The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has this to say about “Free Software”: “Free software” means software that respects users’ freedom and community. Roughly, it means that the users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. Thus, “free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer”.1
There’s something about “free software” that has troubled me for two and a half decades, ever since I first started using and developing free software, and thinking about it. I discussed some of my doubts with Richard Stallman, the originator of the free software movement, when I interviewed him in 1994. Unfortunately the interview was never published and I no longer have the original audio recording. What I find troubling is the conception of the rights of users, as enumerated in the GNU General Public License (GPL), as well as in prior and subsequent free software licenses, only within the very narrow sense of the rights to use, copy, modify and redistribute the code.