Playing “gotcha” with GPL

Rob Flickenger, a sysadmin for O’Reilly who doesn’t make his living writing code, thought he caught Linksys shirking the GPL, except he didn’t:

As far as I can tell without having exhaustively looked at every piece of available code, Linksys appears to be trying to comply with the terms of the GPL (as I understand them anyway), and putting many customizations into BSD code, which doesn’t require source distribution.

This is really disappointing to Mr. Flickenger, because he so wanted to stomp one of them capitalist enterprises that was dumb enough to use GPL’ed code.

There’s an interesting remark from Brett Glass in the Flickenger’s comments section, to wit:

This whole affair demonstrates the true nature of the GPL. It’s designed to sabotage businesses. In particular, it’s intended to strip them of the ability to add unique value to their products — which, in turn, is an essential element of success. VA Linux had to drop out of the hardware business because they couldn’t get a competitive edge — which happened, in turn, because they embraced GPLed code. Linksys, if the GPL zealots have their way, will go the same route.

Linksys was foolish indeed to use GPLed code at all. Instead, they should have used BSD-licensed code, which is friendly to programmers and to the businesses which issue their paychecks. The BSD and MIT licenses, as well as other truly free licenses, promote innovation and allow programmers to be rewarded for innovating. The viral, spiteful, anti-business, anti-programmer GPL does the opposite.

Is GPL “viral and spiteful”? Clearly, there’s a lot of spite on Flickenger’s part, but that’s just a personal issue, not a legal one. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using GPL’ed code, as long as you don’t actually need to modify it. For everything important, there’s the BSD license.

5 thoughts on “Playing “gotcha” with GPL”

  1. Mr. Glass is notorious for saying that the GPL is viral, and he basically goes to the nth degree to try to convince anyone that it’s bad, including downplaying any part that Linux might have in today’s enterprise.

    I think that where folks are used to the BSD license, there’s a perception difference as to what the “value” is in software. The idea that the code itself is 100% the value doesn’t totally work with the GPL. The companies that write GPL’d code aren’t (as you might expect) making all of their dough by shrinkwrapping that which you can download yourself for free…they are doing support and consulting better than anything that has *ever* been done in the BSD community. Which is fine…that’s not to be slighting to BSD.

    My observations on this is that for every pro-GPL “zealot” you can find, you can also find a veteran xBSD “zealot” who is bitter about not getting attention these days from potential users and vendors. Put them together anywhere, and you have mind-numbing arguments galore.

  2. Indeed. Pick GPL if you expect development to be driven by volunteers/service + support, BSD if you want to sell the bits. There’s no reason the two of them can’t co-exist in the software market.

    What really irritates me about Glass (something I first noticed when he was participating in a Dan Gillmor roundtable a few years ago) is the perpetual whiny, “those Commie GPL-istas are taking bread off my table” rants against the GPL. It’s like hearing a restaurant owner complain about how be can’t make a living because someone opened a food bank nearby.

  3. I do agree that the BSD license is the more free license. And I’m neither a BSD bigot nor a Linux bigot–I got no dog in that hunt.

  4. Invariably, the BSD kooks (especially Glass) always come out of the woodwork to bring up licensing differences when the actual topic at hand is the GPL itself (like Flickenger’s), and not GPL vs BSD.

    Another comment I’d like to make is that it really shouldn’t matter at all whether Flickenger makes his living writing code or not. Caring about licensing shouldn’t just be in the interest of developers. In fact, I have seen many many developers who *should* know things about licensing that don’t, and sysadmins who know more about them.

    “For everything important, there’s the BSD license.” — whether it’s true or not, there are some areas of computing where software licensed under BSD is very much absent, and the GPL’d software is seen much more…in heavy parallel computing, for example.

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