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"Free Software Definition" says that that a piece of software can be classified as free if it meets The Four Freedoms. The first of these is:

The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).

While most of the real licences classified as free software licences contain some limitations, f.e. the MIT licence requires this:

...The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software....

What if we wrote a piece of software that breaks this licence? For example, we could write a spamming app that distributes itself without including the copyright notice. This would break the licence. So the MIT Licence, and any other licence that provides some bounds and limitations can be disclassified as free software licence by breaking the freedom 0, thus not allowing the program to be run in order to break those bounds.

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Freedom 0 applies to running the software: you can run it for any purpose, in any way you want. The limitations you mention in free software licenses apply when you modify and/or redistribute the software, not when you run it.

The GPL makes this even more explicit; in section 9 of version 3:

You are not required to accept this License in order to receive or run a copy of the Program.

  • Well the GPL Licence solves the problem perfectly. But MIT licence still seems to break it in my example. Let's say the software distributes itself (like it sends it's copies to random people across via emails). In that case running the software means distributing it - because it is what the software does, it distributes itself. – Łukasz Kowalewski Oct 12 '16 at 13:37
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    An MIT-licensed virus ;-). The licensing would still be OK in that case though, unless the software modified itself to violate its own license (by removing the notices) before sending itself — but then the software itself would be violating the license (or rather, whoever wrote that behaviour in the software), not the user. – Stephen Kitt Oct 12 '16 at 13:41

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