Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Free as in Freedom

From: "Mahesh T. Pai" <paivakil spam spamgmail dotcom>
To: Murali D. <MuraliDe maps mapsleft to right at gmaildot remove this space com>
Subject: Free Software

Dear Sri Murali,

I just came across an interview with Mr. Umashankar, MD of ELCOT done by you.

I am reading the online version of The Business Line, and the article is reported on 

I have been following several of your writings, probably ever since you have been writing for The Hindu, and have viewed the immense research you put in behind your articles.1

However, in the above article, there is more than one gaping error, and I hope you will correct at the earliest.

I take the liberty of quoting (what I consider as) erroneous part here:-

A brief description of Open Source (OS), for the lay reader. Open source software (OSS) means the source code of the software is open for viewing and editing. The users have the freedom to edit the source code, rename it and use it as they wish. This is contrary to proprietary software, which does not allow the buyers/users to look at the source code.. Open source should not be confused with free software. Open source software can be priced too. Free software is not priced at all. The similarity between the two is that both OSS and free software enable the users to view and modify the software code. Commencing mildly with the Linux operating system in the early 90s, today OSS controls major systems in the world. This includes the day-to-day use open office software on the desktops to the operating system for the most powerful mainframe computers of the corporate world..

I am very well aware that you are writing for the lay reader, and would like to point out that you would have been correct, had you left out the comparisons with the concept of ``Free Software'' in its entirety.

There is a very specific term in vogue for software which comes free of cost - ``FREEWARE''.

``Free Software'' is software which assures users of their freedoms, and the term ``free'' in ``free software'' means ``free as in freedom''.

In fact, people can, (and do) charge money for free software; please see

Also, please see the section titled ``How is `OpenSource' related to `Free Software' '' on

Another grave inaccuracy in your article is about ``it all starting with Linux''.

I hope this link will provide with adequate information.

With Warm Regards, Mahesh.

-- Mahesh T. Pai <<>> ``Those willing to give up a little liberty for a little security deserve neither security nor liberty''

1 Should have been ``..viewed with much resepct ...''

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Blog Theft

Blog Theft

``Kariveppila'', is the Malayalam word for what is sometimes referred to in culinary recipes as ``Bay Leaves'' or ``Indian Bay Leaves'', but are actually curry leaves.

Kariveppila is used while cooking the dishes, and are usually one of the first ingredients which go into a dish while cooking; it is also served, but never consumed. They are discarded while eating. But, no Indian dish (particularly thosecooked in oil bases) would taste the same without curry leaves.

The indispensability of the curry leaf, and the practice of discarding it has given rise to referring to some people (and/or their contribution) as ``Kariveppilas''. They are indispensable, do all the work and once they are utilised to the maximum, they are discarded.

The reason I say all this is because Yahoo! IndiaTM has started its Indian Language content service, and the contributors are being treated as Kariveppilas.

Allegations (with proof) are flying around in the blogosphere about how bad Yahoo!TM is, and why they ought to be sued. And Yahoo!TM's response has been to silently remove the infringing content. While writing this, I has double checked Yahoo!TM's copyright policy, and all it talks about is how to approach Yahoo!TM if its users violate copyrights. Nothing -- not even -- a word about Yahoo!TM's contents violating others' rights!!

Going by evidence available on blogosphere, Yahoo!TM is not alone in plagiarising content. Other portals too are doing it.

People keep on cringing ``we live far away, and cannot sue the corporates, what will we do??'' and in my opinion, it is the ``we cannot sue'' attitude that lies at the root of the un-authorised contenting copying problem.

Most blogs are licensed under one of the several Creative Commons licenses. Some, like this, are not licensed at all. What people should do, if you are serious about your works being subject matter of unauthorised copying, is, instead of raising the bogey of legal proceedings, first, insist on compliance with the license. if any. If you did not attach a license to your published copyrightable work, it cannot be copied / reproduced at all, except as ``fair use''.

Remember, you attached a license to your work with the intention that the license terms are complied with, and the other person cannot use your work except in compliance with the license terms. So, when somebody violates your copyright / license, insist on license compliance. If your license allows copying, you obviously intended that your work be copied, and what you want is that your work should be copied. If the license terms reserve any rights (most sensible licenses do), your best bet is to insist on the infringer comply with your license. In most cases, particularly in case of blogs, you only wanted you be attributed when your work is reproduced, and that is a trivial relief to raise threats about litigation at first go.

So, before raising crying yourselves hoarse about litigation, crimes, courts, law, damages, bad ethics of the infringer and all that, stay level headed, polite, and ask for compliance with the license.

Else, you end up like ``kariveppila'', a Malayalam blog whose recipes have been plagiarised by Yahoo!TM's Malayalam language service. When the blogger complained, Yahoo!TM removed the post, without even an apology. People tried to rationalise this behaviour, attributing it to content providers. But, the action of removing the blog helped nobody - least of all, the blogger. The fact remains that Yahoo!TM had considered the recipe good enough to be published as its own; and insisting on its continued publication, with proper attribution (because the kariveppila blog is licensed under a creative commons non-commercial, attribution license) would have served the purpose (of the license) far better than any litigation will.

However, we should never hesitate to sue an infringer who refuses to provide proper attribution (or comply with the license terms). And merely taking down the infringing work from the web site is only mitigating the liability, it does not absolve the infringer from liability.

Of course in electronic media, a published work under a permissive (preferably, a strong copyleft) license is far better than a work without a license at all, since electronic media allows, encourages and requires, (as a matter of technical ease of use) making of copies. Copyleft licenses ensure that people making and distributing copies redistribute the same rights as those granted by the copyright holder. Not having any license at all means the work cannot be copied.

Which now brings me to the license of this blog -- time to re-licence it.

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