Legally open, socially closed: part 2

There has been some interesting discussion on my last post, and I wanted to address some of the new criticisms that were brought up there and elsewhere.

A matter of choice

I’ve now seen it suggested, both here and on other blogs, that Canonical’s decision was wrong because it doesn’t offer the end user an easy way to choose where the sales commission goes.  The problem with this criticism is that Banshee didn’t offer any such functionality either, so the lack of choice criticism falls just as much on them as it does on Canonical.  Now I’m sure there are some philosophically consistent people who do level this criticism equally on both, but the vast majority (and all of the ones I’ve seen in writing) seem to once again go back to this notion that the Banshee developers had some moral “right” to not give them a choice, while Canonical did not.  This takes us right back to the original problem we face where we try to keep our open source code morally closed to undesired modification.

Setting them straight

There is also a strong line of thought that this criticism of Canonical is necessary to make them good community citizens.  Again, though, this is based on the notion that they did something unethical, that the Banshee code was morally closed, and Canonical violated that.  The point I was hoping to convey in my first post is that we need to start thinking of our code as morally open, not just legally open.  If Banshee’s code is morally open, then we should all be happy that Canonical was able to modify it and use it for their own benefit, because that’s what “open” is all about.

Show some respect

A rather surprising number of people are suggesting that we should all respect a developer’s desired restrictions on their open source code.  While I’m all in favor of respecting people who contribute their time and talents to things that make my life better, voluntarily giving up on of the one of the four essential freedoms is taking it a step too far.  Calls for Canonical to “respect” the Banshee developers are implying that we should all restrict ourselves to only make those modifications that the original developers want made.  Imagine if Canonical asked the community not to make or distribute derivative distros, even though they’re legally allowed, how many people would call on the community to respect Canonical’s desire?

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15 Responses to Legally open, socially closed: part 2

  1. nnonix says:


  2. Scaine says:

    Well said.

  3. Vincent Untz says:

    A few comments, based on your points:

    – I think the people who suggested to offer a choice made this suggestion because it’s an easy way to mitigate the issues they have with the current decision, not because it’s the right thing to do in their opinion. Also, I believe suggesting that Banshee can be blamed for the lack of option in the UI as much as Canonical is being blamed isn’t as consistent as you suggest: Banshee didn’t change something that was already existing and so there was actually nobody asking another option and nothing to implement. However, now that this question is raised, maybe Banshee developers can actually implement that.

    – it’d be an interesting thing to study, but I believe many developers do not consider their code to be completely “morally open”. If a distro is patching an application I wrote, with changes I disagree with, destroying the behavior of the app and breaking its usability (in my opinion), I wouldn’t be happy either. The intent behind behaviors in the software is important to the developers who wrote it, and I feel it’s not surprising for developers to be unhappy if something they believe in is ignored.

    – a difference between the Banshee case and the Ubuntu derivatives example is that Ubuntu (not Canonical, btw) is explicitly encouraging people to do derivatives, while Banshee was explicitly asking people to not change the affiliate code. If Ubuntu was explicitly asking people to not do derivatives, then you’d obviously have less derivatives (simply because it’d be harder to do derivatives anyway), and I’m not that sure that people would complain about that. They would just do derivatives from another distro instead. There’s also the fact that changing Banshee in Ubuntu is highly visible (so matters a lot to people) while changing Ubuntu in a derivative is less visible (so people would probably care a bit less), simply because the derivative would likely not have as much visibility as Ubuntu.

    In the end, though, I think the main difference between our two perspectives is your notion of “morally open”. That’s where many people disagree, and I’d think this disagreement can be related to the difference between open source and free software.

  4. Steven says:

    I agree with you 100%. The criticism against Canonical has been over the top. I suspect some of it is because of some previous dislike against Canonical anyway. This is just the perfect item for them to use.

  5. Finally someone not ranting about how evil canonical is. Well said.

  6. Charlie Kravetz says:

    I am finding all the negative arguments somewhat difficult to understand. If the developers do not actually intend to allow changes, why are they calling the source “open”? Shouldn’t it simply be called closed source, and everyone told you can not change/modify what is intended in the first place? Maybe it is just me…

  7. frustphil says:

    Ahh, what’s the fuss all about?

  8. Alastair Neil says:

    Consider the following thought experiment, before you absolve Canonical:

    What if Red Hat Did It.

    How would you feel then? Can you sit back and say – more power to them they deserve to have all that additional revenue?

  9. Noone says:

    “Oh, hi. I took the time to ask you what you wanted, just so I could go do whatever I wanted”

    I mentioned this before, it’s worse because they asked. If they had just done, that would be one thing, but they made the Banshee people go through all the trouble of having a discussion, etc, etc and then spat in their faces.

    Not saying anything at all is much better than saying “Hi, I don’t value your opinion.”

    • This.

      The issue’s not whether the code is “socially closed” or not. It’s whether the people at Canonical can treat others like human beings. And whether the Ubuntu Foundation (does it even exist anymore?) or users have any say in what goes into their, apparently, “socially closed” distro.

  10. You’re missing the point. Banshee was giving out free samples at the supermarket, and Canonical took the whole plate and scarfed it down in front of everyone.

    Protip: The appropriate thing to do in this situation is not to engage in a semantic debate over the meaning of “free.” Or chastise people for taking exception with Canonical’s actions.

    • Michael Hall says:

      No, I understand that point. My point is that FLOSS shouldn’t be like free samples, it should not come with a social stigma attached to taking more what what someone else deems to be your “fair share”.

      • bigbrovar says:

        Ask your self this question, would the backlash against this move be this much if the referral codes had initially directed funds to Novel (a for profit company and the major sponsor of the banshee project) People are vexed with this move because Canonical dipped its hands in the pot of money meant for a non profit organisation. (The geek equivalent of charity.) and this money is then directed to a (for profit organisation) It then (shamelessly) tries to hide under the banner of license and legal right.

        It can be argued that the money canonical hopes to make from this would be channelled towards making Ubuntu better (fair enough) But a moot point not talked about is the fact that Money going to canonical does not necessary mean that money is going to Ubuntu or anything foss related. For one Canonical is a software company which is also into cloud storage services (which is not foss based) and other non foss solutions like landscape. There is no way that we can be sure that Money diverted would be channelled towards Ubuntu or something foss related. IMHO the issue here is not about socially closed or open. It is about trust! If canonical had diverted the funds to another FOSS organisation like say the Linux foundation or Mozilla which are all purely foss oriented non profits then lots of people won’t be that bothered. But the fact that funds that could have been meant for a non profit organisation which many see as a pillar of the foss ecosystem is diverted to a for profit organisation.. as much as u like to spin this. That is distasteful

    • Paul McGarry says:

      In what sense were Banshee giving out “free samples”? They were giving out code and explicitly granting the moral right to do what you want with it.

      I am surprised that so many who presumably consider themselves Free Software advocates are so dismissive of the moral rights granted by Free Software licenses. How can those rights suddenly become unimportant compared to the “wish” of a developer? Free Software licences exist precisely to release us from such arbitrary restrictions.

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