Attention must be paid

Some of the key scenes in Arthur Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman” recount how Willy Loman’s brother went “into the jungle and made my fortune,” implying that Loman is a failure for not taking a similar risk.

As I have related in the two previous posts, I spent part of today in The BlackBoard Jungle and The Patent Jungle. It didn’t make my fortune, but it did change some of my views.

I strove in the two previous posts to just reflect what was said, and write this post to report on some of the lessons I learned today.

First, I introduced myself to Eben Moglen before the lunchtime session and said that I had some concerns about gplv3 in that I feared that if it went forward it might result in needless forking. He said he didn’t think this would happen. I also said that it seemed unlikely that Linux would move away from gplv2 as this would require the consent of its many contributors. He said that one of the main driving forces for gplv3 was to add the appropriate language that would address the law as defined outside the borders of the United States, as he feared that a judge outside the U.S. might rule against gplv2 since some of its language reflected only the legal system of the U.S., and that Linux might want to move to gplv3 if only to avoid this possibility.

As I noted earlier, Moglen was very forceful in the lunchtime discussion. Indeed, he seemed dismissive at times. After the debate I was one of the few people to approach Matthew Small from Blackboard. I said that I appreciated his appearing in what he knew would be a hostile forum. I also said that he had just seen an instance of the schism in the open-source community, that between the “free software” folks and the “open software” folks, and that his views were more consistent with the “open source” folks in that they were more pragmatic and recognized a more nuanced approach. He said that he had found it difficult to deal with Moglen et. al, as they seemed unwilling to compromise.

However, as should be clear from my post on the afternoon session, this is very serious business indeed to Eben. It is not a matter of reaching a compromise, but in his view of taking Blackboard’s actions as a serious threat that requires a forceful — perhaps even punitive — response.

That is of course his call to make. It’s also worth noting that he is doing this work on behalf of Sakai for little, if any, compensation. For him it is a labor of love, love for free software and what it represents.

For example, he mentioned that rSmart had paid the filing fees necessary to instigate the patent re-examination process, and publicly thanked them for their contribution.

It was also clear from the afternoon session that we in the community have a valuable ally in Eben Moglen and his colleagues. Whether “free,” “open,” or “ignorant,” we all own him a debt of gratitude for his work that has gone on for almost two decades now.

Attention must be paid to his work, and credit should be given where credit is due.

I do so now, and trust others will do so going forward, though of course I know his beliefs are deeply held and he has no need of the approval of others to continue on what he deems an essential mission.

I also realize that my own modest efforts to sort out the “open” versus “free” issue may be doing more harm than good. Certainly they no longer serve any useful purpose and so I will try to remove myself from this issue.

All I ask, from those who know of the Jikes Coupon, is that a few folks take the opportunity from time to time to offer me a Dave Coupon, which reads as follows:

This Coupon entitles Dave Shields to ten minutes of peace. During that time you promise not to say any of the following:

  • GNU/Linux
  • Corporations are evil
  • All software must be free

In return Dave will buy you a gentle gambrinian or other beverage of your choice at the nearest pub.

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