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Censorship envy and licensing

by root Contributions Published on Feb 11, 2005 10:57 AM
Why we don't have political terms in our licenses (even for really important issues).

by David "Novalis" Turner

Nuclear war is a really bad thing.

It's so bad that we want to work really hard to avoid it. As the copyright holders of a whole bunch of free software, FSF has a lot of power. So, why do we permit the use of free software in nuclear weapons?

The GPL represents a truce between mutually hostile powers. Gigantic companies, who compete relentlessly in other areas, cooperate to improve the GNU C Compiler and other free software. And individuals from rival political movements, from communists to libertarians to radical anarchists hack on Free Software. I've met Free Software hackers who are evangelical vegans, and Free Software hackers who drive SUVs.

So, let's say we decided that version 3 of the GPL would contain a clause which would forbid you from using GPL software in nuclear weapons. The anti-nuclear activists would be very happy. But what about the anti-torture activists? Or people who oppose genetically modified foods, or the free biotech people? They would all be understandably upset that their pet cause is being neglected. And the nuclear engineers wouldn't be real happy about it either. Eugene Volokh makes the same point about free speech in general:

" Think of it as "censorship envy" -- if my neighbor gets to ban symbols he dislikes, why shouldn't I get to do the same? "

So, we reject restrictions on who can use free software, or what it can be used for. By keeping everyone on a level playing field, we get the widest possible participation in the free software movement. And the anti-nuclear activists are still free to use free software to organize and spread their ideas.

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