Software Licensing

One of the most important parts of free (as in freedom) software is the license. Determining a license is one of the constant concerns of the software libre and free culture community. As you know, a work is considered libre only if it’s published under a free (as in freedom) license.

One of the problems is that it happens a lot that a developer forgets to distribute its work under a proper license. Well it can be solved easily by reminding the community the importance of providing a license but the bigger problem is the license itself.

Most of the times, developer distribute their works with weak licenses or licenses that are not fully compatible with free (as in freedom) culture.

As far as I know, the most popular software license is MIT, as of 2020. MIT is a great simple libre license. However, it’s weak and not copyleft. I personally license my works under the latest version of GNU General Public License (GPL) but some people may don’t like it as they may find it unpleasing.

Anyway, what I’m talking about is the importance of license as the license specifies the terms of service and the use of the software. Whether it can be used for progress of technology or helping the people or only be used to please corporations against people, it’s all can be defined by the license.

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I care about intellectual properties. Copyright is important to me. Personally, I license my works under a copyleft license but I always try to respect a company/service/etc. right over its properties such as logos, trademarks, etc.

Two Iranian companies/institutes are possibly violating Ubuntu/Canonical trademark policy/rights. I sent them an email message to see how they react to this. I thought it would be interesting for you too.

Here’s my email message:

Dear Canonical,
Hello.

There’s two companies/institutes that seems to be using Ubuntu logo as
their trademarks. The logo is modified but it’s still obvious that
they’re copies of Ubuntu logo. I attached the logo files in this email
to let you see them.

My question is, keeping Ubuntu/Canonical trademarks policy in mind, are
these violation of Ubuntu/Canonical intellectual property rights?

If yes, are you going to do something?
If no, can people change Ubuntu logo a bit and use them?

One of the attachments is for PGP signature.

Ali Reza Hayati

I’ll share their response as soon as they send it to me.

GNU and Linux banner

You may have notice that one of my emphasis is the use of software libre and GNU operating system. Almost all of GNU distros come with a Linux kernel so we’ll call it GNU+Linux, and not only GNU.

Software libre is one of the most important parts of my digital life. There’s no proprietary software running on my computers but what makes that happen is the GNU operating system and the Linux kernel (GNU+Linux).

For some people, migrating to GNU+Linux is easy and some even know the benefits. However, some people still don’t know why they should migrate to GNU+Linux. If you feel your computer works fine but you are

  • tired of major unwanted forced updates
  • tired of your slow operating system
  • tired of not being able to use a new technology
  • tired of viruses and spywares
  • tired of your privacy being violated
  • tired of being limited
  • tired of not owning your software
  • tired of not being free (as in freedom) about your software

then GNU+Linux is a wise choice for you. If you don’t know how you should start using software libre and a free (as in freedom and most of the times as in price) operating system, then this small guide would be helpful.

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One of the problems in the libre community is that some (or many) people still use proprietary and nonfree software while they’re encouraging others to use software libre.

It was few years ago that It’s FOSS reported that Jim Zemlin, the executive director of The Linux Foundation, is not using a [GNU+]Linux desktop and uses Apple’s macOS. This is what I’m talking about.

How can we expect people to use software libre on their computers when some of the key people of libre community are using proprietary software? There’s a lot more than that.

I know many people who are using GNU+Linux desktop and only run software libre programs on their personal computer but also use some proprietary stuff such as Microsoft’s Xbox.

We can’t be software libre advocates and use proprietary software too. If we believe in software lire, we should use software libre always. Software libre is not just about operating sytstems such as GNU or libre kernels such as Linux.

If we believe in a libre community we should avoid proprietary stuff all the time. Liberating our community and devices is not something easy nor cheap. It’s something hard and necessary. We should fight for it and sometime sacrifice some stuff, such as some of our hubbies, to make people believe it can be achieved.

We can achieve complete freedom for our world and software if we all support software libre and libre community and if we avoid proprietary stuff.

Some people say that achieving this goal is far or dreamy. Even if it’s true, it’s not a good reason for us to use proprietary stuff. Being far from our goals only means we should put more effort to it and continue fighting for it.

If a sculptor finds a hard rock, it won’t stop making sculptures. It’ll put more effort and tries more to prepare the hard stone to make a brilliant sculpture.

I only use software libre. There’s not a single proprietary software on my computers, well except for some nonfree blobs on the Linux kernel on my phone which runs LineageOS. The thing is that some people consider me a software libre or [GNU+]Linux extremist.

Always and only using software libre is not being an extremist. First of all, software libre users and advocates don’t use software libre to oppose other software, we use software libre because it respects us and gives us freedoms.

Using software libre puts your computing in your hand so it’s you that controls the computer. Using proprietary software puts your computer in control of you and your computing.

Secondly, there’s always a software libre to use instead of a nonfree software. There’s a lot of freedom respecting programs to use instead of proprietary software to satisfy your computing needs.

I always use software libre because it’s respecting me. Imagine a person who only has friends who respect that person. Is it being an extremist? Of course not. People won’t call that person an extremist because it has respect for itself.

Using software libre and privacy-respecting services is the same. We’re not extremists because we respect ourselves. Instead of nonfree (free as in freedom) and privacy-violating services, we respect ourselves and use free (as in freedom) and privacy-respecting services.

I agree that only using software libre has its own problems. For example, completely libre operating systems (such as PureOS GNU+Linux distro) may not be compatible with your hardware or not many people may use Mastodon instead of Twitter and Facebook but for us, at least, it doesn’t matter because we respect ourselves more than we feel need for these services.

I may leave the whole digital life one day but as long as I’m living this digital life, I’m living it with respect and freedom for myself and I believe you should too.

Update: After reading the full notice on Fedora download page, Mr. Stallman says that Fedora didn’t require users to promise anything therefor it’s not a violation of software libre terms.

If you study it carefully, it does not require the downloader to promise not to do certain things. Rather, it requires the downloader to affirm awareness of these US rules, which may or may not apply.

Because of this, it does not contradict the GPL.

However, as our discussion shows, it is easy for people to misundestand and get the wrong idea about what it actually requires. They mey THINK it requires something that would violate the GPL even though it actually does not.

Richard Stallman

Original note:

Following my email message to Mr. Stallman, I had a lot of other discussions with different people but I think the best response was from Mr. Stallman himself.

He stated that the notice on Fedora download page makes it nonfree and the limitations are not compatible with GPL license.

Here’s Mr. Stallman’s email message:

[[[ To any NSA and FBI agents reading my email: please consider ]]]
[[[ whether defending the US Constitution against all enemies, ]]]
[[[ foreign or domestic, requires you to follow Snowden’s example. ]]]

> I believe parts of this notice are violations of software freedom. The notice says that Fedora complies with “Unites States Export Administration Regulations (the =E2=80=9CEAR=E2=80=9D) and it’s prohibited for use in connection with the design, development or production of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, or rocket systems, space launch vehicles, or sounding rockets, or unmanned air vehicle systems.”

As stated, that would make Fedora nonfree. However, Fedora cannot impose such requirements on GPL-covered programs unless Fedora has the copyright.

The GNU Project encryption programs were developed outside the US and I think users get them without passing through the FS.

> The other part says “You may not provide Fedora software or technical information to individuals or entities located in one of these countries or otherwise subject to these restrictions.”

Isn’t it a violation of freedom 2 (The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help others)?

Yes, it would be — but I don’t think anyone can enforce it on you if you are outside the US and you download Fedora. That is why I did not make a fuss about it.

> So does that mean that I, a typical user of software libre, am restricted from using and distributing a software that is licensed free? Do you and free software movement accept this discrimination?

The reason for section 8 is to prevent patents from being used to make a program effectively nonfree.

If in country C some company Q threatens to make the program priorietary by suing the users using Q’s patent, that would in effect make the program proprietary.

Using section 8, the developer can say, “You can’t make my program proprietary. With section 8 I make it not available at all in country C. Give my program liberty or give it death!.”

In other words, “I’d rather destroy my program than let you turn it into your proprietary product.”

RMS's email regarding Fedora's discrimination and violation of software freedom terms.

A while ago I wrote a blog post about moving from Fedora. After a lot of discussions with my friends, I finally decided to send an email message to Mr. Stallman about Fedora’s notice. I’m now waiting for Mr. Stallman’s response. Here’s my email message:

Dear Dr. Stallman,
Howdy.

Mr. Stallman, I’m a software libre activist for more than 7 years now and I’ve using software libre since I found out about the concept of software freedom. There’s not a single proprietary software in my computers. I even didn’t have a smart phone till a year ago. My phone currently runs LineageOS.

My operating system was Fedora untill I found out about a notice on Fedora GNU+Linux distro download page. https://getfedora.org/en/workstation/download/

I believe parts of this notice are violations of software freedom. The notice says that Fedora complies with “Unites States Export Administration Regulations (the “EAR”) and it’s prohibited for use in connection with the design, development or production of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, or rocket systems, space launch vehicles, or sounding rockets, or unmanned air vehicle systems.”

Isn’t it violation of freedom 0 (The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose)?

The other part says “You may not provide Fedora software or technical information to individuals or entities located in one of these countries or otherwise subject to these restrictions.”

Isn’t it a violation of freedom 2 (The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help others)?

The four freedoms doesn’t mention any country or specific software so I believe the terms of software freedom are applicable to all software no matter what country they’re based in.

A friend of mine told me that section 8 of GNU General Public License version 2 accept this discrimination.

“8. If the distribution and/or use of the Program is restricted in certain countries either by patents or by copyrighted interfaces, the original copyright holder who places the Program under this License may add an explicit geographical distribution limitation excluding those countries, so that distribution is permitted only in or among countries not thus excluded. In such case, this License incorporates the limitation as if written in the body of this License. “

So does that mean that I, a typical user of software libre, am restricted from using and distributing a software that is licensed free? Do you and free software movement accept this discrimination?

All my life, I fought for freedom. I’m an Iranian and I live in a country that basic human rights are violated and I fought for freedom and my people’s rights in the streets with my bare hands. If free software movement, FSF, and you sir, accept this discrimination, I no longer will fight for software libre as it’s just a lie to me.

I know that companies and maybe projects based in U.S. should comply with USA’s laws but it’s not a good reason for discrimination like this. If software libre can be restricted for some people or it can only be used by a group of people a country or a company chooses, then I believe free software movement is not what it says it is.

I remember you once said that free (as in freedom) software leads us to a free society. If this freedom is only for some people, then it’s just a lie, isn’t it?

Can you please explain to me and my friends how free software movement reacts to this?

Thanks a lot.

Ali Reza Hayati

Prehistoric GNU

I explained about how software libre is about freedom and not price and how the term free software can be confusing. To avoid this confusion some people use the term open source instead of software libre.

I think it’s safe to say that the term open source is more popular (in public) than the term software libre but they’re not the same.

Open source also gives people some freedoms but open source misses the point of software libre. Most open source licenses are also approved by FSF as software libre licenses but in general, you should be careful when a software is considered open source because it can be proprietary.

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