Friends Don't Try To Stop Friends From Sharing

Sat, 24 Jun 2023

Red Hat's been talked about lately due to their recent decision to only provide source code to their customers and not the public. I don't plan to talk about that aspect of it but rather the business model of "if you exercise your rights under the GPL, your money's no good here," and I intend to talk about it in more general terms than that.

Let's start from first principles. Software freedom's supposed to be an inalienable right that everyone has. Trying to take that away from people is wrong. It's why the free software movement was started. It's why the GPL was made.

Let's imagine I have a program; a friend of mine sees it and wants a copy. As part of my inalienable software freedom rights, I should be able to exercise freedom #2 and give them a copy. This isn't mandatory, so I should be free to tell my friend to take a hike and not provide them with a copy. Saying yes seems like it could be more friendly, though. Saying no seems anti-social and rather scummy to me. I'd probably give my friend a copy of the program. In any event, it should be my decision to make, in my sole and absolute discretion.

Let's now take that same situation but with the added twist that, while deciding whether to make the copy, a second friend comes along. This second friend is the person that makes my GNU/Linux distro and taps me on the shoulder to get my attention. Then they quietly whisper into my ear that they can't legally deny me the right to make that copy, but if I do, they won't be my friend anymore.

Now the situation has changed. Instead of deciding on my own whether to give the first friend a copy of the program, I'm now thinking, "I like this distro and the support, help, training, and other things that I get from my other friend. Do I want to lose that for making a copy of this program?"

People shouldn't have to choose; this is a scummy position to put someone in. It shows that the person making the distro wasn't your friend, to begin with, so if someone's in the situation, they should go ahead and share the copy with their actual friend. But it's even better not to be in this situation. One way out is using the endorsed distros on https://www.gnu.org/distros/free-distros.html.