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The FSF claims that the GPL is a matter of securing freedom for computer users, but that’s a quite distorted truth.

The GPL requires any “modified versions” to retain the terms of the GPL. This means that if you incorporate any code from a GPL-licensed program into your own program, you have to release it under the GPL. However, what if you now want to use code from a program with a different copyleft license? That would require changing the license appropriately as well, but you already need the GPL because you use code from a GPL’d program. So… you can’t. This even applies for different GPL versions. If A uses GPL2 (and doesn’t have the “or any later version” clause), and B uses GPL3, you can’t use code from both.

If you release some code into the public domain, and someone improves the code and GPL-licenses it, you can’t use the modified code unless you want to impose the GPL! According to RMS, software under the GPL is like a spider plant: If one takes a piece of it and puts it somewhere else, it grows there too.

It’s also horribly vague what constitutes a “modified version”. If a GPL program has printf(“Hello World!\n”);, is it then a GPL violation to use that in any other program? At what point is it a “modified version” of an existing work? How much code does it need to be? Does the code have to be unique? How do you verify the real origin of the code? If you copy a large block from a GPL program, but change around the function and variable names, line breaks and indentation, have you violated the GPL? If you write code that, without your knowledge, is identical to part of a GPL program, have you violated the GPL?

Copyleft and copyright are, to an extent, two sides of the same coin. We should oppose both, and release our works into the public domain; a strike against the entire backwards “intellectual property” regime.

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.

 — Thomas Jefferson
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