back to article GPL whiz Moglen nails Web 2.0 O'Reilly on 'frivolous' charges

Tim O'Reilly is like a Burger King sandwich in that he likes things his way. O'Reilly invited Free Software Foundation lawyer Eben Moglen to participate in a discussion about "licensing in the Web 2.0 era" at this week's OSCON. The conference organizers did their best to fix the conversation. Even though everyone laughs at O' …


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  1. Dave

    All boats need rocking occasionally

    Someone always needs to challenge the established order, it helps to avoid complacency and helps weed out things that are no longer needed and to spot when new things are required. Plus it's fun to watch the deflation of egos.

  2. Connor Garvey


    I wasn't there and I don't care to find out any more about this, but Molgen seems like a bit of an ass hat. I would guess that O'Reilly didn't respond because he was flabbergasted at how unprofessional and childish his guest's comments were.

  3. Nigel Kneale

    I like the FSF

    I love the way the FSF assumes that companies that rely on GPL'd software should be told how to run their business, all in the name of freedom.

  4. Del Merritt

    Perl Conference 2.0

    Anyone remember "Perl Conference 2.0"?

    I was there. I had a good time, in spite of a completely screwed up travel-from-Boston nightmare that had me arrive at my hotel at 4am.

    The conference was generally informative, and I resonated with Larry Wall; his keynote was a riot. Perl had layers (and onions) well before Shrek. We still don't have Topaz/Perl 6, but what do you want for nuthin'?

    One evening I chatted with Tom C, a nice, quiet guy who seemed to be discomfited with conference things in general, and liked to play the piano.

    When Tim O'Reilly came on stage, I was disappointed. I didn't hear any real "vision" that was coherent, and I walked away thinking, "OK, he just wants to sell more books". Nearly a decade later, I don't remember the topic of his talk, just that feeling. Perhaps someone will post a transcript of it - maybe it was Web 2.0 alpha.

    Perhaps this is what was going on: Larry Wall created something for himself. He was the father/author who was optimistic but humble for this offspring. And then he let the "child" free, so that it could play with others, not just with and for him.

    OTOH, Tim O created a business of channeling the creativity of others. I'm glad I have the books I do from O'Reilly - most remain regular references for me (particularly Tom's Cookbook). But Tim's interest was in me buying the limited use of his children. That's capitalism, but it didn't leave me with the same Warm Fuzzy Feeling(sm) that I got and still get from things like Perl.

  5. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    The GPL isn't free

    To quote Moglen:

    "In its present form, Google could not come to be without free software. We enable growth of an organism on this size and scale. Having enabled that growth, we are unfamiliar with what it means to live with an entity that big. Distrust comes from this unfamiliarity."

    Who is this *we*? The FSF perchance? in which case the claim is absurd if not worse. Most of the internet runs of BSD code. And as for unfamiliarity with dealing with companies benefitting from open source code with no strings attached we've had years of it including legal challenges: AT&T vs. the BSD trustees springs to mind. Continuing to blown the GPL horn is going to drive companies away from GPL software to alternatives with less *repressive* licences.

    Web 2.0 is total bollocks but to claim the commodification of software and, therefore, the reduced relevance of licences is reasonable. We will go back to not paying for the software per se but either the hardware on which runs or associated services just like back in the 1960's.

  6. Tom

    True on the GPL, but

    Re: "Most of the internet runs of BSD code" from Charlie Clark.

    This is true, but the reason isn't due to any inherent freedom, but rather that anyone can take BSD-licensed code, and morph it (and its license) into something else entirely (e.g. large swaths of MS Windows' TCP/IP stack). Even Linux has managed to do this by converting some not-insignificant chunks of BSD code into flat-out GPL'd code. So long as attribution is still there (either in the source code like Linux devs do, or hex-edited into the binary or buried deep down in obscure registry keys (a'la MSFT), you can basically do whatever you want with it.

    Every time *BSD wants to add some new feature, Theo has to plop down and re-invent the wheel, often with the likes of MSFT and etc. waiting eagerly to see if the results can be cannibalized and then "innovated" into their own respective products. The GPL helps limit that to some extent (though only in that a cannibalized result cannot be re-distributed without itself being open). Thing is, both are prone to it if the results are for the modifying entity's private use only. Perfectly legal.

    While I agree to a large extent with your assessment, I can see where Moglen is coming from: Companies (or other entities) which don't 'give back' may be holding onto things that could help improvements to the main, and while legal, it's pretty wrong on a philosophical level.

  7. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    @Connor Garvey

    So you weren't there and you don't even care, but you still guess that one party was "childish" and "unprofessional" ? How about checking a transcript or catching a retransmission before venturing an unfounded opinion ?

    I guess "objectivity" is a dying resource.

  8. The Mighty Spang

    gpl - designed by suits?

    i think the gpl was designed by suits. the kind of suits who dont want to pay for software but want to make money off of 'services'. from around the time that the fsf started up when most reasonably large companies dealing with computers had minis with v expensive 'support contracts'.

    these open sauce zealots annoy me, one minute whinging that a product gets released with GPLd code and they havent puplished their changes, to complete silence over the thousands of companies selling services or running websites that make money written on top of GPLd code. just because they are not distributing any binaries does not make them any less morally accountable.

    open sauce? yeah right.

  9. James


    [Continuing to blown the GPL horn is going to drive companies away from GPL software to alternatives with less *repressive* licenses.]

    Such as ... ? BSD? Apache? Surely you don't mean GPLv3!?

    If a developer cares enough to note which version of which license applies to a piece of software that they are about to use/incorporate/appropriate, GPL still looks pretty good when compared to typical proprietary licensing ... even v3 looks pretty good. If other, less *repressive* licensing is involved, good deal! Personally, I prefer LGPL. I simply cannot rationalize GPL or any other similarly (or more) *repressive* license when my company needs something that will end up being proprietary. Complaining about the restrictions in the GPL is silly. Either you can live with its restrictions/re-publication requirements, or you roll your own.

    Blowing the GPL horn is important if anyone is to understand and accept such a licensing system, just as it is important to read the EULAs in each piece of software you install. Nobody is going to shy away from GPLd applications unless they'd rather pay for a closed version from someone else.

  10. Brad Hutchings

    Want to do the world a flavor?

    If anyone wants to do something really revolutionary, come up with a "BSD 2.0" license that ensures that code derived from BSD 2.0 licensed code may always be used under the BSD 2.0 or later license, at the user's option. I'm sure you could pimp it at Tim's conferences now that Moglen earned his lifetime ban.

  11. Sean Healey

    Code vs Data

    "Who cares about the Wikipedia code"

    Well actually a lot of people. Just because one particular instance of the WikiMedia engine powers the joke that is Wikipedia, doesn't mean its a shite piece of software - I've just built a departmental documentation repository on it, and its become a damned useful tool!

    I think that highlights the folly of Tims ideal of ignoring code in favour of data. Although it has to said that the reverse is not true either - both have to be taken into account in equal measures to ensure any kind of long term success.

    The Open Source argument seeks to protect developers ability to truly innovate - I believe the ongoing arguments surrounding GPL are merely part of the process of evolution toward a better way of creating software than the traditional proprietary closed source model. For that reason I agree with Brad - a revised BSD license would be welcome.

  12. Connor Garvey


    That's why it's called a comment and that's why I prefaced it and used the words "seems" and "guess". I really don't care about these two guys, but the quotes in the article were pretty mean spirited.

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