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Re: [gNewSense-users] FTL patent in kernel

From: Alexandre Oliva
Subject: Re: [gNewSense-users] FTL patent in kernel
Date: Thu, 08 May 2008 21:35:02 -0300
User-agent: Gnus/5.11 (Gnus v5.11) Emacs/22.2 (gnu/linux)

On May  8, 2008, Bake Timmons <address@hidden> wrote:

>> If you start from Emacs, there's a whole lot you can change it without
>> ever stepping on the landmine that a software patent amounts to.  But
>> if you start from a piece of software that implements a patent under a
>> very restrictive license, there might be very little you could change
>> without stepping on the landmine.

> I think you are suggesting that I could, say, write a FTL mode in
> Emacs and use it for many non-PCMCIA uses and widely distribute this
> code, and that this would not be as risky as assuming that ftl.c is
> free enough to be distributed by gNewSense.

Risk to distribute is not quite what's at hand here.  The patent is
licensed for use in ftl.c as it stands, so there's no legal risk in
distributing it.  There may be a social and moral issue, a matter of
solidarity: accepting a restriction on a program that suits your
needs, while being prohibited from adapting it to your future needs or
to others' needs, isn't good for society.  But the question is whether
there is such a restriction.  What's written there just restates
patent law, so the patent holder can choose to use the power of the
patent to disrespect others' freedoms.  But this doesn't necessarily
mean the patent holder is going to do so.  That's hard to tell.

As for writing an FTL mode in Emacs, maybe you can do that, depending
on where you are and where the FTL patent is valid.  You can even
release it as Free Software.  Until the FTL patent holder stops you or
anyone else from enjoying the freedoms, or poses a significant threat
of doing so, the Software may very well remain Free.

But no, I wasn't specifically talking about an FTL mode for Emacs.  I
was saying you could make a lot of changes on to of Emacs, and even if
the FTL patent holder decided to stop you from distributing such a
mode in Emacs, Emacs (minus this mode) would still be Free Software,
in spite of this restriction: a prohibition of implementing one
specific feature wouldn't be enough to render Emacs non-Free.

But a prohibition of pretty much any small modification to ftl.c would
likely render ftl.c non-Free.  But we don't know that such a
prohibition is in place.  All we know is that there's an explicit
permission for one specific use, and that the patent holder holds the
power of the patent, that can be used to hurt others.  To the best of
my knowledge, this, by itself, doesn't render the Software non-Free.

I hope this is clearer now.

Alexandre Oliva
Free Software Evangelist  address@hidden,}
FSFLA Board Member       ¡Sé Libre! =>
Red Hat Compiler Engineer   address@hidden,}

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