Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The free software way

Red Hat just opened a new community-driven forum,, to discuss open source software issues. An interesting article posted there is The Free Software Way by Richard Fontana, who you may recognize as a co-author of the GNU GPL version 3.

Richard talks about "open source" from a legal point of view, which seems appropriate as he was Counsel at the Software Freedom Law Center, and is now Open Source Licensing and Patent Counsel at Red Hat.

The most important part of his post is this:
To me, then, open source is not a development methodology, let alone a distillation of broadly-applicable principles seen as underlying such a methodology. Rather, open source is a specific legal model of property rights transfer. To put it differently, open source is about freedom to use, modify, and share creative material that could otherwise be severely legally restricted by the author. (Source code availability is relevant because otherwise the freedom of modification would be practically impossible to exercise.)
Read his article for yourself. What do you think?


  1. I don't see it as property rights transfer at all; it is a matter of licensing terms imposed by the original copyright holders and authors. I cannot claim any ownership at all of the code nor can I change the licence agreement - so what property rights are transferred?

  2. I think it's not property rights per-se, but as the author says, a "specific legal model" of it. In other words, not a direct comparison.

    In the original article he says open source fails to capture the bundle of legal rights transferred to the user (that is normally associated with free-as-in-Free software). That's from the paragraph above the one quoted here.

    I suspect it's lumped with "property rights transfer" because of *rights* transfer. BUt it's a special case because you don't physically transfer something (i.e. only one of something) with software . . . you pass a copy, and give the right to use it. BUt with Free/open software, you give more rights than with Closed software. That's my guess, but IANAL.


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