The HESSLA's Problems

The Hacktivismo Enhanced-Source Software License Agreement (HESSLA) is a software source license that tries to put restrictions of ethical conduct on use and modification of the software. Because it restricts what jobs people can use the software for, and restricts in substantive ways what jobs modified versions of the program can do, it is not a free software license. The ironic result is that the community of people most likely to feel sympathy for the goals of the HESSLA cannot contribute to HESSLA-covered software without violating its principles.

The restrictions in the HESSLA prohibit specific activities that are inexcusable: violations of human rights, and introduction of features that spy on the user. People might ask why we do not declare an exception for these particular restrictions—why do we stick to the general policy of rejecting all restrictions on use and on the functionality of modified versions?

If we were ever going to make an exception to our principles of free software, here would be the place to do it. But it would be a mistake to do so: it would do harm to the free software movement and would achieve nothing. Trying to stop those particular activities with a software license is either unnecessary or ineffective.

In regard to modified versions, the HESSLA's restrictions are unnecessary. The GNU GPL is, in general, sufficient protection against privacy-violating features, because it ensures that someone can get the source code, find the spyware feature, and publish an improved version of the software which does not have the feature. Users can then switch to that version if they don't want their personal information to be reported.

As for restricting the use of the software by governments that violate human rights, this is likely to be ineffective. There are many other programs they can use. Also, at least under US law, a copyright-based source license can't restrict use of the program; such a restriction is not enforcible anyway. Meanwhile, they can simply decide they are exempt from the restrictions.