The iPhone and toilet paper freedom
Geoffg is playing a lawyer in declaring his interpretation of the GPL as the truth, lambasting the Free Software Foundation for not updating some old articles, accusing them of spreading FUD and declaring the iphone as a missed marketing opportunity.
He makes the mistake however of reading the GPLv2 as a definition of freedom, rather than an implementation of it. As this fine person pointed out last year, it’s no good being able to change software if you can’t run it. This is the freedom to change software and use it as toilet paper.
Fine, maybe you can run GPLv2 software on your iphone, but you can’t exercise all the freedoms which the FSF campaign for. According to them, GPLv2 software in closed DRM is exploiting a loophole which GPLv3 was in part written to close.
I can see it’s difficult for people to reconcile their love for free software and their love for Apple products, but maybe it’s best to be mindful of the fact that you’ve bought a computer that you can’t run software on without the permission of a large corporation.
There’s a lot of weirdness in the computer music community around this. RJDJ is a port of the free PureData language to the iphone. Many of those involved are free software developers, but have to give up all their rights to RJDJ, a venture capital funded company. RJDJ in turn license the code back to them under the GPLv3. This means they are free to change and run the code under open operating systems, but not on the iphone. This is weird, using the GPLv3 as a firewall to protect commercial interests on a closed platform, while exploiting the work of a free software community.
Just to clarify; I’m not saying that people shouldn’t run open source software on the iphone, particularly when a permissive license like MIT or BSD is involved. I’m just objecting to ignorance of the FSFs definition of software freedom, which I happen to subscribe to and which is incompatible with the iPhone. I find the RJDJ case weird, but while I know of at least some cognitive dissonance in the RJDJ team, I don’t know that any of the authors are otherwise unhappy with the situation.
UPDATE: Michael from RJDJ contacted me to point out something I got wrong. RJDJ don’t release their whole iphone port of PureData, just part of it — rjlib. This is indeed released under a GPLv3 though; if you want to contribute towards rjlib, you have to transfer your rights to RJDJ or fork the code.
BTW they are also releasing a rather nice looking cross-platform gui-less version of PureData under the
LGPLGPLv3 and LGPLv3 called zengarden.