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GNU is Not Unix

Freedom or Power Redux 309

Posted by michael
from the round-and-round-we-go dept.
Warhammer writes: "In his web log today Tim O'Reilly responded to Stallman and Kuhn's essay, Freedom or Power (previous Slashdot article). I think he has some great points about not getting caught up in who has more of a right to freedom. Instead he says we should concentrate on a compromise that benefits everyone, developer and user alike."

Ed. note - a brief response to Tim. A) my name isn't Timothy. (I know, I know, we all look alike. :) And B) I was trying to say pretty much what O'Reilly is saying - that all licensing, including the GPL, is an expression of power over what other people can do with the software. Hence the term "all licensing". If there were no copyright whatsoever on computer code, no intellectual property considerations at all, perhaps we could approach the state of true freedom. In the meantime, the GPL is a good way to place code firmly into a state where it is mostly free - you are free to do anything with GPL code except take it out of its free state. As far as restrictions go, this one is infinitely more palatable than most of the powers that software licensing seeks to exercise over software users.

As a more general point, I take issue with O'Reilly's description of copyright law as a compromise between creators and users. There's absolutely no evidence that the rights of users are considered when copyright laws are made. All copyright law changes made in my lifetime, nearly all copyright law changes ever, have been expansions of copyright law - if it's a compromise, it's an extraordinarily one-sided one. (I suppose you could a describe a mugging as a compromise between the mugger and the little old lady over rights to her purse.) Copyright law is more accurately described as a compromise between copyright holders and copyright holders. Other descriptions are both inaccurate and do a disservice to efforts to reform the laws.

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Freedom or Power Redux

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  • In the Free Software world, we are all forced to make hard decisions. One of the most difficult is deciding which license to use. And I applaud these two men to even consider broaching the topic in such a public way.

    Unfortunately, the two viewpoints are irreconcilable. One values the rights of the individual over the needs of the Free Software world, and one values the needs of the Free Software world over the rights of the individual. RMS promises that everyone will have the right to see the code they're running, and that right will be enforced by a society who accepts the GPL. O'Reilley promises that everyone will have the right of self-determination as an author, as long as the GPL is not mainstream. The problem here is that the realization of both visions is mutually exclusive.

    So, to these men, I say: drop it. Let the chips fall where they may. Let the people decide which license should govern them. It's nothing short of a vi vs. emacs or Christianity vs. Islam battle, and neither side stands a chance at winning. Let the users decide.

    ~wally
    • Why should they drop it? A lively debate is healthy and helps to focus the views on both sides. People with opposing views should try to promote their views. This sort of debate allows new developers and users to become informed on licensing issues, so that they make intelligent decisions about where their views lie on licensing issues.
      • by ichimunki (194887) on Tuesday November 27, 2001 @02:45PM (#2620588)
        They might at least consider arguing something a little farther back on each of their logic chains then, since bickering over licensing is silly. They are both sides starting from completely different assumptions and have done nothing to reconcile those assumptions before racing off to debate the merits of their conclusions.

        Here is a symbolized version of this debate and why it is pointless. Tim says: x=1, y=2, therefore x+y = 3. FSF says: x=5, y=5, therefore x+y = 10. Instead of discussing the original assumptions about the values of x and y, this debate is over the value of x+y where each side has chosen its own values for x and y.

        Tim says in this log: "My goal is to see as much good software created as possible."

        RMS/FSF says: "You deserve to be able to cooperate openly and freely with other people who use software. You deserve to be able to learn how the software works, and to teach your students with it. You deserve to be able to hire your favorite programmer to fix it when it breaks." Note: they do not say "Software deserves to be good no matter what."

        These assumptions may spring a priori from the moral and aesthetic convictions held by each side in this debate, but until they agree on assumptions, arguing the consequents is fruitless.
    • values the needs of the Free Software world over the rights of the individual

      That's an interesting perspective, but it's wrong. What is this "Free Software world" you're talking about?

      The goal of the FSF is very much to increase individual rights, by calling into question the validity of a system that allows a few individuals to limit the rights of many individuals.

      Sometimes, instead of saying 'many individuals', one might say 'society'. From this, the word association football rampant in this forum jumps to 'socialism', and from there to 'RMS is a communist'. This doesn't even make a lick of sense. Remember, it's the beneficiaries of copyright and patent law who are asking for state-sponsored support, not the other way around.
      • The goal of the FSF is very much to increase individual rights, by calling into question the validity of a system that allows a few individuals to limit the rights of many individuals.

        So why do you support capitalism again? Or do you?

        And before I get modded down as a troll (whoopty), I do mean this as a serious question. You are using the same rhetoric that communists have used against capitalism since communism was born.

        As far as it goes, anything short of a fully participatory democracy is a case of a few individuals limiting the rights of many individuals (because, despite the ideal of my representative being beholden to me the constituent, s/he isn't really). So why are you wasting your time in the small backwater of software development and licensing, when you could be out advocating revolution to TRULY free us all?

        • by thenerd (3254) on Tuesday November 27, 2001 @02:49PM (#2620614) Homepage
          From the parent of the parent of this:

          The goal of the FSF is very much to increase individual rights, by calling into question the validity of a system that allows a few individuals to limit the rights of many individuals.

          And from the above poster:

          You are using the same rhetoric that communists have used against capitalism since communism was born.

          Surely the staunch republicans of the USA would say that a reduction in government and a promotion of individualism is exactly the same goal as the FSF in this respect, namely the promotion of the individual over that of some limited set that govern.

          This communist-capitalist debate strikes me as being rather meaningless because each camp claims the other is some extreme - the Rand followers would say 'the FSF is communism, we should be allowed to do whatever we want as individuals', and the FSF followers would reply 'the FSF is republicanism because we are promoting the needs of everyone against some governing body [meaning large monopolistic software corporations that reduce freedom]'.

          The truth is, Richard Stallman doesn't want to be hindered by not being able to fix his programs when they go wrong, and he hates it. He hates it so much that he doesn't want anyone else to have this problem. This is not the same goal as no license, which is the maximum freedom possible. Stallman doesn't want true freedom, because true freedom could take away from his goal of ALWAYS being able to get inside and sort a program out if he wanted to do something that wasn't anticipated by the developers. True freedom on the part of the software company permits one to reduce people's freedom with regard to WHAT THEY HAVE DONE. This may be morally wrong to some people, because they don't have freedom with the creations of others. This is what Stallman wants.

          Bit of a ramble.

          thenerd.

          thenerd.
        • So why do you support capitalism again? Or do you?

          I should start by saying I don't (or shouldn't ;) speak for the FSF, but anyway...

          In a few short posts, we've created a conversation that encompasses democracy, socialism, communism, capitalism, and copyright and patent law. I'm not going to even attempt to tie all of this together.

          But to answer your question: personally, I don't see any contradiction between the goals of the FSF and those of the free market. Do you? Copyright and patent protections might benefit a particular manefestation of a market for software, but I really can't see that's it's the only way, or the best way, to promote either social progress, or progress in the art of writing good software.

          In a different slashdot discussion, someone made a comparison between math theorems and software. I don't know that there are any mathematicians hawking theorems for cash, but they seem to be produced in great quantity nonetheless. Like math theorems, if we are to make any progress in the field of software, we must build on the work of others. It seems to me that a system that values financial reward above all else can only get so far. In a system where everyone hoards their knowledge, everyone must always be reinventing the wheel.

          People may not get paid for selling math theorems directly, but they can be compensated in other ways. Tenure comes to mind. Likewise, there are reasons people write software other than because they want to be in the business of selling it directly to consumers for profit. Donald Becker is a salaried employee of NASA and wants to network his Linux PC's so he writes NIC drivers. And shares them. I'm sure NASA is delighted to have such a resource at their disposal. How many copies of the linux kernel has Linus sold now?...

          In short, we don't need our government to create an artificial shortage of programming knowledge in order to advance the market for good software.
          • I think the goals are noble, but the means you (and the FSF) argue in favor of are untenable, unacceptable, and won't work even if you succeed in implementing them. I would say the same thing about communism, which sounded wonderful in theory but doesn't work worth a damn in any practice I've seen outside of slightly larger than family groupings.

            The fact remains that things I've created are the things I've created, and I can give them away or sell them under whatever terms I like. And if I don't like the terms of the GPL, but it's all that's available, I won't release them. How does that benefit anyone?

            The comparison to theorems in math is specious. It might have been nice if things had turned out that software was treated like theorems, but the fact is that's not the world we live in. You can't change that by decreeing it to be so, and attempts in spite of that will fail.


          • In a few short posts, we've created a conversation that encompasses democracy, socialism, communism, capitalism, and copyright and patent law. I'm not going to even attempt to tie all of this together.

            It's ok, I will.

            Democracy is a pipe dream, just like communism and socialism. Communism is an ideal where all goods and services produced in an economy are communal, or shared; democracy intends to share the responsibility of governing a nation but most people just don't want it or are too stupid to be trusted with it. Socialism is more of a philosophy of the government taking care of its people and due to far-right rhetoric in the USA, has become synonymous with communism in our vernacular and doesn't apply here.

            Capitalism begets copyright and patent law, to ensure that ideas are worth as much as finished product. In a communist state, nobody's work would need any protection because all work is for everyone, not just the guy that made it.

            Limiting the duration of copyrights for software is a wise move. The ideas in a book or piece of music are worth something 40 years later - software isn't.


            In a different slashdot discussion, someone made a comparison between math theorems and software.

            That was me, hello there. I've got no problem with people wanting to give their work away. I've got a problem with people being FORCED to give their work away, which is what the GPL says - if one piece of this software is touched by the GPL, it's all touched by the GPL and must be free. It's like the brown acid of licenses, you take it once and you're screwed.
            • which is what the GPL says - if one piece of this software is touched by the GPL, it's all touched by the GPL and must be free. It's like the brown acid of licenses, you take it once and you're screwed.

              If you don't want to abide by the license terms, don't use the software. Maybe you could get one of the Libertarians to sell you an alternative. Heck, they might even donate a copy to you if they're in a good mood that day.

            • I've got no problem with people wanting to give their work away. I've got a problem with people being FORCED to give their work away, which is what the GPL says

              No, the GPL says nothing about what you might charge for your work. It simply abridges a developer's right to dictate the terms of use.
              • Ever noticed this? The GPL is hypocritical in terms because RMS doesn't want to give up HIS right for his code to be free! That asshole should be prepared to lose a little bit of his rights if he wants us all to give up ours, but academia doesn't do well in applying the same standards to itself.

                Now, realistically speaking, after a few years only the most rabid control freaks continue to care about how their old code is used, so it's really all a moot point anyway except in the short term (1-5 years). Who wants 5 year old code bad enough to infringe a copyright to use it? By then whatever technique it used that makes it so special is probably common knowledge; if it's a device driver then better hardware probably exists. In the rare cases where the 5 year old code is the best solution, then why would the programmer/corp care? 5 years is the lifetime of 3 product lines in the tech business.

                Thus, I think this whole thing is just a colossal waste of energy. Either give it away or don't, and stop trying to nitpick the world to pieces, life's too short for that shit.
        • Off topic
          To supplement this line: a democracy is not about following the wishes of the majority, but about compromising in favour of a majority while protecting the rights of all minorities.

          This is the thin dividing line between democracy and (political) communism.

      • (Shoulda read the whole thing once before responding to pieces, there you go).

        Remember, it's the beneficiaries of copyright and patent law who are asking for state-sponsored support

        And while the current law, thanks to a corrupt congress, equates "beneficiaries of copyright law" with "corporate interests", the fact is that EVERY INDIVIDUAL is intended to be a potential benficiary of copyright law. If you are a creator of potentially copyrighted material, you are one of these benficiaries.

        Again the comparison to capitalism vs. communism--each of us is a potential entrepeneur (which of course I can't spell off the cuff). At which point the protections of business are suddenly the protections of the individual too.

        Certainly there are avenues for abuse, and the way our system lets money unduly influence it today is a really big problem. But the solution isn't to ban money, nor to take all protections (including the reasonable ones) away from business. It's to fix the system so money can't be the corrupting influence.

        To mandate GPL as the only valid license would take away my individual rights as an author of software. And this is exactly the same place that communism has largely failed in any major attempt to implement it--attempts to dictate the good of the many at the expense of the few are doomed to failure on the rocks of human nature. You cannot legislate or impose by any power (including the power to force me to use GPL for my work) individual good behavior before the fact.

      • Please check if you are using any software to which I have contributed (my time and effort, at no charge). If you are doing so, I would appreciate you coming over to do some of my gardening some time.

        You see, I'm not so hot on the getting down and dirty side of life, but I'm a decent hand at coding. Either of which represents an amount of time and effort.

        So if I choose to code up something (using my time and effort) and give it away at no charge, I won't appreciate being told under what rights I have to give it away.

        In the same way as you doing your gardening (using your time and effort) should in no way imply that you have a requirement to do my gardening, just because you did your's for free.

        What I'm trying to say is: I have rights over my creations. I have the right to make it closed source and sell it. I have the right to destroy it and never let anyone know about it. I have the right to make it freely available to anyone, for any purpose. And I have the right to put it under the GPL.

        And unless I give someone the right, they have no right to tell me what to do with my property. Whether you consider IP property or not is actually irrelevent - my creation is the product of my time and effort.

        So if you don't like my right (when applied to my "property") to restrict your rights ... then kindly remember that you don't have the right to restrict my rights when your capabilities are concerned.

        See you in the garden on Saturday ...

    • I have trouble believing that with choosing a license is excercising power. I suppose it is, but its excercising power over your own creation. Anyone else that uses it is recieving it as a gift. The programmer did not HAVE to release it at all. He is giving rights to someone else. giving them even more power. The programmer is giving the user the power to use what software, by giving him the option of XYZ app, giving him the power to change or modify (if the programmer chose to), giving them the power on how much they can redistribute it. I use the word power here because it is a power granted by the programmer, it is not an automatic right for the end user to be able to use that programmers hardwork.
    • Walter Bell writes:

      O'Reilley : RMS :: Libertarianism : Socialism

      O'Reilley supports the rule of copyright law over software. This is not libertarianism. RMS argues against copyright law covering software [gnu.org], this is a much more libertarian viewpoint than O'Reilly's. Socialism recommends government ownership and control of key means of production. This has nothing to do with what RMS is arguing for.

      I would redo the analogy as
      O'Reilly : RMS :: Regulated Captialism : Laissez-faire Captialism or
      O'Reilly : RMS :: Status Quo : Libertarian

      Unfortunately, the two viewpoints are irreconcilable. One values the rights of the individual over the needs of the Free Software world, and one values the needs of the Free Software world over the rights of the individual.

      Not quite right. Both of them feel they have the best interests of the Free Software world in mind.

      The irreconcileable difference in viewpoints is simple:
      * Tim O'Reilly values the rights of the developer over the rights of the user.
      * RMS values the rights of the user over the rights of the developer.

      I, as a developer, feel that RMS's viewpoint is the healthier one in the long run. Many developers understandably disagree. What baffles me is how many non-developers seem to prefer the rights of developers over the rights of users.

      So, to these men, I say: drop it. Let the chips fall where they may.

      It is unlikely that either will drop it. RMS advocates Free Software both as a living and as an ethical calling. Tim O'Reilly has fears for his personal livelihood and those of the people whose books he publishes.
      • Socialism does NOT recommend Governmrnt control over means of production. It reccomends that each individual has as much right to means of produciton, and goods produced, as every other individual. Govenmental contorl is merely a means to that end, and is a historiclly demonstratable bad one. Ina true socialist society, there would be no need for government to have any control over the economy whatsoever, including taxation.

      • O'Reilley supports the rule of copyright law over software. This is not libertarianism.

        What? Most Libertarians quite firmly believe that it is appropriate to exercise property rights over one's intellectual output, and that people are free to contract their rights away to others in any way they choose, which necessarily (assuming the precept that intellectual property is property) includes things like software licensing.

        If you don't think Libertarians believe in IP rights, you need to spend a little more time reading [lp.org] about the things they believe.

        You'll note that everything on the web page is copyrighted, not copylefted.

        The Libertarian Party doesn't have an official position on the GPL, but I can assure you that if they did, it wouldn't be in favor of mandating it's use.
      • O'Reilley supports the rule of copyright law over software. This is not libertarianism.

        Actually, Mr. O'Reilley's position is very compatible with libertarianism.

        The libertarian view is that people are free to make whatever contracts they choose; Mr. O'Reilley is in favor of software developers using whatever license they choose.

        RMS argues against copyright law covering software, this is a much more libertarian viewpoint than O'Reilly's.

        First of all, you are wrong: RMS likes copyright law covering software. He hates the BSD license, or public domain software, or any other license that does not prevent someone from taking source code private again. He has decided that the GPL is the only acceptable license, and GPL depends in turn upon copyright. If there were no copyright, then effectively all software would be public domain, and nothing would stop anyone from making a few tweaks and releasing a product while keeping the source code a secret.

        Also, RMS has stated publicly that he is not in favor of letting a software developer choose which license to use; use of the GPL should be mandated. This is far from a libertarian position!

        RMS isn't opposed to developers being paid, but he wants to take away their ability to maximize their earnings with an appropriate choice of licenses. He once seriously suggested that government should collect a tax, and use the tax revenue to pay developers, to compensate developers for being forced to write only GPL code. This tax idea is a very socialist idea.


        * Tim O'Reilly values the rights of the developer over the rights of the user.
        * RMS values the rights of the user over the rights of the developer.


        Almost correct. Mr. O'Reilly doesn't want to take away any rights from the developer. RMS has framed the terms of the debate as developer vs. user, but it really isn't that simple. More rights for the developer do not mean less rights for the user. The developer and the user aren't enemies!

        Users have a large body of software to choose from. Some is free software, some is open-source, some is shared source, some is proprietary. People should be free to choose whatever software they like. Note that GPL software is doing very well, competing against proprietary software. We don't need centralized government control of software, and I for one don't want it.

        I, as a developer, feel that RMS's viewpoint is the healthier one in the long run.

        I, as a developer and as a libertarian, feel that RMS's desire for control over developers is not healthy. It's one thing to promote free software. I am all in favor of Linux continuing under the same license it has now, for example, and I would rather use Linux than a non-free OS. But I am not willing to use government to force all software to be released under the GPL.

        RMS has said that the developer's ability to choose any license he or she wishes is actually an exercise of power over the users. This is a bizarre concept of power, and it is not a libertarian idea.

        steveha
    • Actually, you're wrong. The basis of property is scarcity. Libertarianism requires that governments not intervene in the marketplace, so that free actors may engage in legitimate contracts with each other.

      "Intellectual property" is a government granted monopoly. It's not compatible with the libertarian edict that that government which governs least, governs best. Property is defined by scarcity. Information itself is not scarce, it is the ability to create information that is scarce. Hence, in a truly free market, information would cost nearly nothing but the scarce commodity, the ability to create useful software, would be highly prized and sought after, and coders would refuse to deliver the goods unless they were paid in advance. But this is not a free market, and corporations (immortal, non-human, property-holding entities) can own information and keep humans from using it to make society better, or profit, or whatever.

      Socialists would want to allow for communal ownership of everything. That means you can't sell information. That's not what the GPL says- it just says you can't sell it exclusively, just like you can't sell sunlight exclusively. The GPL is most definitely a libertarian document. The GPL attempts to correct the Government interference into the marketplace represented by copyright and patent law by accepting copyright and refusing the freedom-reducing priveleges that go along with a government granted monopoly.

      In a free market, all this would be unnecessary.

      For extra credit, what inefficiencies are introduced into a market when the free flow of information is hindered?

      Bryguy
      • Property is defined by scarcity. Information itself is not scarce, it is the ability to create information that is scarce. Hence, in a truly free market, information would cost nearly nothing but the scarce commodity, the ability to create useful software, would be highly prized and sought after, and coders would refuse to deliver the goods unless they were paid in advance

        Just to elaborate on your thoughtful words with a bit of incoherent rambling...

        Interesting to note that RMS is careful to mention that he is speaking about software, not books, not music, etc. As a programmer, of course, I'm sure software freedom has more direct personal relevance to him. It's also an issue he can speak to with the confidence of someone who's "been there", so to speak.

        Perhaps there is a real qualitative difference between software and music that warrants maintaining a distinction, however. Just to take a stab at it ... bits and pieces of software can be readily combined, for example. A pinch of LDAP and a dash of TLS. What is the economic benefit of umpteen people all implementing a proprietary IP stack from scratch? How much time and effort needs to be wasted trying to keep up with Microsoft's ever-changing file formats and protocols?

        Of course the same might be said of music (when is a sample more than a sample?), and to a lesser degree, literature. In literature, we have the practice of using other people's words, but in quotes, and giving attribution. I don't know that I feel as comfortable saying that "all music should be free" as I do saying "all software should be free", though. Kind of hard to put my finger on it. I just really haven't given it the same amount of thought.
    • So, to these men, I say: drop it. Let the chips fall where they may. Let the people decide which license should govern them. It's nothing short of a vi vs. emacs or Christianity vs. Islam battle, and neither side stands a chance at winning. Let the users decide.

      I believe letting the users decide is exactly what Tim O'Reilly is advocating. RMS does not believe that licenses other than GPL (and maybe a choice few others, but I'm not sure) are right. He does not believe you or I or anyone should have the right, or power as he puts it, to choose how to license our software.
  • by seebs (15766) on Tuesday November 27, 2001 @01:55PM (#2620314) Homepage
    Please, post comments. Don't use your position as the guy writing the story to give your comments an automatic permanent "+5, sysop".

    Copyright is a brilliant compromise. It encourages people to make things available that they wouldn't otherwise, knowing that they still have some control over these things. Now, I grant freely that the huge extension of copyright duration works solidly against users - but other aspects of the law have done a very good job of balancing these things, such as the fair use rules.

    In the absence of copyright, how exactly do you think games would get written? How would John Carmack earn a living?
    • In the absence of copyright, how exactly do you think games would get written?

      We're only talking about copyright for computer programming code here. Most games have significant non-code parts, i.e. artwork and so on. Games like Myst (to use an extreme example) would barely notice if their code was no longer copyrighted, as all the copyrighted artwork would still be there.

      How would John Carmack earn a living?

      Now, that's a valid point. Carmack's games are an exception to the rule above. However, I've thought of this too. Read my argument here. [slashdot.org]

      • I still say copyright makes sense, it's the long durations that are screwed up. Code could have MUCH shorter copyright periods than books. :)

        I don't like patents for games at all; that would prevent clones, and clones are how that industry stays strong and vibrant. If Quake could get a patent on a crucial piece of the engine, there'd be no Half-life or Unreal.

        Finally, I object very strongly to the idea that some kinds of creative work should be unable to get the same protections as others. Programming is creative work, which, once done, is physically easy to reproduce the results of; we should protect it the same way we protect writing and music.

        • I don't like patents for games at all; that would prevent clones, and clones are how that industry stays strong and vibrant. If Quake could get a patent on a crucial piece of the engine, there'd be no Half-life or Unreal.

          Wrong. Half-Life's engine is a licensed and modified Quake II engine. Unreal's engine is a built-from-scratch engine. Licensing the engine makes patent infringement a moot point; building your own engine doesn't do anything that Id could patent in the first place.
          • You seem to have missed why we are worried about software patents in the first place.

            Patents 101 -- A patent covers an idea, in any implementation. Take for example Amazon's 'one-click' patent -- B&N could write their ecommerce software any way they wanted to, but simply implementing it to support one-click confirmation places them in violation of Amazon's patent. Remember that -- concept, not code, is what is protected by patents. Actual code is what is protected by copyrights.

            So to bring this back to the Quake/Half-Life/Unreal example, if id gained a patent on, say, 3d game architectures, then Unreal would run afoul of that patent -- even though they used no id code.

            See the problem??

            • Patents don't protect ideas. No intellectual property can be held in a simple idea. Patents do, however, come the closest.

              Patents protect implementations of ideas. There are several kinds of patents; the ones that apply most commonly in computer software are patents on techniques, where the patented invention usually consists of a series of steps that the user has to take in order to perform the actions.

              Also, let's be clear about what happens in the world of patents that engineers live in. If id gained a patent on, for example, true 3D game architectures (unlikely but possible, given their achievements in the past), and Unreal managed to develop an advance that was really important in the 3D world, they could patent the advance - without consent from id, and even without a license for the underlying patent of id's. id would then be forced to negotiate with Unreal, or be blocked from using the technique that Unreal developed.

              You appear to overly obsess with code. I think algorithms are way more important. Monkeys can make code once the algorithm is worked out; perhaps this is where we disagree, and if so, prolly this argument is over. :)

              • Your conception of patents does not reflect their current use. If Unreal patented their advance, they would still be in violation of id's hypothetical patents. In this case, the two companies would cross-license their patents, which the large companies do on a regular basis, which doesn't help the little guy. I find this telling -- the same huge companies which demand absurd patent protection actually cross-license to make the patent minefield just 'go away'.
                You appear to overly obsess with code. I think algorithms are way more important. Monkeys can make code once the algorithm is worked out; perhaps this is where we disagree, and if so, prolly this argument is over.
                This line is just wierd. What's the difference between algorithms and code? It's just translation between mathematics notation (algorithms) to von Neumann machine instructions (imperative code). In some functional languages, the algorithm is the code.
                • Your conception of patents does not reflect their current use. If Unreal patented their advance, they would still be in violation of id's hypothetical patents. In this case, the two companies would cross-license their patents, which the large companies do on a regular basis, which doesn't help the little guy.

                  This is a problem of intellectual property law in general. We've all seen how copyright law gets manipulated to serve the interests of large corporations, patent law's no different. However, while I acknowledge this problem with both structures, I also think that the real problem is more of a structural problem with the legal system: the little guy can't get effective legal help.

                  What's the difference between algorithms and code?

                  As you point out, in the real world, none (or very little). In the copyright world, however, the main type of copyrighted code that's commercially available is binary executables. It's the binary executables that I'm against copyright protection for; I think that if a corporation decides to release its computer programs in binary form alone, it should be forced to seek patent protection for its programs. Releasing programs in binary form alone allows the copyright holder to claim intellectual property protection without making any reasonable disclosure of the article. This hits at the foundation of intellectual property; every other form of intellectual property requires some kind of reasonable disclosure in order to get protection. Why are binary programs different?

                  • This is a problem of intellectual property law in general. We've all seen how copyright law gets manipulated to serve the interests of large corporations, patent law's no different. However, while I acknowledge this problem with both structures, I also think that the real problem is more of a structural problem with the legal system: the little guy can't get effective legal help.
                    We agree in intent but differ in methods. I think it is more substantially an error in the patent law system -- it is overly broad to the point of making everyone a criminal. In such an environment there is no sound judgement and lawyers can, and must, dictate law rather than fair and sound rulings by informed judges. I'd like to fix that first, as deep changes to the legal system will take longer; besides which the two changes are not exclusive.
                    • Okay. A couple things.

                      One: Patent law makes nobody a criminal. Copyright is the only form of intellectual property protection that intersects with the criminal law. Patent and trademark are purely civil matters. This is one of the big reasons why I'm against copyright on binaries; copyright in some respects is stronger than patent.

                      Two: I'm not sure what you mean by "overly broad." Patent law in some respects is narrower than copyright; the main one is the term.

          • Correct on Half-Life (and the legion of other games that licensed one or another of the Quake engines).

            Possibly incorrect on Unreal. Patents protect against reverse engineering. If you rebuild the program, using the same techniques, then you infringe on the patent.

            Patents mostly protect the techniques used by the invention. If Unreal used a patented technique that Carmack or id software held the patent on, then they'd be hit with patent licensing fees.

            The big difference here of course is the timeframe: 20 years, plus there's a requirement for public disclosure of the patent.

            • it's impossible to prove that the authors of Unreal had set out to clone the technique of 3d rendering. All you can prove is that they wanted the same thing.

              What about the concept of the automobile? each individual car is patented, but "vehicle with four wheels, auto-mobile" isn't.
              • Once again, completely incorrect.

                Cars are not patented. Individual technological advances that are used in cars are patented. For example, suppose somebody comes up with a technique that allows an automobile to be manufactured with a more responsive steering wheel ("power steering"). This technique can be patented.

                Also, intent is totally irrelevant to patent law (unlike copyright, where intent is actually fundamental). If you use a patented technique, you're infringing the patent, regardless of whether you meant to or not, or even if you'd never heard of the patent.

                An automobile is a sum of a large number of parts. I believe the internal combustion engine was the main patented article in the early days of the automobile, although I haven't done a patent search so don't quote me. :) The ICE was the main advance that made the automobile possible; other parts of it, like wheels, chairs and steering, had been around for a long time.

                In order for somebody to patent The Car, they'd have to come up with something where all the parts were new. This is pretty unlikely.

      • So computer code is some sort of sacrosanct expression that must be free and open to all, but "artwork" should have strictly enforced copyrights???

        You've been reading Slashdot too long.

        What if I render a 3-d view of video game code? Is it art or code?

        The other poster in this thread is right, the DURATION of copyright is inappropriate for many mediums, and ultimately leads to the death of the "art" that was created. Videogames & applications written in the 80's are largely extinct, thanks to unreasonable copyrights that prevent others from distributing old works.
        • What if I render a 3-d view of video game code? Is it art or code?

          The rendering code is code.

          The visual image (say you save it as a JPEG) is art.

          If you don't save the visual image, it's not fixed & there's no copyright.

          Pop a Myst disc in your micro sometime. All the .mov files that pepper the thing are art. The tiny little shreds of binary are code.

          This isn't rocket science.

      • Computer programs cannot be though of without considering "similar" works like books. A program represents an investment of time, effort and (usually) money. The final product is of interest or value to a user. This makes a program commercially viable as a trade product.

        Given that programs are necessary, to force all of them to be free and/or open source would infringe on the rights of a (large) number of individuals to earn a living. Basically: no commercial viability, not a career option, no programs. Bummer.

        Contrary to (unpopular) opinion, source code is not like a book. Binray code is like a book: its a finished, usable product. Should authors be forced to disclose their notes, the design of their plot, their character sketches? No. How about their "formula" for writing a captivating novel?

        Points to ponder ...

        • Contrary to (unpopular) opinion, source code is not like a book. Binray [sic] code is like a book: its a finished, usable product. Should authors be forced to disclose their notes, the design of their plot, their character sketches? No. How about their "formula" for writing a captivating novel?

          Source code is like a book.

          I can read a book. I can page through it, and think about how the author uses various techniques to achieve the ends that are sought.

          I might, on occasion, wonder about the author's thought process, but I know that there are probably notes that I'm not reading that the author made, but decided not to include directly in the book because they wouldn't help achieve the ends that the author wanted to achieve.

          I can read source code. I can page through it, and think about how the author uses various techniques to achieve the ends that are sought.

          I might, on occasion, wonder about the author's thought process, but I know that there are almost certainly bits of source that I'm not reading that the author made, but decided not to include directly in the source because they wouldn't help achieve the ends that the author wanted to achieve.

          Okay, I admit, there are programmers (I'm infamous for this) who sometimes sit down and write a program straight up, all the way through, no edits. However, these are invariably very short programs.

          I also write short stories the same way sometimes. No notes: the whole story is what I thought of when I typed it up.

          Anything big, though, either in writing or in programming, and there are bits that don't go in.

    • People would probably pay in advance to developers they trusted, but to escrow agents. Either they'd pay for games proposed by the developers, or they'd make suggestions, which might be weighted by the amount of money backing each up.

      The developer releases to the escrow agent. It checks to see that it meets the criteria of the order; perhaps some reviewers would have to find it to be appropriately cool, or having certain features, or it would have to make a certain delivery date to avoid lower payment, etc.

      If it all checks out, the escrow agent releases the game (which, because there's no copyright, is public domain) and pays the developer from the money it was holding. The agent itself might be paid from the interest on the money it held.

      Personally, I'm not upset about copyright in general, but the present implementation is hardly balanced. It's great that games get written and developers earn a living, but these are probably less important goals than progress in the development of gaming, and the preservation of games for the future. (by letting people patch and port them independently, e.g. arcade ROMS)

      You're hardly balancing if the only interests you're worried about are those of authors.
      • What would compel me to pay an escrow agent when the work is public domain??? I could just copy it from anyone!

        Please go and get yourself a clue.
      • I sure as hell wouldn't pay in advance for the possibility that someone would write a game I might like. I want the game to exist, and I want to know whether it's fun, *THEN* decide whether or not I want it.

        The current system serves my needs quite well for video games. No "escrow system" will ever serve the same purpose. As is, each customer can individually say whether the game meets his needs, and only pays when the game is done. The escrow agent would be horribly overpowered, and could easily screw either or both sides.
        • I sure as hell wouldn't pay in advance for the possibility that someone would write a game I might like. I want the game to exist, and I want to know whether it's fun, *THEN* decide whether or not I want it.


          So the publisher can release a free demo, like id did with Doom and Quake.


          The escrow agent would be horribly overpowered, and could easily screw either or both sides.


          And your bank could decide to confiscate your account and keep your money. They don't, because it would be illegal, they'd get sued, and their reputation would suffer. Ditto for the escrow agents.


          The current system serves my needs quite well for video games.


          The current system has also resulted in draconian user-hostile laws like the DMCA. If all you're worried about it being able to buy games, then the Street Performer Protocol is not the best system. Looking at the larger picture, there are benefits you're not considering.

    • Copyright is a brilliant compromise. When it ran for 14 years (and most items covered by it were relatively long-lived: books, sheet music, newspapers and magazines), then copyright was a brilliant compromise. Every change since then (at least in the USA) has been tilted against the users. To keep copyright on a book for 75 years after the writer's death is ridiculous -- no one writes in hopes that his grandchildren can retire on the royalties! To have a long-running copyright on computer software is more than ridiculous. And finally, the DCMA breaks the original bargain entirely, by giving copyright holders the power to make all copies of the work unreadable before the copyright expires. (Likewise, movie copyrights have contributed to the loss of many old films -- if the studio didn't bother to copy them onto lasting media, nobody else could either.)

      Finally, there are really 3 parties to copyrights. There is the creator, the user/viewer/reader/listener, and the publisher. The publisher creates nothing, but does perform certain services in return for 90% of the money. This split seems rather unfair, especially as it has stayed constant even in the CD age when the production cost approaches zero. Copyright laws do include some balancing of the rights of the creators and publishers. For instance, unless it is a "work for hire" (which is a true corporate creation), the publisher doesn't own the copyright, but can only rent it for a limited time, eventually it goes back to the creator. But as corporations become more and more blatant at buying what they want from Congress, even this little bit of balance is in danger. Take what happened to musicians as a warning.

      (For those born yesterday: some congressional staffer, just before leaving for a new career in the record industry, snuck a clause changing all music to "work for hire" into a bill at the end of session, and it was voted in without being read. Eventually the musicians got Congress to pass another bill giving them their rights back, since no corporation was willing to come out and defend their IP-grab in public. Yet. But AFAIK, every new song on any major-label CD published in one year belongs to the record companies for 95 years, never to the creators.)
  • by MosesJones (55544) on Tuesday November 27, 2001 @01:57PM (#2620324) Homepage

    On the point that "all copyright changes" don't take into account the user this isn't the case in the EU where some changes have been done for that reason.

    One issue that isn't often addressed is the cultural differences between countries that lead to different approaches being appropriate in different countries. The same is true within different parts of an organisation ("If I can't pay it ain't worth it" to "If its free then it fits in my budget"). Licensing is about the _writer_ of the software or work which may make sense in their environment but not in that of another. Thus a proprietary license and ownership but free distribution (eg Java) may make a lot of sense if it ties in with the aims of the program.

    IMO Writers of a work have a right on how it should be used, it is not for _users_ to say how it should be used as it is not their effort that created it. That said the Writer's right does not extend once the users effort has been expended, whether that be by paying cash or by building upon the artefact.

    If I buy a brick, I do not expect to pay a regular license for the house.

    Cultural differences are just as important. If a certain practice seems strange or odd to you probably means that your approach seems odd to them. Basically tolerance is the important deal, being dictatorial makes you as much as a fool as the guy you are arguing against.
    • This issue of culture is (IMHO) and important factor working AGAINST GPL in the open source arena.

      I know several companies (I work for one) that either explicitly or implicitly will not use GPL or LGPL software in their development (think libraries here, not tools). Not using GPL is obvious, but LGPL is more subtle: you don't have the option to integrate the functionality directly into your application, even if you want to.

      Many licenses also force you to distribute part of your application in source form (the open sourced libraries, not your own code) or to prominently mention the use of the library, which tramples on poor little corporate egos.

      While I believe in giving credit where it is due (especially when you are leveraging effort done by others are no charge to you), most companies can't take the "bad press" or general perceived humiliation of admitting to using free code.

      So some think this is good, because they aren't scabbing off your efforts. True. And you're entitled to that opinion.

      But it is also bad. OpenSource is about getting more eyes seeing the code, and more hands working on it. Companies that I have had experience with have no qualms committing changes back to open source, as long as they can avoid the marketting problems it may create. So if your library is 90% good for a particular use, corporate time and money may just go to filling in their 10%, which they give back.

      Even if its only one in a hundred companies, its worth it. And judging by the project out there working on this basis ... its not that rare.

  • by well_jung (462688) on Tuesday November 27, 2001 @01:57PM (#2620325) Homepage
    When it was Kant v. John Stuart Mill.

  • by seebs (15766) on Tuesday November 27, 2001 @01:58PM (#2620337) Homepage
    You also aren't allowed to distribute GPL'd code without an attached political screed you may not agree with, nor are you allowed to release free software which links with GPL'd code, but doesn't contain any. Consider RIPEM; a program was released, which was self-contained, and had a sed script to change it to link with the GNU fast MP math library. They got harassed because it was *POSSIBLE* to make their code *WORK WITH* GPL'd code, but it wasn't free enough.

    That's a far cry from "the only thing you can't do is take away the freedom". It is a lie, and a willful one, to claim that you can take away the freedom of *ANY* free code. If I put code in the public domain, no one can ever make it unfree. They can make their own versions with whatever restrictions they want, but *MY* code remains free, forever. No other license can say as much. :)
    • They got harassed because it was *POSSIBLE* to make their code *WORK WITH* GPL'd code, but it wasn't free enough.

      A bunch of fanatics beating up an innocent bystandar...
      Sorry but that wasn't a violation of the GPL...
      You can be harrased for violating the GPL becouse you MIGHT have compiled a Linux kernel the same day you compiled a commertal code..
      Dosen't mean a thing...

      If harrasment were the law I'd be legally bound to buy the local newspaper
      [Stupid phone sales]

      If I put code in the public domain, no one can ever make it unfree

      Yes they can and do...
      The reason there are so many accadental GPL violations is code theft is so natral in software develupment now a days that many develupers steal free software out of habbit.

      They can make their own versions with whatever restrictions they want, but *MY* code remains free, forever.

      There is the rub....

      It's now up to you to prove that your the original author if somebody chouses to clame ownership of your code.

      I made ZenToe public domain becouse I saw no benifit in preventing commertal versions of the code.
      But some of the projects I am working on would suffer from a Microsoft embrase and extend... unless I had rights to the source code of ALL versions.
  • disservice? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by zoftie (195518)
    I think there are distinctly two lines here:
    1. Stallman Ideas are communist - no relation to way USSR implemented its ideas of communism. Rather an original idea of communism.
    2. Other opensource licences are 'socialism' with fragments of communism, here and there. See Finland, other european contries.

    Taken that, I think it is a disservice Tim doing for the public, trying to confuse them and make public analyse each of the licences. Why? Because most public is not able, interested or have time to pick apart lawyer made contraptions. Now if he was to say that BSD licence is good, here's why, that would let common programmers understand advantages of either and pick one.

    Business being a thing that will consume anything to grow, opensource licences are usable and possibly exploitable under some circuimstances, while GPL is least exploitable - AFAIK.
  • by quartz (64169) <shadowman@mylaptop.com> on Tuesday November 27, 2001 @02:08PM (#2620393) Homepage
    Those who want to make their code free should be able to make their code free and prevent anything non-free from interacting with it. Those who want to write proprietary software should be equally able to do so under whatever terms and conditions they wish. It's ultimately up to users to decide what kind of software they want to use. The "best" license is not the license that RMS or O'Reilly say is best, but the one that gets the most support from people at large.
  • by Aardappel (50644) on Tuesday November 27, 2001 @02:21PM (#2620464) Homepage
    this is one issue that I have never understood about open source advocacy: the talk about "users".

    (pure) users can't program thus their "freedom" is a 1:1 coupling to the freedom of the programmer that is their "supplier".

    The only freedoms that thus matter are those of programmers (and "users that can program", if you must). But an easier metric to compare licenses would be "Nth level recipient", i.e.:

    zero level: the original programmer and licensor
    1st level: the programmer that builds on the original code
    2nd level and onward: programmer that wants to build on the N-1 level base.

    The GPL gives "most freedom" to levels 0 and 2 onwards (the more "selfish" license), whereas the BSD license gives "most freedom" to level 1 (a license giving "most freedom" to all of them can't exist, it will always be a fundamental choice). As soon as a level is occupied by a "user", there won't be any N+1 levels after it, so "freedom" becomes irrelevant.
    • The "freedom" that users suffer from is not being able to distribute the software to other users, not being allowed to use the software as they want (for instance, your not allowed/supposed to install a single Windows XP license on multiple machines simultaneously), not being allowed to hire programmers to "add an extra level" in your model above.

      Stuff like that, really. Software freedom means being able to use software how you like, whether that means installing it where, how, and as many times as you want, as well as meaning being able to change the code itself to better suit your purpose.
  • Free software - no problem. Probably a great idea for somethings. All software being free - not so great. The problem is that it means you can't have a software business. You can have a service or hardware business that happens to employ some programmers. But you can't have a business that exists to develop software. That just doesn't seem right. Why is it okay to make money from selling hardware or services, but not okay to make money from developing software?


    In Stallman's universe, software companies just wouldn't exist. It would be impossible for a bunch of programmers to get together and support themselves by developing great software. They'd have to find some other thing they could sell along with it. But suppose they didn't want to do that. Suppose they just wanted to write software - they're screwed. Those people are no longer free to just write software!


    The freedom to decide to charge for some of your software is a freedom, because it allows you to choose your career. Without the ability for anyone anywhere to ever charge for any software, the freedom for programmers to just be programmers disappears.


    I'm not saying that Free software is a bad thing. But it has to co-exist with proprietary software for software development as a whole to remain viable.

    • by duffbeer703 (177751) on Tuesday November 27, 2001 @02:46PM (#2620590)
      Stallman doesn't give a shit about the software industry -- he lives and works in the academic universe.

      Since his job & livlihood is funded by gov't grants, charity and tuition, he does not have to worry about actually producing profit.
    • It can be both and that's the point that most people miss. The GPL doesn't say you can't sell the software, it just says that you have to provide the source and that it can be copied.

      The copying issue is the problem and what I would love to see is a free license with the following restrictions:

      1. Source must be open (like GPL)
      2. The code or the program can be copied and given away but it can't be charged for or mass produced without compensating the original author or getting his/her consent
      3. Derivative works could be created but should be shown to the original author for a review before it can be mass produced or sold this would keep people from changing one line of code and calling it their own.
      4. If the original author cannot be found (and the creator of the derivative work has tried in good faith to find them), no longer supports the project and has not appointed another person to do so (i.e. the project is dead) then the work becomes public domain. This would keep people committed to their projects or finding others who would be.


      I believe something like this would go a long way to making sure that developers get their due, and can earn a living by charging for software but other developers/users can make copies, share with friends, or learn from the code.
    • tc writes:

      Free software - no problem. Probably a great idea for somethings. All software being free - not so great. The problem is that it means you can't have a software business.

      You fail to understand the software development business. The vast majority of professional programmers (most estimates I've seen have put it at between 90% and 95%) are employed developing custom software that is seldom distributed beyond the company that employs them (or the company that hired them as consultants). Most web programmers would also fall into this category, their work is visible, but not distributed.

      For most programmers, copyright protection is meaningless. It doesn't affect whether or not they make a living. It has no bearing on the software industry as a whole. On the flip side, wide availablilty of high quality Free software makes our jobs easier, and improves our profit margin (if a client refrains from spending $50,000 on Oracle licenses, but instead spends $20,000 on implementing a custom feature in PostgreSQL, both the client and the developer are better off).

      There is only one segment of the industry (small in number of programmers, but highly visible) that counts on copyright for survival: The off-the-shelf software producers. Most of these companies are producing bad code at the expense of users. I won't shed a tear if the Microsofts or the Adobes of the world fail to make a profit.
      • The vast majority of professional programmers (most estimates I've seen have put it at between 90% and 95%) are employed developing custom software

        If this is true, then how can proprietary software be a burden to anybody? Why don't companies just write their own OS for internal use?

        At any rate, these are figures that people pull out of their posteriors. Even if accurate, they ignore the issue of the relative importance of the work being performed. Also, being a minority doesn't make something less important. Far less than 1% of the people in your state are elected officials, but what if we decided to restrict their civil liberties?

        These statistics are most often bandied about by people trying to get others to ignore the rights of proprietary software developers by placing them in a minority. If this kind of logic were applied to racial minorities, the person who did so would be justifiably blasted. Yet applying this logic to a professional minority seems to be socially acceptable. Why?

  • [Disclaimer, I haven't read Tim O'Reilly's web log, it is slashdotted]

    Michael writes:

    ...all licensing, including the GPL, is an expression of power over what other people can do with the software.

    I disagree. Copyright Law is an expression of power of the copyright holder over the users of the media. Many licenses (eg, the typical Microsoft EULA) make use of the power of Copyright and Contract Law to claim even more power over the users. It makes sense to say that these licenses are an expression of power.

    The GPL, and other Free Software licenses take no additional power over users beyond those already exerted by copyright laws. In fact, they give users additional freedoms that they would not otherwise have. I would call these licenses expressions of freedom, not power.

    I take issue with O'Reilly's description of copyright law as a compromise between creators and users. There's absolutely no evidence that the rights of users are considered when copyright laws are made.

    Historically, yes, copyright law has had much more to do with balancing the rights of creators with the rights of publishers. In the US, the rights of users are brought into the equation by the doctorine of Fair Use, which is a matter of legal precident in the court system, not by creation of laws.

    Fundamentally, however, any law is an agreement between "The People" (being those who permit the government to exist by following the rules and refraining from revolting), and those particular people governed by the law. Copyright law is no exception.

    The basis of Copyright Law in the US is in the US Constitution [loc.gov], Article I, Section 8: "The Congress shall have the power ... To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;" Congress is supposed to legislate according to the will of the people, or at least the people who voted for them.

    So basically, Copyright Law as it now stands in the US is a compromise between the users (via their representatives in Congress), and the creators (via their lobbyists in Washington). Yes, it is a one-sided compromse (observe that the lengths of copyright have always been set so that Mickey Mouse stays out of the public domain [asu.edu]).

    If you want a different balance, make sure your will is known to your representatives. If your representatives ignore your will, vote for someone else. If enough people get involved, our government still won't be perfect, but at least it will better represent the will of people, and look less like the will of lobbyists.

    For those of you in other nations, the basic theory is the same, the mechanisms are different.

  • All copyright law changes made in my
    lifetime, nearly all copyright law changes ever, have been expansions
    of copyright law - if it's a compromise, it's an extraordinarily
    one-sided one. (I suppose you could a describe a mugging as a
    compromise between the mugger and the little old lady over rights to
    her purse.) Copyright law is more accurately described as a compromise
    between copyright holders and copyright holders. Other descriptions
    are both inaccurate and do a disservice to efforts to reform the laws.


    Either I have misunderstood what you have said (most likely) or you have little understanding of the idea behind copyright law.

    Copyright law is (in most, some would argue all, cases) the only thing which
    prevents you from making a copy of another person's intellectual property.

    It presupposes that you accept the concept of "intellectual property" as valid.

    Why would you want to accept the concept of intellectual property; the concept that someone else "owns" an idea, and has property rights to it?

    You accept it because of the benefit it brings to you to do so. Or at least you do if you're smart.

    The idea behind copyright law is that we agree as a society that
    the benefit we derive from having Authors and Inventors share their ideas
    is worth more than the cost of granting to them a limited
    monopoly of control over the use of those works.

    If you feel that this deal is no longer working to your benefit, you can agitate for a renegotiation. If we as a society
    feel the same way, then we should re-write the terms of that deal.
    We should all understand that whenever the terms of this deal
    are changed, either to the benefit of the Authors and Inventors, or to the
    benefit of the public, these changes will have repercussions.

    I agree with you; since the establishment of copyright law in the United States, the terms of this
    agreement have consistently been re-adjusted in favor of the Authors and Inventory.
    (Or rather, in favor of the publishers. Was that intentional?)
    Perhaps there is a need to re-evaluate the terms of this agreement once more.
    Perhaps we need a Federal oversight comittee to manage the
    national Intellectual Property and Copyright issues for the benefit
    of the society in the same manner that the Federal Reserve
    system manages the money supply for the general benefit of the society?
    • Just one thing about your screed: only at the end of a very long rant do you note the existence of publishers. But it is publishers that donate big bucks to "the best Congress money can buy", and that keep getting the best of the changes in copyright law, to the disadvantage of both users and creators.
  • I can't get to the article, but according to michael, a theme is that "all licensing ... is an expression of power". ESR based his rebuttal [linuxtoday.com] on the same premise: "Stallman and Kuhn want to be able to make decisions that affect other developers more than themselves.... [T]hey want power."

    While strictly true, this is a blatantly unfair claim. If we accept that actions are expressions of either freedom or power (as per Kuhn and Stallman's definition [oreillynet.com]), we must also accept that expressions of power either limit others' freedom, or limit others' power. Using power to limit freedom, we can all agree is evil. Using power to limit power, however, must be allowed in some form, unless you feel that no-one may stop thieves and murderers.

    If you acknowledge that software licensing is a form of power (and it is RMS's primary contension that proprietary licensing is an exercise of power that deprives users of essential freedoms), then it follows that GPL licensing uses power to limit power. It becomes a question of whether it's acceptible for individuals to limit others' power in this way. But you can't simply vilify all forms of power.

    • Power and freedom are very hardy words that stand in much abuse yet stand again for the next debate. You can argue all you want about Freedom and Power and yet find you are arguing about nothing at all. If you can have wars against drugs and wars against terrorism, you can have the Freedom to have Power and the Power of Freedom. You can argue endless rhetoric on how the Power to not give other people the Freedom to have Power over other people's Freedom and then find the next reply to that is another twist on words that seems equally correct.

      So to avoid this in a talk about software licenses, I ask you to believe only in real things. The words Power and Freedom don't decide arguments. We're talking about the words "software" and "can do" which are real. What can you do with your software and why can or can't you? And are the reasons just?

      Yes...I suppose "just" is another trap in unreality. But its an opinion that I can't say how you answer. I guess Stallman has been asking you to ask yourself a question for a long time now. Is it okay to be fined for pirating software. Or should I say sharing software. Uh! the English language is such a mess. Don't trust your language to win arguments. You must depend on the reasoning of the reader to know what it is you are really talking about and not simply respond to rhetoric on vague words. The readers who do this are most probably not the same people who win arguments or who become President.

      George Orwell warned us about this as well. He said "Political language [...] is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." This is about political language but it applies equally here.

      However you believe, believe only in real things. Honesty is greater than wit
  • Liked the line... (Score:4, Flamebait)

    by smitty_one_each (243267) on Tuesday November 27, 2001 @02:49PM (#2620620) Homepage Journal
    But the GPL is just as much an expression of power over users as any proprietary license.

    Hello, RMS.

    I like the project I'm working on. I want to share the source code, because I think a lot of other people might apply it in groovy ways that don't suggest themselves to me.

    But YOUR viewpoint is brick for brick the same prison as the Redmond Institute for the Monopolistically Inclined.

    Mr. O'Reilly, your moderate view is a breath of fresh air.
    • <snip>
      "Hello, RMS.

      I like the project I'm working on. I want to share the source code, because I think a lot of other people might apply it in groovy ways that don't suggest themselves to me."
      </snip>

      While you're at it, do you think RMS will let me GPL this? :)

      #include <iostream.h>
      void main()
      {
      cout << "Hello World";
      cout << endl;
      }
  • by nathanh (1214) on Tuesday November 27, 2001 @03:27PM (#2620830) Homepage

    O'Reilly says

    My goal is to see as much good software created as possible, and for that to happen, we need a range of licensing models.

    But that's not the same goal as RMS. RMS has repeatedly stated that he'd accept an inferior piece of software, if the superior product was non-free. RMS expects the right to copy the software, read the software, learn how it works, and make modifications to it. RMS wants the software to be unencumbered at to how you use it, where you use it, why you use it, who uses it, when you use it, EXCEPT for the tiny encumberment that you don't deny anybody else the same freedoms.

    We have to keep our eyes on our goals, not on the means we use to achieve them.

    Until O'Reilly argues on the same wavelength as RMS - which means either attacking the stated goals of RMS, or attacking the means RMS uses to achieve those goals - then O'Reilly won't have an essay worth reading. When you watch a debate you expect PRO and CON for the SAME argument, not PRO and PRO for DIFFERENT arguments.

  • The only way to fight proprietary software in a world that has largely accepted it is to use copyright against itself. This is precisely what GPL does. GPL is the license of choice for those who believe that no software should be proprietary. That's why the license is "virulent" too.

    Some people argue that GPL is "less free" because it cannot be turned proprietary by a third party, as with the BSD license. However, this argument stems from the belief that it's OK for some software to be proprietary--and proprietary software is clearly less free.

    In some sort of ideal utopian society without copyright, these issues would be mute because software would be incapable of being sold and thus no economic advantage would be had from closed source. The only way software could be commercially produced in such a society would be by paying programmers / software companies for their focused labor instead their end product. And in fact, this is the ultimate goal of true proponents of Open Source software. Though copyright may be with us for awhile, GPL is a huge step towards reducing its power in the software industry.
  • RMS's "Open Source is the One True Way and Closed Source is Evil" stand is the polar opposite of Craig Mundie's "Open Source is evil and communist and Closed Source is the American Way" but I find them equally offensive.

    Both should shut the fuck up and let developers release software with whatever license they choose and let the developers (and by extension, users) decide which method wins out...or, more realistically, allow both methods to exist in parallel.
    • RMS acts like a rabid maniac sometimes but when you stop to think about it his point makes a lot more sense from a freedom standpoint.

      Many people claim that true freedom is the right to impose whatever restrictions you want on something that belongs to you, a part of property law, and since software is intellectual property this naturally applies to software too. Unfortunately this does not hold water.

      If I own a piece of land then I am well within my rights to restrict your access to it. If I sell you a piece of land my right to restrict your use of it goes away. Why is this not so with software? Furthermore, if I buy a Honda, why should I expect the Honda corporation to restrict my rights to open the hood of the car, fix the engine if it breaks, etc.?

      What RMS is doing is challenging our notion of "intellectual property". Intellectual property rights are not natural rights. Congress was given the power to grant limited monopolies to creators and inventors, to encourage them to develop the arts and sciences in this country. What is happening, particularly in the proprietary software field, is exactly the opposite. Companies are using these rights to stifle innovation and competition in the field, to ensure that customers must purchase whatever software they sell no matter how bloated/buggy/outdated it may be (*cough*Windows*cough*). This has the potential effect of creating a sort of "software illuminati". Much as the guilds of the past kept information about their trade secret, both to remain in business and as a form of protection from a Church that banned the acquisition of certain types of scientific knowledge, the proprietary software companies of today keep their source code, which is nothing but information about their craft, secret. The Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution both came about during periods of relative intellectual freedom, when anyone could acquire the scientific knowledge necessary to invent and develop new technologies, art, etc.

      Free software promises to do the same thing in the software world. RMS realizes this, and so does Bill Gates which is why he's so afraid of it.

      RMS has not called for a law banning any form of proprietary software (that I can tell), and we all know that he has very strong opinions on what kinds of policy should be implemented in his version of a free society. I can't speak for him but it looks like he's taking the correct approach in a free society, putting his money where his mouth is. He believes that free software is so damn good from a freedom standpoint that it will eventually win out over proprietary software in the end, and that makes the GNU project a sort of social experiment to determine if this is the case. So far the outcome seems hopeful despite the landscape being littered with the decaying husks of open source dot-coms: Linux, Mozilla, Apache, etc. usage is still growing.

      This is why I use free software: because proprietary software is a car with the hood welded shut.
  • Interesting concept. However I believe that freedom and power are inseperable. When you give anyone freedom you are also giving them power. The freedom to choose how you use software is a power as much as having the freedom to choose how your software is used is a power.

    I don't agree with RMS on this. I think he's off base. He advocates freedom--to a point, which isn't freedom at all. I understand where he's coming from, the freedom to license software has become abused, but is this reason to remove it? I don't think so.

    With any freedom there are responsibilities. When people abuse the freedom of speech, I can't advocate removing that freedom because they are using it to thier own advantage. I can use my own freedoms to combat their misuse, however. That is the challenge, to combat misuse of freedoms. This is a duty of the masses, and not the elite. We have a responsibility to use our freedom of choice to combat what we see as misuse.

    Limiting freedom of any sort isn't the answer. Freedom without power really isn't freedom.

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