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Viral Code and Vaccination

by Robert J. Chassell

When others hurt me, I try to defend myself. But some tell me that this makes them sick. They tell me that I should permit people to rob me of my work. They tell me that I should never try to defend myself.

They tell me that I should stop using the GNU General Public License, a license that vaccinates me against hurt. Instead, I should adopt a license that permits other people to rob me with impunity. They want me to adopt a license that forbids me from fighting back. They want me to give up my right to benefit from a derivative of my own work, a right I possess under current copyright law.

Of course, the language is a little less feverish than this. Usually, I myself am not called “infectious”. Rather, the legal defense that I use is called “infectious”. The license I choose is called “viral”.

In every day language, words such as “infect” and “virus” describe disease. The rhetoric is metaphorical. A legal tool is not a disease organism; but it is popular to think of the law as an illness, so the metaphor has impact.

The people who want to rob me use language that says I make them sick when I stop them from robbing me. They do not want to draw attention to the so-called “disease” that makes them ill: my health and my rights, and the health and rights of other people. Instead, they choose metaphor to twist people's thinking. They do not want anyone to think that I am a good citizen for stopping crime. They want the metaphor to fool others into thinking that I am a disease agent.

The GNU General Public License protects me. The connotation of “virus” and “infect” is that my choice of defense gives an illness to those who want to rob me. I want freedom from their robbery; but they want the power to hurt me. They get sick when they cannot hurt me.

To use another health and illness-related metaphor, the GNU General Public License vaccinates me; it protects me from theft.

Note that the theft about which I am talking is entirely legal in some situations: if you license your work under a modified BSD license, or a similar license, then others may legally take your work, make fixes or improvements to it, and forbid you from using that code. I personally dislike this arrangement, but it exists.


 [FSF logo] “The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is a nonprofit with a worldwide mission to promote computer user freedom. We defend the rights of all software users.”


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