Some Confusing or Loaded Words and Phrases that are Worth Avoiding

There are a number of words and phrases which we recommend avoiding, either because they are ambiguous or because they imply an opinion that we hope you may not entirely agree with.

Other texts to read | ``For free'' | ``Give away software'' | ``Piracy'' | ``Protection'' | ``Sell software'' | Other texts to read

Also note Categories of Free Software.

``For free''

If you want to say that a program is free software, please don't say that it is available for free,'' That term specifically means``for zero price.'' Free software is a matter of freedom, not price.

Free software is often available for free--for example, on many FTP servers. But free software copies are also available for a price on CD-ROMs, and proprietary software copies may occasionally be available for free.

``Give away software''

It's misleading to use the term ``give away'' to mean ``distribute a program as free software.'' It has the same problem as ``for free'': it implies the issue is price, not freedom.

``Piracy''

Publishers often refer to prohibited copying as ``piracy.'' In this way, they imply that illegal copying is ethically equivalent to attacking ships on the high seas, kidnaping and murdering the people on them.

If you don't believe that illegal copying is just like kidnaping and murder, you might prefer not to use the word ``piracy'' to describe it. Neutral terms such as ``prohibited copying'' or ``illegal copying'' are available for use instead. Some of us might even prefer to use a positive term such as ``sharing information with your neighbor.''

``Protection''

Publishers' lawyers love to use the term ``protection'' to describe copyright. This word carries the implication of preventing destruction or suffering; therefore, it encourages people to identify with the owner and publisher who benefit from copyright, rather than with the users who are restricted by it.

It is easy to avoid ``protection'' and use neutral terms instead. For example, instead of ``Copyright protection lasts a very long time,'' you can say, ``Copyright lasts a very long time.''

``Sell software''

The term ``sell software'' is ambiguous. Strictly speaking, exchanging a copy of a free program for a sum of money is ``selling''; but people usually associate the term ``sell'' with proprietary restrictions on the subsequent use of the software. You can be more precise, and prevent confusion, by saying either ``distributing copies of a program for a fee'' or ``imposing proprietary restrictions on the use of a program,'' depending on what you mean.

See Selling Free Software for more discussion of this issue.


Other texts to read:


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Updated: 20 Mar 1997 rms