Viral Code and Vaccination
by Robert J. Chassell
When others hurt me, I try to defend myself. But some tell me that
this makes them sick. They tell me that I should permit people to rob
me of my work. They tell me that I should never try to defend
They tell me that I should stop using the GNU General Public
License, a license that vaccinates me against hurt. Instead, I should
adopt a license that permits other people to rob me with impunity.
They want me to adopt a license that forbids me from fighting back.
They want me to give up my right to benefit from a derivative of my
own work, a right I possess under current copyright law.
Of course, the language is a little less feverish than this.
Usually, I myself am not called “infectious”. Rather, the
legal defense that I use is called “infectious”. The
license I choose is called “viral”.
In every day language, words such as “infect” and
“virus” describe disease. The rhetoric is metaphorical.
A legal tool is not a disease organism; but it is popular to think of
the law as an illness, so the metaphor has impact.
The people who want to rob me use language that says I make them
sick when I stop them from robbing me. They do not want to draw
attention to the so-called “disease” that makes them ill:
my health and my rights, and the health and rights of other people.
Instead, they choose metaphor to twist people's thinking. They do not
want anyone to think that I am a good citizen for stopping crime.
They want the metaphor to fool others into thinking that I am a
The GNU General Public License protects me. The connotation of
“virus” and “infect” is that my choice of
defense gives an illness to those who want to rob me. I want freedom
from their robbery; but they want the power to hurt me. They get sick
when they cannot hurt me.
To use another health and illness-related metaphor, the GNU General
Public License vaccinates me; it protects me from theft.
Note that the theft about which I am talking is entirely legal in
some situations: if you license your work under a modified BSD
license, or a similar license, then others may legally take your work,
make fixes or improvements to it, and forbid you from using that
code. I personally dislike this arrangement, but it exists.