Re: Obsolesence of Intellectual Property

From: James Wetterau (
Date: Thu Aug 03 2000 - 08:12:26 MDT

"Michael S. Lorrey" says:
> > programmers and supporters, some might say. Some statistics have it runnin
> > half the Internet.
> Except that linux is NOT free. It typically is sold on CD-ROM for
> $40-80, which is little different from other operating systems.

I downloaded RedHat linux for free from the FTP site. I similarly
downloaded the NetBSD Unix-like OS. This is totally legal and
encouraged. RedHat tells you how to do it on their website. I
believe you can also take the downloaded software, burn it on a CD,
and in fact sell it, all totally legally.

The only thing that buying the actual CD from RedHat gets you is,
according to the website:

Installation support

Priority Online Access for software updates

Printed manuals and Documentation CD

A large collection of some of the most popular Linux applications on

> Can I
> reproduce a Redhat CD-ROM and sell them for a buck if I want to? No, I
> can't.

Um, actually, as long as it's all GPL software, under the terms of the
GPL, you can do so totally legally. (There may be some non-GPL
software in there, I guess, that you'd have to leave out, though the
core OS is all GPL.) You can make all the copies of the GPL'ed code
you want and distribute them for any price you choose. That's kind of
the point of the GPL.

Here's the license:

A key part is:

  For example, if you distribute copies of such a program, whether
  gratis or for a fee, you must give the recipients all the rights that
  you have. You must make sure that they, too, receive or can get the
  source code. And you must show them these terms so they know their

  We protect your rights with two steps: (1) copyright the software, and
  (2) offer you this license which gives you legal permission to copy,
  distribute and/or modify the software.

You see the point? The GPL makes it impossible to forbid someone from
redistributing your code. RedHat *cannot* forbid you from
redistributing as many copies as you like at whatever price you choose
of any free software they sell.

Now, I don't know that this is true, but there may be some non-free
software bundled with the free software on the disk. Presumably these
are not available on the FTP site. In that case, you would have to
omit those particular programs from the copy you make. But other
fully functional GNU/Linux distros include only free software,
e.g. Debian, (as does the RedHat FTP version, I assume). And you
could totally legally burn your own copy and sell Debian CD's for
whatever price you choose.

I understand that there are people in the business of selling
copies of the RedHat distro for less than RedHat charges. RedHat is
not trying to drive them out of business. They're not in it for the
license fees. That's just now how a free software business works.

This is in fact the whole point of the GPL: to encourage people to
promiscuously share software, as long as they don't try to gain
control over it and limit others from doing so.


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