[copyleft-next] Platonic ideals, restrictiveness and weaker copyleft

Mike Linksvayer ml at gondwanaland.com
Mon Aug 6 00:20:19 UTC 2012

On Tue, Jul 31, 2012 at 5:12 PM, Bradley M. Kuhn <bkuhn at ebb.org> wrote:
> In other words, maybe we SHOULD pursue the Platonic ideal of copyleft,
> knowing full well that we can't live in the land of True Forms, but we
> should strive to it and see what happens.

Platonic ideal of copyleft strikes me as absurd, but it is also a
malleable term, so I don't know what you mean. The particulars of
copyleft are deeply shaped by the regulatory environment it evolves
in, including already used copylefts. The "ideal" copyleft(s) in any
given environment is the most effective mechanism for neutralizing
threats to and for promoting software freedom starting from that
environment; this we should strive for.

> We're rounding about 20 years out from the genius idea of copyleft.
> Some people don't like RMS or his ideas, but I think no one denies that
> copyleft was an invention of great genius.

I must deny it. Perhaps in service of supporting it. Any important
claim must be attacked, lest it die from the unremitting bludgeoning
of obscurity and triviality.

"Genius idea" and "invention of great genius" are vague, but a few of
the things that could be implied, along with an uncharitable
interpretation of RMS-copyleft:

* The invention was not only clever, but also useful and good. It is
hard to evaluate the net effect of copyleft on software freedom, and
it seems nobody has really tried. Furthermore, it is easy to argue
that software freedom is unimportant or even negative, such that if
copyleft works, it is evil. Some software freedom advocates have
admitted that software freedom is less important than say climate
change or ending slavery. It is possible that advances in computing
help those causes and software freedom is not optimal for advancing
computing unless one defines unfree computing as not-computing, which
is silly -- in any case this makes software freedom, thus effective
copyleft, evil, and if it is genius at all, it is evil genius, and
that's not the kind of genius we want to praise as "genius".

* The invention wouldn't have occurred anyway. This is impossible to
know, but dubious. Reciprocity mechanisms and forced sharing are
endemic. We know that even unambiguously "genius" inventions occur
multiple times independently. Software freedom lost and attempts to
"hack" things other than software were "in the air".

* The invention required genius. I don't see why. Copyleft is not in
an intellectually challenging concept (I take widespread non-malicious
incomprehension as damning for the non-comprehenders and/or the
concept, not an indication that the concept is genius).

* The inventor was a genius. RMS surely has far above "genius level"
IQ, but that narrow interpretation of "genius" should be rejected as
euromale-capitalist-technocrat-hegemonic, and it is not clear that RMS
would evaluate to "genius level" on a more democratic basis, if we
even allow for such evaluation to exist.

* Ideas and invention matter. No they don't, only implementation and
adoption by the masses matter. "Genius idea" is merely a
mythologization of implementation and impact, which are greatly aided
by many geniuses. Software freedom has at best ambiguous and tenuous
success, copyleft's contriubtion to same even moreso, providing no
evidence for the kernel of truth to be found in non-pernicious

* The invention has withstood serious criticism. Subterfuge by
rent-seeking high-paid law-firm lawyers doesn't count, except in the
sense that winners write history. Deafening silence from philosophers,
social scientists, and activists on this matter and instrument
purported by a few people to be of great moral importance.

Doubtless many more exist. Yes, I'm being a little bit silly with some
of the above, but I'm completely serious about the need for criticism.

> Here we are, the next generation, rearranging little ornaments on the
> tree of the genius idea of copyleft.  I long ago made my peace with the
> idea that my life's work is to merely rearrange ornaments on the tree of
> software freedom.  In that vein, I suggest that copyleft-next is
> perhaps, a licensing drafting placeholder, that keeps trying to
> rearrange these ornaments until someone among us looks at it and has an
> epiphany.  Those only come along once every generation or two on any
> given topic.

All important progress may be characterized pejoratively as
rearranging little ornaments, but I see no reason to. Instead I would
characterize having an "idea" pejoratively, and assign all credit to
implementation and painstaking improvement and diffusion.

Put another way, the tree of software freedom is a mere sapling.

Richard Fontana wrote at 11:35 (EDT):
> we are entering an era where experimentation in licensing seems to be
> actively discouraged for what appear to be political reasons rather
> than reasons grounded in principle.

I am all for experimentation and ignoring any
"establishment"-political reasons against same, but I also think
introduction of further incompatibility is harmful for reasons
grounded in principle. There is much room for experiment that does not
introduce new incompatibility, and even that agitates for increased
compatibility. In these respects I think copyleft-next is at least

On Wed, Aug 1, 2012 at 3:06 PM, Bradley M. Kuhn <bkuhn at ebb.org> wrote:
> Because I'm one of the very few people on this planet who enforce
> copyleft,

This should weigh heavily on considerations of future copyleft policy,
copyleft-next or elsewhere. A mechanism that depends on a very few
non-superheros (though I'm much more willing to grant that your
efforts are heroic than I am to put any idea on a pedestal) is a sad
one. This may only indicate problems in software freedom beyond the
scope of the mechanism itself, but if there's anything future
mechanisms can do about it, they probably should. But it is easy to
imagine both putting every conceivable enforcement tool in, and
increasing readability, and other things, all as being helpful, and
somewhat at odds with each other.

> As one of the critics of TGPPL, I was very clear throughout that
> non-compatibility with FSF's license suite was my only complaint.  Would
> there be use to copyleft-next for Zooko and I to finally sit down and
> *write* the AGPLv3 additional permission that makes TGPPL?  Would that
> help inform the copyleft-next project?

It'd be neat regardless of copyleft-next! (Though I have a list of
reasons TPL/TGPPL like mechanisms probably aren't important, if
incompatibility is taken care of they are well worth trying out much
more than present.)


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