It occurs to me that “commons software” might be a better overall term for what is known as “free software”. After all, the function of the GPL is to preserve the commons itself.
Perhaps the real question is the notion of “freedom.” Does a commons grant complete freedom? No, there are restrictions; these restrictions of freedom provide the definition of “commons”.
Compare this to Stallman’s 4 freedoms…
Free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the software:
* The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
* The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
* The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
* The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
A program is free software if users have all of these freedoms.
These 4 principles are essential to the virtual commons (“no one owns it, everyone can use it, anyone can improve it”). And a commons avoids the amibuity of the word “free.”
Something to process further…I’d love to hear comments on this one if you have an opinion.