Eben Moglen Whacks Tim O’Reilly!

I was at the OSCON Execuitive Breifing today and was looking forward to hearing Eben Moglen speak about Open Source licensing issues. The GPLv3 was recently released and a draft of the Affero license is open for comments. I think the GPLv3 is a good but flawed license, and the Affero license in it’s current form is a complete joke.

It seemed like rich fodder for an interesting discussion.

I really like Eben. I’ve heard him speak several times and he’s often the smartest man in the room.

Today, however, I think it must have been Eben’s doppleganger because he whacked Tim O’Reilly. In front of more than 100 people!

It was embarrassing. It started the minute he sat down.

At first I thought it was simply old friends giving each other a hard time but soon it was clear that Eben had an agenda and was using the venue to make his point. I don’t have any problem with a speaker having a point of view and arguing it vigorously, but when it turns personal and vitriolic they’ve clearly cross the line.

I think this was clear to the audience as well. How else could you intrepret statements like:

  • You spend to much time with your billionaire friends
  • You’ve wasted the past 10 years trying to make money while freedoms are under attack
  • This Web 2.0 stuff is silly, ‘thermal noise’
  • And lots of other zingers that I can’t remember (comment or send me an email, please). They were said not in a casual, ironic sort of way, but in a thoughtful, pointed downright mean spirited way.

    I felt uncomfortable just listening to the conversation and it was clear that many in the room felt the same way. Tim was a gracious host and gave his invited guest his full attention and asked how he could help address the issues, at which time Eben replied ‘Take down your name (the large O’Reilly sign behind the stage) and start promoting freedoms.”

    Tim was speechless (or so it seemed).

    What bothered me most about Eben diatribe was the outrageous duplicity expressed in his rhetoric and the actions of the FSF regarding the ASP loophole in the GPLv3. I even asked him about this. I told him his rhetoric seems hollow given how the ASP loophole could have been a big step forward in addressing some of the concerns he has.

    I know better than to argue with Eben about any of this, but his response seem myopic and self serving. He basically said that closing the loophole would infringe on certain peoples rights and he didn’t see any way to preserve everyone’s rights, so they left that problem for another day.

    Which is a total cop out.

    Rights are in conflict everywhere we look, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have laws that favor some rights over others. Look at our tax code! Heck, that’s what our judicial system is for; to resolve these kinds of conflicts. The GPL is a friggin license, not a policy statement. They could put whatever they wanted in there. If Eben’s fears loom as large as he says they do, he should have acted upon them using the single biggest tool he had at his disposal, but no, he chose not to. Rather, he chose to ambush Tim O’Reilly.


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