Blog: Open Licensing Attacks on Specific Business Models

Here’s the list. Think of any others?


Freedom 0 is about whether or not a user is permitted to run the software. Copyleft licenses like the GPL don’t restrict freedom 0, but noncommercial licenses do.

I find this guide to copyleft helpful.


Made my day. Haven’t seen anyone link to that since we published it.

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Yes, and Yes and Yes! 100% correct. I love 100% correct. Route one logic. Great. Thanks.

If you still care… the wild inaccuracy was deliberate. My thinking was that TWO wrongs might add up to a right… but with this kind of laser logic… they do not.

So, if you read this interview with Ben Rometsch, Heather Meeker, (who is the opposite of a n00b when it comes to Open Source licensing) and (from memory) puts her name to the Blue Oak repo which you (very helpfully for me) link to, says:

The most interesting example is the free software definition. It has something called freedom zero, and I’m going to paraphrase it because I don’t remember exactly, but it’s the freedom to use the software for any purpose. Those source-available licenses all violate freedom zero so they’re not open source.

I wanted to bounce off that common perception that is out there… among most non-tech people and even seasoned F/LOSS lawyers, I’ve confined myself to the nub of what’s wrong… which is this kind of thinking (previously):

Freedom Zero is already abused by the flagship license program of the FSF, the GNU General Public License (GPL). Companies that want to develop code privately cannot use the code, thus the GPL defies the logic of the freedom it is freedoms they are* meant to promote.

The problem is those three, little letters: ‘use’… and it’s opposite: ‘abuse’ which is what this sentence (and ideally the entire opinion dump) targets.

  • Here I reckon I could simply change ‘freedom it is’ to ‘freedoms they are’ to be more consistent?

Strictly, copyleft does not restrict people from running a program, this is true. However, it does stop them from ‘using it’ (broadly conceived) and since the four freedoms are basically an enumerative definition of what ‘using’ means… it’s hard to argue that the GPL isn’t restricting ‘use’… implying (for me, Heather and lots of other less forensic thinkers) also running a program… which you (RIGHTLY) point out is semantically incorrect but it’s also possibly too academic for most people?

There is a lot of semantics here I know… but the importance of Freedom Zero is nonetheless a part of it’s history:

…we realized that the freedom to run the program needed to be mentioned explicitly. It was clearly more basic than the other three, so it properly should precede them. Rather than renumber the others, we made it freedom 0.

What I failed to articulate well enough was how all this semantic ambiguity probably matters. I will try again and post it elsewhere because it obviously needs a more fully thought out approach when many people reading, (like you) will read much more closely than most people do I think?

You’ve given me a timely reminder to always consider the audience, and in this case I think some of this stuff could be best split into two… one version for people who want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and others for whom the truth is more a matter of politics? couldn’t care too much about F/LOSS and another for people who are F/LOSS geeks?

I agree that Freedom 0 is ambiguous, but only when read out of context. When read in the context of the clarifying paragraphs of the Free Software Definition, and with knowledge that the GPL is considered a free software license, it becomes more clear as to what is meant by ‘for any purpose’.

The Open Source Definition is similarly ambiguous in point 6 with what is meant by a ‘field of endeavor’. The clarifying text is similar to the FSD in that it mentions commercial use and particular professions, but that wasn’t enough to stop people on OSI’s license-review mailing list from using point 6 as an objection to Parity (formerly L0R), even if that interpretation would exclude previously approved licenses.

It would be nice to settle on a term that was inclusive of noncommercial licenses. The term source available is good enough for my own purposes. I’ve given up trying to promote such licenses directly. Individuals get stuck in their thinking, and it will take years for the collective mindset to shift.


Agreed with all of this. I am very specifically championing non-commercial to help those years pass a little quicker :wink:

Kinda… although I would say: ‘when read in a broader context’.

I say this because I think the most fitting context for free software is ‘out in the wild’… among journalists, policymakers, hackers, consumers and so forth.

I don’t think the FSF is the correct context for Free Software… it feels like a very sectarian culture to me, as does the OSI.

I think the way they prejudiciously discriminate against licenses like NC and so forth while giving other licenses freedom to restrict distribution and so forth - not to mention the open hostility people like Devault, Raymond and so many others have about restictions that are inconvenient for big businesses that rely on it to enrich their shareholders - they talk up a kind of techno-apartheid by using phrases like ‘watering down’ and ‘slippery slopes’ in Open Source as if any other license is morally inferior and FSF/OSI approved licenses are morally superior.


Hmmm…Is the (almost) total ban on ‘educational use only’ relevant here? There’s the whole thing with Geogebra for example… and yet we also have this weird thing.

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Thanks for that link. I sent some of their clarifications on what “noncommercial” means to my colleagues involved in PolyForm Noncommercial, and added the project to my ever-growing list of dual licensors.