35 thoughts on “Free Software? You Can’t Just Give It Away!

  1. Perhaps the MoFo members should consider estabilishing a PGP infrastructure. Then official mails and newsgroup postings could be signed. This would be a solution for the identifiablity problem mentioned in your article.

    Other projects do this already, e.g. every Debian member has a PGP key-pair.


  2. Well, either that or set up a UK postal address. It’s probably going to have to happen eventually.

    As for disrupting the anti-piracy efforts of Trading Standards, my heart bleeds, honestly. Drawing a line between Free Software and “freeware” might convince people like the legal department of my old employer to not simply blanket-ban the use of the former.

    – Chris

  3. What would see think of Ubuntu’s free shipping of an operating system? In your place WWMD – what would Mark do?

  4. In my country copying software is not considered a crime among people. People copy software every day and they just don�t care about Microsoft or whatever. So we are ready for the transition to FLOSS. I am very happy for that. What we need now is more computers and more programmers. I think FLOSS is the natural, logical and ethical way of distributing software.

  5. I’m curious, are there any limitations on charging a fee for free software? Could any Joe Blow start packaging and selling any free software for any price they choose? How does this intersect with trademark rights?

    If I owned a computer software store, and I wanted to put copies of Firefox on the shelves for $9.99, I couldn’t very well just have a stack of CD’s sitting there, I would want to package it in a jewel-case as well as a box. Would I be restricted from using the firefox logo on that box? What about references the trademarked names “Mozilla” and “Firefox”. Could the box purport to be a product of Mozilla Corp, since the software contained within is just that?

  6. Maybe I’m completely confused here (or maybe not as Kevin seems to think along the same lines), but isn’t her point that someone is *selling* this software and making a profit from it? Sure, people are entitled to cover the cost of media etc., but it sounds in this case as though someone was going a bit too far with their pricing. At least, that’s the way it came across.

  7. Yes Onyx,
    that is essential for Free/Libre/Open Source software (FLOSS), like Mozilla.
    People can put mozilla software on cd�s, floppy-disks or whatever and then sell the cd�s, floppy-disks etc.
    Strictly speaking however they can�t *sell* the *software*, because it is Free/Libre/Open Source software.
    In fact that is precisely the reason that they may sell cd�s, floppy-disks etc. with mozilla software.
    However i cannot answer the last questions of Kevin (summary: can you use the trademarks “Mozilla” etc. on the cd�s etc that you make?).

  8. Kevin: there are no limitations on the price you can charge for copies of free software. However, anyone you sell it to can turn around and put it up for free download on the web, if it isn’t already available that way.

    For how this interacts with trademark law, see our trademark policies. But the short answer is: you can’t make a jewel case which makes the CD appear to be official or endorsed by the Foundation. You may use the name in a purely descriptive manner to indicate the contents of the CD.

    Onyx: free software licences don’t have a concept of “a bit too far” with pricing. As I said above, you can sell free software for however much you like.

  9. As I understand it, the effective control of over-priced media containing open source software is simply that it will surely be available down the road for less. This will soon become known, and the situation is self adjusting with no external effort.

    On a related point, I display on a non-trading basis at a local computer fair under the Infopoint banner, giving information and CDs of open source software. On the first occasion I had a bundle of totally free CDs to give away, at my own (small) expense. However, interest and takeup was significantly increased on a later date when I began asking a (very small) *charge* per CD! There is apparently a great suspicion of a free lunch in our (UK) culture.

  10. “If Mozilla permit the sale of copied versions of its software, it makes it virtually impossible for us, from a practical point of view, to enforce UK anti-piracy legislation, as it is difficult for us to give general advice to businesses over what is/is not permitted.”

    I can’t see how it makes it impossible to “enforce” anti-piracy legislation, but I can see how it can make it hard to just give the Federation Against Software Theft’s party line (ALL copying of software should be assumed to be illegal, and “freeware” is buggy and insecure and shouldn’t be installed) for advice. Maybe, “read each licence carefully, better yet get a lawyer to read it to you” would be better advice for Trading Standards to give.

    As a funny aside about FAST, where I work we have a small stack of printouts of the MPL sitting in a drawer, as everytime Firefox get’s installed on a user’s PC another printout is “required by FAST” according to the people who look after software licences (we’re FAST “partners”). It has something to do with thier interpretation of “every bit of software needs a licence” to mean every bit of software needs a seperate bit of paper, even if it’s exactly the same. What’s even funnier/sadder is that the piece of paper is all our software licencing people care about, they never read the licence – in one instance the way we use a certain propriatary app may violate the terms of the licence, but no matter how many times you try and point it out to them, they get confused because they “have enough licences”, they seem incapable of understanding that just because you have enough licences to cover all the users, the way the user’s use the software might contravene the license. They also often over-licence software – even though a licence may allow more that a single user or a single installation, our licensing people will buy extra licences to keep up with the one bit of software or one user, then one piece of paper policy. I guess all the FAST training they went on wasn’t that good.

    Sorry about the FAST rant, but I think this sort of brainwashed mentality is something FOSS is going to keep running into over the next few years.

  11. Great article… had me in stitches… you just have to love how money driven even public sector employees are… woner if they have targets to reach?

    great stuff

  12. whatever: While in a legal sense you may be right (i.e. it’s a civil rather than a criminal offence), in a moral sense you aren’t. Theft is taking something which you don’t have a right to take, in order to have the use of or gain from it in some way. Copyright infringement fits squarely into this category. I don’t think the concept of “theft” requires depriving someone of something physical, nor does it require that what they are deprived of be quantifiable or able to be given an exact monetary value.

  13. Nobody takes anything when they make a copy, the “theft” argument relies on the the copyright holder being deprived of their right to seek reward for their work. Copyright infringement is not ‘theft’ in a legal or moral sense because one cannot ‘steal’ legal rights. I think that the copyright message would be much stronger if people could just stop using a dishonest analogy.

    Thanks and keep up the good work ;-)

  14. This was hillarious. They’re hoping that the line that the *AA and similar organizations have been spouting for years now, namely that copying is simply illegal, isn’t QUITE the case. Never WAS to begin with.

    In the case of theft/infringement- you can map moral arguments to it (which is what you’re doing), no problem there, but the law is quite specific as to what is/isn’t theft. Infringement isn’t theft as it’s an act of usurping the right of controlling how a given work is produced and/or distributed. You might be stealing money away from them, or you might not, as the work in question may/may not sell in the first place- but you’re NOT stealing the work in question. (Unless you know for certain that the infringement in question is actually preventing the sales of a given work, you can’t honestly make the theft of funds argument- as it could fail to sell on it’s own merits, or lack thereof.)

    There is an explicit reason why the laws are worded the ways they are, and even as a Christian, you should be using the precise terms. To do otherwise is to lie to oneself and everyone else around you.

  15. I think that this is really interesting and highlights at least two really weird things about ‘free’ software.

    1. People who willingly donate their copyrights to the public domain are strange
    To be honest, our legal, social and economic systems just aren’t adapted to dealing with this. The Trading Standards Office is a government department which, I’m guessing, has a basic remit to help UK companies and citizens enfore their trading rights, such as copyright, when it comes to software.
    So, if I find someone giving away software which is protected, I’m doing something illegal. Surely, then, if I charge for something which is given away, I’m doing something wrong?

    2. The entire notion of ‘free’ software is based on agreement
    When you download and install Firefox, it is only because of an agreement between you and the developers of this software that what you are doing is not illegal. If the MPL were not in place, you would be contravening the Copyright Act (which, don’t forget, defines the default: copying without permission is illegal).

    Reason 2. is one of the reasons I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable about the label “free as in speech”. Free speech is a right you as a citizen have with respect to the government. Free software is a matter between citizens, and really only the (very rarely used) criminal sanctions for copyright infringement may be seen to be analogous.


  16. Gerv,

    Is article licensed under the same CC-BY-SA as your blog? I’d like to republish it on a free software website.


  17. wow… well here in mexico the anti-piracy practices is only on big cities for example mexico city… but the goverment has knowledge about free software… so, i think this can’t happen here…

  18. Thank you for a very interesting article. Very funny :)

    The UK department seems not to be the only department that thinks that way.
    A web news site in the Netherlands reported that a few organisations (a Unix User Group, the Dutch Consumers Association and the largest internet acces provider XS4ALL among others) sent an open letter to the Dutch copyright enforcement department (called Brein) that it’s website and other promotional material directed at companies and employees suggested that copying software is always illegal. (http://www.webwereld.nl/articles/39914 if you happen to be able to read Dutch)

    Citing a (roughly translated) passage in the open letter:
    “In your leaflet and on your website you incorrectly suggest that a complete ban exist on copying software. By doing so, you inflict damage to the interests of the rightful owners and any allied organisation and their ability to develop software and to distribute it (by others) for free.”

  19. OF course, IF the Trading Officer had bothered to read the licence ditributed with the CD’s, and then passed this to her legal department, you would never have had to talk to her at all :-)

  20. peer,

    A trading standards officer is a local government employee, whose basic job is to check that retailers follow the law. They do a whole range of things: checking that scales in shops don’t overweigh, making sure that mechanics/plumbers don’t do unnecessary work, checking that goods comply with electrical and other safety codes etc. They also are the people most likely to take enforcement action against spammers, scammers, fraudsters and other lowlives.

    One of the things they do is visit street markets and car boot sales to look for stolen and counterfeit goods. I’m guessing that the officer in question found something like a pile of CDs burned with inkjet printed labels, and thought it suspicious. Most of the time she would have been correct to be.

  21. Wouldn’t the solution for the identity issue be to use PGP or S/MIME certificates? Mozilla should have these anyway for code-signing and for SSL. Just get a few more from the same authority for email and newgroup posts. It would be immensely helpful for official Mozilla communications to be marked as such.

    As it is now, we all have to be involved in the project to know who is who and who does what.

  22. You may have some company (~1.2 billion). I understand that under Islamic law, there is no such thing as copywrite. You can copy and or reuse to your heart’s content. The system was also rather different under Communism. All copywrite belonged to the people, ie the state, so you could write something, but you couldn’t deseminate it w/o state permission. And you wouldn’t get it if they didn’t like what you wrote.
    China doesn’t do this anymore, even tho the ‘Communist Party” is still in charge, but I suspect that N. Korea, where it is ever 1953, probably still uses the old system.

  23. I was wondering if you could clarify the part where you wrote, “we would like her to return any confiscated CDs.” Were you simply assuming that CDs *might* have been confiscated, or had you been told for a fact that this had occurred?

    Thank you.

  24. I am a little disappointed with the negativity being shown towards the lady’s initial decision to contact us. As some have pointed out, that was absolutely right. In cases of suspected copyright infringement, it is absolutely correct to check with the copyright holder (or, at least, the organisation representing them). I would much rather that happened than they assumed that the copying was wrong!

    The article was commenting on what she said about how difficult it would be to enforce piracy laws, not about her decision to contact us.

    Svartalf: To do as you say would be to allow the law to define the only permitted meaning of words, rather than using words to describe what it means when it states law. “Theft” is no doubt defined in law as a particular thing, but it’s also a moral concept apart from that, and I feel perfectly justified in using the word to mean the concept.

    peer: A quick clarification: the copyrights on free software are not donated to the public domain. They are retained by the copyright holders, and licensed – in this case, under the MPL.

    Matt: I’m afraid the article is not under CC-BY-SA. I asked the Times about the possibility of making my articles available this way, but they weren’t having it.

    John: That was speculative. I have no confirmation that any CDs were confiscated. The lady did not tell me what stage they were at in their investigations.

  25. GeekNights: 060223 – How to not suck at driving

    Tonight on GeekNights, we explain how not to suck at driving, considering that we both commute by car every day. In the news, some people just can’t undestand free software and DCHP troubles in Linux Land.
    Scott’s Thing – Crazy Eddy

  26. Völker, hört die Signale

    Sind das jetzt schon die Rückzugsgefechte?
    Interessant am Streit um Urheberrechte und sogenannte Piraterie ist ja der Ernst, mit dem versucht wird, Wörter mit eigenen Inhalten zu belegen. Es geht weniger um die Verfolgung tatsächlich stattfindender …

  27. The GPL Effect

    I would like to describe exactly what happened to me over the last 6 years or so, that I affectionately call “The GPL Effect”.

    Six years ago, I found out about GNU/Linux. I had been using other operating systems such as Novell Netware, Windows, Com…

  28. Just had to tell ya, that even i sweden, this stired up a hillariues laughter. I dont know whats most amazing, that we read it, that we understand it well enough to see the joke, or that i cared to write and tell ya.

    Anyhow… Cheers mate.