GCC association with the FSF

Mark Wielaard mark@klomp.org
Tue Apr 6 22:22:25 GMT 2021


Hi,

Lets change the subject now that this is about GCC and the FSF.

On Wed, Mar 31, 2021 at 01:46:29PM +0100, Jonathan Wakely via Gcc wrote:
> Probably unintentionally, but he has allowed the GNU Project to become
> a nasty cult of personality. The FSF seems to be imploding (with mass
> resignations in the past week). I don't think GCC benefits from being
> associated with either of them.

I admit it isn't looking very good and their last announcement is
certainly odd: https://status.fsf.org/notice/3833062

But apparently the board is still meeting this week to discuss and
might provide a better statement about the way out of this. So lets
give them a couple more days before writing them off completely.

> Is there any incident where FSF being the copyright holder for GCC has
> made a difference?

Yes, at least in my experience it has been helpful that the FSF held
copyright of code that had been assigned by various individuals and
companies. It allowed the merger of GNU Classpath and libgcj for
example. There have been various intances where it was helpful that
the FSF could unilatrally adjust the license terms especially when the
original contributor couldn't be found or didn't exist (as company)
anymore.

And it is really helpful that we don't have to ask permission of every
individual contributor to be able to create the GCC manual (because
the GPL code and GFDL text could otherwise not be combined) but that
the FSF can grant an exception to one of the developers to create it.

> Are there any GPL violations involving GCC code
> that were resolved only because all copyright resides with a single
> entity, that couldn't have been resolved on behalf of individual
> copyright holders?

I think it has been very helpful preventing those violations. If you
only have individual copyright holders instead of an organisation with
the means to actually resolve such violations people pay much more
attention to play by the rules. See for example the linux kernel
project. I believe there are so many GPL violations precisely because
almost no individual has the means to take up a case.

> Are we still worried about BigCorp trying to do a proprietary fork of
> GCC? Because BigCorp, OtherCorp etc. have shown that they would prefer
> to create a new toolchain from scratch rather than use GNU code. And
> if EvilCorp want to make their own proprietary compiler with secret
> optimizations, they'll just use LLVM instead of bothering to violate
> the GPL. The work done to make it impossible to steal GCC code was a
> success: nobody is even interested in stealing it now. There is an
> easier option.

I admit that the only way proprietary compiler writers can compete
with GCC is by producing a lax-permissive licensed compiler is an odd
way to win for Free Software. But we should still make sure that GCC
itself makes it so that users can actually get the sources of the
compiler they are using and not just some sources that might or might
not correspond to the binary they are using. Making sure that the code
reaches actual users and not just some corporate hackers to create a
proprietary compiler is what counts IMHO. And using strong copyleft
and having a shared copyright pool of code held by an entity that can
enforce that is still necessary IMHO.

> Can we break our (already weak) ties to GNU?

I hope GCC stays part of GNU, but that we might reconsider whether it
is in the best interest of GNU and GCC as Free Software project to
still be associated with the FSF. The GNU Assembly is having a similar
discussion right now
https://lists.gnu.tools/postorius/lists/assembly.lists.gnu.tools/

Cheers,

Mark


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