Translations:Essays:Why are GPL-licensed components removed from the FreeBSD base system/5/en

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Richard Stallman

These four basic freedoms were formulated by the hacker Richard Stallman back in 1986. Stallman began his career as a programmer at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In his line of work, he repeatedly encountered the fact that the lack of the ability to fix errors in someone else's software, which you have to use for one reason or another, greatly slows you down in solving your issues. One such episode was well described in the book "Free as in Freedom (2.0): Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software". The very first chapter of this book tells about the Xerox printer – an unearthly piece of tech that was donated to the laboratory. This printer surpassed its predecessor in both speed and print quality, but after a while, it became known to jam paper. Stallman wanted to fix a printer flaw at the level of the firmware that controlled the device but failed to find its source code. When he asked for the source code, he was simply turned down. It may seem okay now, but at that time software was just beginning to be elevated by corporations to the status of intellectual property which wasn’t handed out to everyone.

Eben Moglen

Stallman later recalled a conversation with a person who refused him the source code: "If he had refused me his cooperation for personal reasons, it would not have raised any larger issue. I might have considered him a jerk, but no more. The fact that his refusal was impersonal, that he had promised in advance to be uncooperative, not just to me but to anyone whatsoever, made this a larger issue." So, at one point, Stallman became obsessed with software freedom, gave up everything, and even began work on creating a free operating system. The project was named GNU. He started his operating system with a technology basis – development tools such as a code editor, compiler, and debugger – without which building a free operating system would have been unthinkable. But when Stallman met Eben Moglen, a law professor at Columbia University, he managed to create a legal basis for his brainchild. Moglen helped Stallman reflect his software ideals in the treaty that still exists between software developers and users. This agreement is called the GNU General Public License, or GPL for short.