Monday, December 7, 2009

GPL V3 in Civics and Economics

What would you do if communism worked? I'm not talking about political communism, but an idea that everyone holds everything in common. Theft would disappear complete, because the concept would be gone. Obviously, if you were good at building things, you would desire people know that you built it, right? But you wouldn't worry about people taking your stuff without need, right? Sure there would be a few greedy people in existence still, but they would be more like the grumpy miser on the end of town that people don't really like anyway.

Such a utopia could never work. Or could it? Imagine that you had a device that allowed you to replicate your work as many times as you wanted. You build a new oak cabinet, and this device replicates that cabinet as many times as you like. Then people would only need to ask you for one of your nice cabinets, and voila! Good thing that science fiction is true in some places, right?

Think kind of vague futuristic utopia does in face exist. The GNU, Free Software Foundation has created an environment where you can download, use and share software as you like. If you want to make something and give it away free, GREAT! If you want to make something and charge people to use it, awesome! If you think that a specific program should have some kind of functionality that it does not already have, then feel free to put it in there without concern from the original author. Usually you are asked, if you make changes, to share those changes with the community at large.

The Preamble of the GPLv3, linked here, sets up an environment of collaborative work in a very meaningful way. The document itself was created collaboratively and was allow to develop with input from the community.

Read the Preamble and discuss the following questions:

What does a copyleft license like the GPLv3 do to traditional closed licenses? Can a closed license and an open license exist in the same world? If all software were to exist under the GPLv3, what would happen to the economics of software development? Would companies be able to make money? Would companies, as such, still be able to exist?

What legal action has been taken with respect to the GPLv3? Do you think the Government could utilize something like the GPLv3 to encourage citizen participation?

If you were a lawyer, how would you attack the GPLv3? How could you defend it?

1 comment:

  1. There is an interesting contradiction here. The Free Software Foundation is a charitably organization that seeks to serve a political end. The FSF functions more like a collective or a nongovernmental organization than a typical charitable group. The preamble you mentioned makes that point clear. The FSF wants to not only protect existing open source codes, they seem to want some positive or forward change. Some of the products the groups promotes actively undermined products in the commercial marketplace. For example, on the FSF resource page (, I noticed this

    "PDF readers
    Find out about free software replacements for Adobe Acrobat"

    I think a study of FSF could be a nice way into a larger discussion of the tensions between free markets and collective markets.

    I also find the use of free by FSF and the nominal use of free in the term "free market" to be ironic.