Letters to the Editor
First Monday

Letters to the Editor

Date: Sat, 04 Dec 1999 12:01:15 -0700
From: Benjamin C. W. Sittler
To: Hillary.Bays@ehess.fr, mjfm@hplb.hpl.hp.com, ejv@uic.edu
Subject: Response to 'Cookies, Gift-Giving, and the Internet'

Hillary Bays, Miranda Mowbray, and the editors of First Monday:

These comments are in reference to 'Cookies, Gift-Giving, and the Internet', online at:


I very much enjoyed your discussion of cookies and the Internet gift economy.

However, there was one point of confusion: the article seems to confuse "shareware" with "copyleft free software". These two types of software are well-established and quite different. They were fully defined and differentiated by the time I started using computers in the mid-eighties, and have grown only more different as time has passed.

While this point is in no way central to your argument, the article could be made more effective by eliminating this confusion.

In your article, you write:

GNU emacs

Perhaps the most famous item of shareware is the GNU emacs text editing program. This is available as part of the Linux operating system, or can be downloaded separately. When you download the files for GNU emacs, as well as the text editor you get a cookie recipe.


Shareware is the Internet gift economy for software. Shareware software is produced by volunteers and made available to all for free.

This statement, as it stands, is inaccurate. Shareware is a commercial, 'try-before-you-buy' software distribution method, and is not produced by volunteers. Furthermore, neither Linux nor Emacs are shareware; they are both "copyleft free software".

Shareware is distributed under the understanding that users will like the software, and decide to pay for it. Many shareware software packages have missing features ("crippleware") or additional functionality that can only be enabled after paying the distributor for a registration key. Shareware isn't really a "gift" except in the sense that it gives the consumer the option to help out the distributor by passing on copies to other consumers. Here is the commonly-accepted definition of shareware, quoted from version 3.0 of the Jargon file, available online at:


and many other places.


/sheir'weir/ n. Freeware (sense 1) for which the author requests some payment, usually in the accompanying documentation files or in an announcement made by the software itself. Such payment may or may not buy additional support or functionality. See also careware, charityware, crippleware, guiltware, postcardware, and -ware; compare payware.

For reference, here is the Jargon file's definition of freeware:


n. Free software, often written by enthusiasts and distributed by users' groups, or via electronic mail, local bulletin boards, USENET, or other electronic media. At one time, 'freeware' was a trademark of Andrew Fluegelman, the author of the well-known MS-DOS comm program PC-TALK III. It wasn't enforced after his mysterious disappearance and presumed death in 1984. See shareware.

Linux and Emacs are both "copyleft free software" (often referred to as simply "free software") in the GNU sense, since both are covered by the GNU General Public License (version 2) (the "GPL2",) available from:


And many other places. Here is a brief excerpt which summarizes the difference quite well:

The licenses for most software are designed to take away your freedom to share and change it. By contrast, the GNU General Public License is intended to guarantee your freedom to share and change free software -- to make sure the software is free for all its users.

The term "copyleft" refers to the way in which software covered by the GPL2 is protected from attempts to restrict the freedoms of its users. A quote from "What is Copyleft?", available online at:


summarizes this quite well.

In the GNU project, our aim is to give all users the freedom to redistribute and change GNU software. If middlemen could strip off the freedom, we might have many users, but those users would not have freedom. So instead of putting GNU software in the public domain, we "copyleft" it. Copyleft says that anyone who redistributes the software, with or without changes, must pass along the freedom to further copy and change it. Copyleft guarantees that every user has freedom.

Copyleft also provides an incentive for other programmers to add to free software. Important free programs such as the GNU C++ compiler exist only because of this.

In summary, your article was very good, but the confusion over "shareware" and "copyleft free software" needs to be cleared up before the confusion is spread any further.

Yours in unfortunate pedantry,
Benjamin C. W. Sittler

P.S. I am a developer of copyleft free software, and I enjoy cookies, at least in the biscuit sense.

Date: Fri, 10 Dec 1999 22:22:29 GMT
From: Miranda Mowbray
To: Hillary.Bays@ehess.fr, bsittler@iname.com, ejv@uic.edu
Subject: Re: Response to "Cookies, Gift-Giving, and the Internet"

Hello Benjamin Sittler, (and hello there Ed and Hillary),

Sorry I didn't reply sooner, but I've been on holiday away from my e-mail.

You wrote:

...the article seems to confuse "shareware" with "copyleft free software".

You're right. We should have said copyleft free software, not shareware. Thank you for the correction, and I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

If you visit Bristol, let me know and I'll give you a cookie.


Miranda Mowbray

From: James Nimmo
To: cisler@pobox.com
Sent: Friday, December 10, 1999 3:22 AM


I have just read your article for First Mondayand I found it very informative. Here in Oklahoma City such reporting is non-existent as we have the Daily Joke-lahoman (Oklahoman)for a newspaper (found by the Columbia Journalism Reviewto be the worst newspaper in the U.S.). I have found the Internet to be an excellent main news source and glad to have learned of First Monday.


James Nimmo

"The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance."
- Socrates, 469-399 BC


From: Colette Ormonde
To: cisler@pobox.com
Subject: Turtles in Seattle
Date: Wed, Dec 15, 1999, 2:48 PM

Dear Steve,

Thanks very much for your article on the WTO conference last month. I particularly appreciate your comments on the weak consultative process and your listing of relevant website addresses. Like other library associations, we are examining the implications for our libraries and the lack of information available to us so far about our government's position on the scope of "services" to be discussed at the next WTO meeting. Your article also drew my attention to First Monday, a very stimulating information source.


Colette Ormonde
Research Officer, Australian Library and Information Association

Contents Index

Copyright ©2000, First Monday

Letters to the Editor by Benjamin C. W. Sittler, Miranda Mowbray, James Nimmo and Colette Ormonde
First Monday, volume 5, number 1 (January 2000),
URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue5_1/letters/index.html

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