GPL 3.0 fight gets down to cases

The ultimate fight between free software and proprietary rights has begun, in the form of GPL Version 3.0.

Man of La ManchaThe ultimate fight between free software and proprietary rights has begun, in the form of GPL Version 3.0.

A story reprinted from Business Week the other day finally gets down to cases. The fight isn't really over the license. It's about whether content of any sort should be hidden, behind patents, licenses, copyright, hardware tokens, or anything else.

Richard Stallman has devoted his life to the proposition that it shouldn't be. He is the Don Quixote of software. The amazing thing is that he has gotten as far as he has without backing down an inch from the proposition that "information should be free."

The "open source movement" has gone along with him, in fits, in starts, with compromises, and grudgingly. Releasing control of various Unixes did let a lot of companies start competing with Microsoft which formerly could not. Open source is profitable. Following Stallman in this case made business sense.

But in GPL 3.0 he takes direct aim at "Tellywood" -- the folks behind DRMs and the DMCA. His allies are reluctant to follow.

They are reluctant because, while their old Unixes were in fact worthless, the idea that video should be pay-per-view, licensed rather than owned, has gained enormous currency in both Washington and Silicon Valley. Protecting what is called "intellectual property" -- through patents, copyright, and code -- is seen as the only way of keeping the tree of innovation alive.

The open source movement has succeeded in creating working business models for what was low market-share software. But a finished work produced at great expense -- say the movie Man of La Mancha -- where is the services revenue? Sure, you can protect the play and the book. New royalties were collected when Brian Stokes Mitchell reprised the role made famous by Richard Kiley. But Tellywood depends on continuing revenue from a finished work.

The play, you see, is not the thing. The movie is. And in this Don Stallman may have met his windmill.