I wanted to go into this topic for more than a year, but it’s quite complicated and I was skipping it. Anyway, I’ll keep it real short, I won’t loaded with links (use Google!) but I’ll try to make a point. Free Software isn’t as much Free as you may think.
Do What the Fuck You Want To, Public License
Sam Hocevar created this license (v2, 2004) because
There is a long ongoing battle between GPL zealots and BSD fanatics, about which license type is the most free of the two. In fact, both license types have unacceptable obnoxious clauses (such as reproducing a huge disclaimer that is written in all caps) that severely restrain our freedoms.
The WTFPL can solve this problem.
The license itself is as simple as
Do What the Fuck You Want To, Public License
Copyright (C) 2004 Sam Hocevar <email@example.com>
Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim or modified copies of this license document, and changing it is allowed as long as the name is changed.
DO WHAT THE FUCK YOU WANT TO PUBLIC LICENSE
TERMS AND CONDITIONS FOR COPYING, DISTRIBUTION AND MODIFICATION
0. You just DO WHAT THE FUCK YOU WANT TO.
WTFPL hasn’t succeed much of use even if it sounds very Free, and this clearly shows the problem with the Free Software.
Patents, Copyrights, Trademarks (Service Mark), Licenses
If you’re confused about the difference of these terms
Trademarks can be symbols, designs or phrases that identify and distinguish the products of one vendor from another. As an example think the GNOME logo that you can’t freely use it to your products (or services), like printing it on clothes and start selling them.
Service-marks is the same as trademarks, but it is used for services, rather for products. For example, for using “worldofGNOME.org” domain we asked a permission from GNOME Foundation.
Copyrights usually protect original artistic or literary work. For example you can’t use GNOME Artwork (eg Icons) without an attribution. Typically you can, none will bother you, but this is something that has foundations in the good will.
Patents are like copyrights but are meant to protect an invention. Software patents should protect innovation and they are primary made for two reasons.
- Companies can invest (money & resources) in new technologies without afraid that the competition will “steal” and use their work. Patents give motivation.
- Patents lead the competition to “discover” new inventions, since they can’t use the existing ones.
Patents aren’t bad as long as they protect innovation, but US courts seem to approve software patents that actually harm innovation and evolution of software. For example a typical smartphone holds around 200.000 patents. Most of them are ridiculous.
Europe don’t accept patentability for computer programs, but a further technical effect that goes beyond the normal physical interaction between the program and the computer, like art, can be patentable.
It is a worth to mention that many Free/Open Software Foundations, Organizations, Individuals and Companies keep patents as a protection, including Red Hat.
Software licenses define what we can do and how we can use a particular software. They are basically here to add restrictions.
The problem is that a simple modern Open Source software, typically contains more than 7-10 licenses, while complex programs like Firefox and Chromium are distributed under dozens of licenses.
The Four Essential Freedoms
It is important to understand that programming isn’t a science, but an applied science. Software innovation and knowledge are coming straight from mathematics and natural science, while in hardware engineering level you can add chemistry, or even biology in some new era bio-ware.
In a sense, every software is “open” as long as the algorithms and practices are open. If the knowledge is open, then the code is open too. For example, a mathematical method is not patentable, but a computer-chip designed according to this method would not be excluded from patentability. What if this mathematical formula is used in a computer program? This is where the software-patents problems start.
FSF defines as Free a software that respects the following four essential aspects.
- The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).
- The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (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 distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
By definition there isn’t any Free Software, because none software right now isn’t qualified by all these 4 freedoms. For example for FREEDOM 3&4 you have to take into account the Copyrights, Trademarks and whatever else each license permits you, before starting to distribute a Software that’s not yours.
But that’s not all.
Fedora & Patents
Recently I uploaded the following figure in G+, protesting (with humor!) against Fedora policies that decline to use patented or proprietary software (codecs, drivers, apps) and make a useful out-of-box operating system.
From comments and some research afterwards, I realized something awful. United States, the origin of Red Hat (& Fedora) have very strict laws for software patents that define an abstract idea as invention, that they don’t apply in Europe. So even if Fedora wants to make a user-friendly release, they actually cannot.
If they decide to distribute patented software, they are always in risk to be sued. Not Fedora, but Red Hat, because Fedora is a Red Hat product and not an independent software organization.
Microsoft and Apple (& others) according to US software-patents laws may have legitimate interest to make a legal move against to GNOME too. Of course that wouldn’t be good for their reputation to go against a Software Foundation as GNOME, but things will be different if GNOME Desktop goes into the market as a commercial product via a company.
For example, there’re several cases against Android’s Linux Kernel that violates patents, but never (AFAIK) against Linux Foundation. That’s something that already Canonical is taking into consideration when they are going to release in market their devices with Ubuntu Touch.
Open Source seems to be a legitimate issue (use according to license), while Free Software, as this is defined from FSF, is a political issue. A software can be Free or not-Free depending on the country, but an open source software will be always open source in every country. You can always study the code.
Finally I want to share again Tesla’s CEO Ellon Mask view of things about patents
PS. I claim my freedom to be wrong in everything I wrote above :)