Mike Gerwitz

Activist for User Freedom

Re: FreeBSD, Clang and GCC: Copyleft vs. Community


I recently received a comment via e-mail from a fellow GNU hacker Antonio Diaz, who is the author and maintainer of GNU Ocrad, a free (as in freedom) optical character recognition (OCR) program. His comment was in response to my article entitled FreeBSD, Clang and GCC: Copyleft vs. Community, which details the fundamental difference in philosophy between free software and “open source”.

I found Antonio’s perspective to be enlightening, so I asked for his permission to share it here.

I imagine a world where all the Free Software is GPLed. The amount and usefulness of Free Software grows incesantly because free projects can reuse the code of previous free projects. Proprietary software is expensive because every company has to write most of its “products” from scratch. Most people use Free Software, and proprietary software is mainly used for specialized tasks for which no free replacement exists yet.

Now I imagine a world where all the Free Software is really “open source” (BSD license). Free Software is restricted to the operating system and basic aplications because the license does not guarantee reciprocity. Proprietary software is cheap to produce because it is built using the code of free projects, but it is expensive for the user (in money and freedom) because there is no real competition from Free Software. Most people use proprietary software, as Free Software is too basic for most tasks.

I think “open source” organizations (specially BSD) are wilfully destroying the long-term benefits for society of the GPL, and they are doing it for short-term benefits like popularity and greed:

“As these companies devise strategies for dealing with GPLv3, so must the FreeBSD community - strategies that capitalize on this opportunity to increase adoption of FreeBSD.” “Fundraising Update […] This has increased the number of people actively approaching companies to make large contributions.”


Human beings have an innate sense of justice. In absence of reciprocity one wants to be paid, but I think that reciprocity is much better for society in the long term.1

Antonio compels us to think toward the future: while developers releasing their code under permissive licenses like the Modified BSD License are still making a generous contribution to the free software community today, it may eventually lead to negative consequences by empowering non-free software tomorrow.

  1. Comment by Antonio Diaz; the only modifications made were for formatting.↩︎