?”

ESR wrote back, “It's a tough call. No, the official interpretation of FSF doctrine is not anti-commercial. In that sense, yes, you stepped in it.”

An on-the-other-hand explanation (OTOH) followed, but it's not one that RMS found agreeable. Nor was RMS's disagreement with ESR's OTOH agreeable with ESR. The e-mail volley between the two gentlemen continues to fill my in-box, so I'll leave that one alone for now.

Meanwhile, I invite readers to visit the Free Software Foundation site at http://www.fsf.org/. Here is part of the FSF's explanation of free software:

“Free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free speech”, not “free beer.”

“Free software” refers to the users' freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom for the users of the software:

  • The freedom to run the program for any purpose (freedom 0).

  • The freedom to study how the program works and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).

  • The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits. (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

A program is free software if users have all of these freedoms. Thus, you should be free to redistribute copies, with or without modifications, gratis or charging a fee, to anyone anywhere. Being free to do this means (among other things) that you do not have to ask or pay for permission.

So the statement, and I, stand corrected. For my thoughts about related matters, see this month's “Linux for Suits” on page 20.

—Doc Searls


by Reginald Charney


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