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GNU is Not Unix

GNU GPL law and "lagom" copyright 282

Johannes writes "Newsforge column on "lagom" copyright. I think we need to discuss these issues more. Maybe a GNU GPL law isn't so bad after all. As Pawlo states: "Would not a modern democratic society benefit from a plurality of irreconcilable and incompatible doctrines? We need the GNU GPL, but we also need proprietary software, Open Source software, BSD licenses, the Apache license and so forth. That would make the case for GNU GPL legislation void. However, as Lawrence Lessig taught us in his book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, the code may in itself work against plurality.""
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GNU GPL law and "lagom" copyright

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  • by Joel Rowbottom ( 89350 ) on Sunday January 13, 2002 @07:08AM (#2831902) Homepage
    From the article:
    What we need is balance. In Sweden, we have one word that I have not encountered outside of Sweden. The word is "lagom" and it defines the space between too much and too little. What we need is lagom copyright protection for computer programs.
    It took me most of the article to find this, as I was curious as to the meaning ;)
    • we have one word that I have not encountered outside of Sweden

      Well, in Finland you will encounter the word as Finland's 2nd official language is swedish. I guess the writer meant that he/she has not encountered the word in any other language.
    • Sorry to be offtopic, but another poster proposed that "lagom" means the same as "moderate", which is not true. The meaning of "lagom" is wider, and also lies at the soul of an outlook on life.

      The meaning can best be described as "just right".
    • This is like the Roman saying (from the Greek saying) "In medio res", which translates rougly to "All things in moderation".
  • Swedes want everything to be 'lagom',
    the call themselves the 'lagom-nation'..

    Seriously though, the article does raise some important points. And I agree.
  • by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Sunday January 13, 2002 @07:14AM (#2831907) Journal
    The same law governing software is no different than that governing books. Everyone is in agreement that the restrictions on books are acceptable terms, so the question should be,

    "Why are software licenses more restrictive than books?"

    If it was just a matter of lawyers saying 'Hey, we can put some more restrictions in place' them why did it not propogate back to books? Is it there because it's easier to get people to agree to? Perhaps software licenses are a matter of enforcibility.

    My point? People are not asking the right questions. As the right questions and the answers are right around the corner.
    • Wrong. Although copyrights on books and software both found in title 17, there are lots of restrictions of copyright law that specifically state that they only apply to software. Just look at the federal supremacy [cornell.edu] provision for just one example.

      Not everyone agrees that the restrictions on books are acceptable terms. There is lots of controversy about the ever-shrinking definition of fair use in books. For a good history of these restrictions from the origin of copyright as a way of controlling publication of the Christian bible in England, you might want to read The Nature of Copyright: A Law of User's Rights, by L. Ray Patterson and Stanley W. Lindberg, with a forward by Robert W. Kastenmeier, who chaired the House subcomittee that created the 1976 Copyright Act.

    • The fundamental difference between code and text is this: a principal purpose for the code is the execution of the code. With programs, almost nobody cares about the code itself, but the experience of its execution.

      On the other hand, while most of the value of the code lies in the execution, the Copyright Act doesn't actually --and cannot-- cover the functionality, per se. 17 USC s. 102(b). It is for these reasons that protection of copyright is a peculiar province. Copyright has been quite neutered for software in the past 15 years -- providing strong protections only for literal infringements. The licenses have been pumped up, in part, to counterbalance those properties.

      As to the question, "why are software licenses more restrictive than books," it is clear: The market tolerates limitations of software licenses, but would not do so with books. if the market really gave the slightest d*#$ about software licenses, they wouldn't buy the software -- but as a whole, we don't, so they do.
    • by arkanes ( 521690 ) <arkanes.gmail@com> on Sunday January 13, 2002 @09:09AM (#2832096) Homepage
      Remember this phrase? "Near perfect digital copies". Those 3 words drive all the additional restrictions on software.
      • The property of "digital works" that allows perfect copying is that they are representable by a string of characters of a fixed, finite alphabet. (0's and 1's) By replicating this pattern of 0's and 1's, you've replicated the work.

        This is no different than books, poems, or any other work consisting of a string of characters. Anyone with a printing press can make a "perfect copy" of a printed book by replicating the same string of characters found in the original. This was as true of works published in 1702 as it is in 2002. There is no fundamental difference.

        What has changed is the ecconomic barriers to making copies. It's not that something is fundamentally different about digital works, it's just that it's a little bit easier to do it.
        • Sure, you can argue how there's no fundamental difference. But that just goes to show that you took to many philosophy classes in college. Making perfect copies of software is both easy and cheap. Making even semi-perfect copies of any other medium is inconvenient at best (books) or near-impossible at worst (paintings). It's alot more than "a little bit" easier to do it, too.

          I'm as sickened as anyone at the state of IP laws in the US, but lets not be stupid about how we argue against them. Saying that books are as easy to copy as software is obviously false to anyone with half a brain.

    • "Why are software licenses more restrictive than books?"

      Copyright = (Literally) The right to copy.

      Because books are physical, tanglible objects and are difficult to copy, there is no need for restrictive licenses. It would me more expensive for me to copy a book and give it to a friend than it would be for that friend to go out and buy her own copy.

      Copying software often consists of executing a single command on a computer operating system. It can take mere minutes to copy a software program and it costs (almost) nothing. Certain restrictions are necessary (i.e., the restriction for the software program to be allowed to run on only one computer) other restrictions (i.e., the restrictions that do not allow you to transfer your license to someone else) are nonsense.

      Capice?
      • It is trivial to feed a book through a sheet-fed scanner. Fron there, you have all the advantages of a digital copy, and its perfectly legal to do so.
        • No, it isn't, if the book is non-trivial. Talk to anyone who's on the Guttenburg Project. Even with a sheet fed scanner, it would still take you at least a day to scan it. How much is your time worth? 8 hours * $50/hr = $400, 8 hours * $25/hr = $200, this is far more expensive than a book. Not to mention the amount of computing resources you have to dedicate to it if you wanted to OCR it. Even then, if the book had any pictures or diagrams or tables in it, you're going to have even more work.
          • I don't know your experience, but I simply leave pages on the sheet-fed and do something else. Taking up a grand total of ~5 minutes of my time. CPUs sit idle far too often. Even with my CPU intensive tasks (mp3->ogg, DVD, DivX) going on, my load is still a fraction of the total available power.

            i.e. CPU power has no other use of which I am depriving it. Price = 0.
    • They *CAN* be placed on books. They just can't be placed on books by having a 'shrink-wrap' agreement on them... which is the REAL problem with software.

      It's a good point. Why are there no shrink-wrap licenses on books?
    • "Why are software licenses more restrictive than books?"

      From my limited knowledge of history, backed, of course, by personal experience:

      In the beginning software was not covered by copyright. Or not covered very well. At first it was no big deal because your software came with your computer, and was thought of as a component of the computer. Then the first stand-alone, off-the-shelf software hit the market. The authors didn't know what to do. The law was silent with regards to software.

      Copyright law was no use, so they resorted to contract law. Thus the invention of the software license. This was a radical step, because these licenses were one-sided unilateral beasts. Negotiation of terms was impossible. At first they weren't too bad. They were printed on the back of the box and contained relatively sensible terms. The bad news was, the courts let it slide.

      Then the software manufacturers upped the ante. They started putting the licenses *inside* the box, so that you didn't know the terms you were agreeing to until _after_ you have agreed to them. The courts let that one slide to. Then the licenses started taking away your ability to reverse engineer, make archival copies, etc. We all know the state that software licensing is in today. A software license could have a term mandating blood tests for the user and everyone would yawn.

      All because copyright didn't cover software way back when. When I buy a book, all the legal information I need is the words "Copyright [author], [date]". Period. The same should be true for software. There is no need for licensing. Copyright law gives the author all the proprietary rights the need. If you want to release free software, a permission statement is sufficient.

      The reason software licenses are more restrictive than books is because books are not licensed.
  • Definition (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 13, 2002 @07:22AM (#2831917)
    Lagom

    Havamål is full of advises such as "be hospitable, but not too hospitable" (35), "be wise, but not too wise" (54-56), "be careful, but not too careful" (131), "enjoy beer, but don't drink too much" (11-19), enjoy food, but not too much" (20-21), "be careful not to boast over your sharp intellect" (6-7). These wisdoms of life is still a characteristic value in the Swedish mind, indeed, it is one of the most distinguished and revered virtues in the Swedish society. The word itself is untranslatable. It refers to an undefined state between extremes, "not too much, not too little". The dictionary suggest "just right, just enough, sufficiently, adequate, fitting, appropriate, moderate", which hardly captures the inner subjective logic of this genuinely Swedish value. The lagom value can be inferred from equality and the Jante Law and also with the Swedes envy and self-criticism as being different expressions of the same underlying paradoxical values of mutual appreciation/social control and individualism (loneliness)/collective support. The evenness of mind that the lagom is expressing may have been fostered in the evenness in the climate: it is not too hot in the summer, and not too cold in the winter. But several other factors must have contributed.

    The lagom, even, mentality among the Swedes can be frustrating for many foreigners, as it is seen as either boring, conflict avoiding, emotionally cool, formal, uncommunicative, socially confined, or spiritually empty. Certainly these aspects can be true, but it can also bee seen as not boring, but expectant; not conflict avoiding, but diplomatic; not emotionally cool, but deep feelings directed inward; not formal, but polite; not uncommunicative, but reflective; not socially confined, but thoughtful; not spiritually empty, but willing to listen to others. The lagom mentality can also be seen as that trait which gives the Swedish society its characteristic stability, and yet openness to influences from outside. In Hofstede's study, Sweden scored low on the "uncertainty avoidance index", which can be exemplified by factors such as "the uncertainty inherent in life is more easily accepted and each day is taken as it comes; the ambiance is one of less nationalism; less showing of emotions is preferred; deviation is not considered threatening - great tolerance is shown"(26). As a matter of fact, the entire Edda mythology can be seen in a ambivalent manner - it is unclear who is in command among the gods (even though Oden probably was considered the highest); there are no absolutely "good guys" (with a possible exception of Balder, the god of beauty, wisdom, and gentleness) or "bad guys"; the gods themselves have flaws and suffer from many of our simple human faults; even the evil giants can be agreeable sometimes; and the seed of destruction (Ragnarök) was actually found among the gods themselves (the intriguing of the god Loke leading to the death of Balder). We can thus see the ability to cope with, even the encouragement of, the uncertainty of life reflected in the Edda, indicating that this trait has a long tradition.

    But the lagom has, as indicated earlier, also a repressive effect: you're not supposed to be too good, or too rich. Thus, Sweden does not have an extreme income distribution, just a lagom spectra between the poorest and the richest. The lowest paid in Sweden earns fully 60% more than those with the lowest income in the USA. On the other hand, the 10 % best paid earns only twice as much as those with the lowest income. In the USA the relation is 6:1. The taxes are one of the highest in the world, which makes foreign observers puzzled why the Swede still work so hard?(27) I would suggest that it is a reflection of the equality-Jante Law-lagom triad of values reigning in Sweden: work hard (the Lutheran inheritance to the Vikings), but don't stand out. But all rules have an exception and so also in the case of wealth: Swedes do not revere those who make a fortune from hard work, but the heroes are found in those who win a fortune on lotto, bingo, pools win etc. The national consciousness is in this respect more fatalistic and faith encouraging than what actually Swedes officially claim: belief in the necessity of work, denying of the supernatural and immaterial. This is one of the most official pictures of the Swede, and it is said to origin from the struggle against the forces of nature in the agricultural Sweden, where one had to work hard to survive the long winter. This gave rise to lack of communicative abilities and the little interest for the immaterial side of the existence(28).

    from

    "The Human Values of Swedish Management"

    http://www.fek.su.se/Home/gus/PAPERS\Swedval.htm
    • Re:Definition (Score:3, Interesting)

      The financial issues are called socialism, not Lagom. It's the same in the UK, but Thatcher fixed some of it. Working class folks still look at a lottery winner as a hero, but it you make a lot of money, especially if you're paid a lot, then you'll be treated like a criminal by some. Of course real criminals like Ronnie Biggs are treated like heroes. If you make it big your only hope is to try and fly a balloon around the world.

      In America there's a culture of self improvement and more of a belief that if you have money chances are you earned it. The irony is that in the UK public education is generally better than the USA, but the culture holds some back. There's an entrepreneurial gestalt in most circles in the USA. There are exceptions and forces working against this, but it's America's greatest strength IMHO.
    • Re:Definition (Score:2, Interesting)

      by uchian ( 454825 )
      Can anyone provide a soundfile as to how "lagom" should be pronounced? It's one of those words that really fills a hole missing in the English Language, and I'd like to start using it :-)
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 13, 2002 @08:15AM (#2831995)
      >from
      >
      >"The Human Values of Swedish Management"
      >
      >http://www.fek.su.se/Home/gus/PAPERS\Swedval.h tm
      You mean the page that says:

      © Bengt Gustavsson & Sage1995. No part of this work may be reprinted in any form, physical, electronic, or otherwise, without written consent from the author.

      But of course, you did get permission, didn't you?
      • Just because it says "No part of this work may be reprinted in any form, physical, electronic, or otherwise, without written consent from the author." doesn't mean that it's actually enforcable by law. Remeber the pre-DMCA "you may not reverse-engineer" clauses?
    • ...and for those who has never heard the word before, it's pronounced with a long 'a'-sound, like the a in "far". At least in Sweden. ;-)
    • The word itself is untranslatable. It refers to an undefined state between extremes, "not too much, not too little". The dictionary suggest "just right, just enough, sufficiently, adequate, fitting, appropriate, moderate", which hardly captures the inner subjective logic of this genuinely Swedish value.

      That kind of moderation and temperance have been fundamental values in many different societies, religions, and philosophical movements over millenia. You will still find it in many regions of the US as well. And the terms "moderation" or "temperance" seem to capture it pretty well.

  • lagom = moderate (Score:3, Interesting)

    by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Sunday January 13, 2002 @07:29AM (#2831927) Journal
    In Sweden, we have one word that I have not encountered outside of Sweden. The word is "lagom" and it defines the space between too much and too little.

    moderate (mdr-t) adj.

    1. Being within reasonable limits; not excessive or extreme: a moderate price.

    2. To restrain from excess of any kind; to reduce from a state of violence, intensity, or excess; to keep within bounds; to make temperate; to lessen; to allay; to repress; to temper; to qualify; as, to moderate rage, action, desires, etc.; to moderate heat or wind.

    3. Kept within due bounds; observing reasonable limits; not excessive, extreme, violent, or rigorous; limited; restrained; as: (a) Limited in quantity; sparing; temperate; frugal; as, moderate in eating or drinking; a moderate table. (b) Limited in degree of activity, energy, or excitement; reasonable; calm; slow; as, moderate language; moderate endeavors. (c) Not extreme in opinion, in partisanship, and the like; as, a moderate Calvinist.

    4. To become less violent, severe, rigorous, or intense; as, the wind has moderated.

    • The swedish word means so much more than just being moderate.
    • lagom = moderate is about as accurate as saying that Free Software = Open Source

      ie, not very accurate at all. There is no simple translation, why do people think there should be?
      • Open Source IS Free Software.
        but
        Free Software IS NOT Open Source.

        Thats the same reason Open Source may be incorporated into Free Software projects, but FreeSoftware may not be incorporated into Open Source.

        Not the perfect explanation, but accurate for our purposes.
    • One problem with that word (to Swedes) is that the Swedish conservative party is named the "Moderate Party". It's regarded by many as an extremist party, and not lagom at all.

      To me moderate sounds like an OK translation, but it's before breakfast and my brain isn't really working. I may get back to you.
  • RMS is wrong (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Mr Stallman completely missed the whole point of what ESR has said. What he's instead suggesting is just as bad and just as restrictive as any proprietary license.
    If I write a piece of software, it is my effort and time that went in to creating that project and seeing it through. If I then decide I'd rather receive some form or remuneration (not just money), and release the package under a license that requires that the user pays me a fee and agrees to not distribute the package to others, then that is my choice.

    If, by the same token, I feel that the package is something I'd like to share and get proactive feedback on, get others to help build and allow them to fit it into their environment exactly, then I'd be more likely to use a BSD-style license.

    GPL destroys the rights of the individual developer or developer house to write software the way they want to right it and do with that software as they want to. Under the GPL, all software becomes the property of everyone and no one has a claim to that software.

    The DMCA is one extreme, the GPL is the opposite extreme. Thats how I've grown to see it over the past 2 or 3 years that I've actually bothered taking notice of what I'm using.

    I use GPL software because the license says I can. I write software under the BSD-style license because I'm able to keep the project as mine, and not give up all my rights to the over-reaching RMS.

    RMS has gradually been over extending his reach into the Opensource and Free software worlds. He has been given honorary place amoung the community because for a long time, he did good. He was a great spokesman and that will never be forgotten. However, his actions lately have led me to ignore him and no longer respect him. He forces projects to follow his vision and threatens them. For that reason, I will never submit any of my works to the GNU projects, or donate towards the FSF.
    • You make several totally wrong statements in your post.

      Firstly.. the GPL does not destroy the rights of the individual developer. He still holds the copyright on the code. He has not given that away.
      And as the copyright holder, he can still do *whatever he wants* with his code. He is under no obligation to continue distributing it. He can release versions under whatever license he wants. He can sell the code to Microsoft. He can do anything he feels like with it.
      In fact.. as the author, you are the ONLY person who can license that software to someone else under other terms. Everyone else is stuck with the GPL.
      The only thing the author can't do is revoke the rights he granted others under GPL.
  • He proposes that the source code be put in escrow or whatever similar. This creates a lot of administrative burden on the government body and will quickly become ineffective within the first year of operation. Second, this is unfair as long as a person from one nation (without this law) steals the source code and sells only the binary.
    • Maybe I didn't succeed in describing Lessig's idea in my article. Lessig wants to create an automated escrow service through the Internet. When you file for copyright protection, you also file your source code. You don't need to file your source code, but according to Lessig the filing is a well-balanced transaction cost. In return for your efforts you get a monopoly, that is copyright.

      Mikael

  • I read through the article, well.. at least I tried to. Maybe it's just my fault, but they used the word 'code' in so many different places, and some that didn't make any sense. I assume a 'codified GNU GPL' means make the GNU GPL into a law, but it doesn't explain how that would work, and thus uses 'code' in the terms of 'law code'. Then later it says 'code is law.' I have no clue what the hell that could mean, it's not even english as far as I can tell. It's almost equivalent to saying book is pants. This isn't even apples and oranges here, as those are at least somewhat similar.

    So, for someone who has no clue what the hell this article is talking about, even though I tried to read it, can someone please explain it? How would a 'GNU GPL law' (or 'codified GNU GPL I guess I should say?) work? Require all software to be GPL?
    • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Informative)

      by mpawlo ( 260572 )
      I'm sorry to learn that the article didn't make any sense to you. I can appreciate that my use of code as code in software and code as law is very unfortunate.

      I will try to clarify my point in some short parapgraphs.

      The issue that I am trying to address and discuss is: if we should and were able to change current copyright law and the way we look at software protection into something else - what would it be?

      I can't see a perfect alternative among the present ideas of copyright protection. However, I think some people tend to rule out for example - replacing the copyright statues with GNU GPL - just because they don't like the GNU GPL. My point is that we could instead think of a world where there was something else instead of copyright for computer programs.

      Thinking like an economist, I am sure that we need proper incentives for programmers. Therefore I am not convinced that the Free Software Foundation license could replace copyright law all the way. However, thinking like a citizen, I think we need more transparency in the software, thus following Lessig's ideas expressed in Code and other laws of Cyberspace. Somewhere between the GNU GPL and the current copyright protection I think we can find a new balanced solution to protection of computer programs with good incentives for programmers but a greater deal of transparency than what we have today.

      Therefore I introduced the Swedish word "lagom" into the debate. I know that my article lacks a definition of "lagom" copyright, but please just consider this the start. I think we have very different views of what "lagom" copyright for computer programs is.

      TRIPS, the Berne Convention and the WIPO Copyright Treaty plus the amount of works currently protected by life + seventy copyright statues make me very pessimistic about the possibility to change copyright law. However, we need to start finding good alternatives to todays software protection. Over time, the protection for new computer programs might change. If we do nothing, our children and their children will have to deal with these issues when we are long gone. Well, actually they will deal with these issues no matter what - currently copyrighted will be protected for another 150 years...

      Best regards

      Mikael

  • by DotComVictim ( 454236 ) on Sunday January 13, 2002 @07:37AM (#2831947)
    I'm sorry, but the article referenced seems to imply that it would be legal and ethical to pass laws restricting or eliminating proprietary software licenses. This is totally and absolutely wrong. The copyright owner is the sole person able to determine the conditions of use of the work. To remove this principle eliminates the foundation for the free software movement.

    I advocate whatever license you should choose. Personally, I like the BSD license, and dislike the GPL. But if you can only choose from a set of pre-determined licenses, do you really think the GPL is going to be a choice? There are too many vested commercial interests that want the GPL license to go away.
    • I don't think your ideals are very realistic. The truth is that contracts are not magical, and it is a government's responsibility to determine which sorts of contracts it will and will not expend resources to enforce. I don't see why I should be required to pay MANDATORY taxes to support contracts that are part of a system that is not in my interest. So sure, write whatever screwing-the-populace license you want, just don't expect me to pay to have my police enforce it for you.
    • I'm sorry, but the article referenced seems to imply that it would be legal and ethical to pass laws restricting or eliminating proprietary software licenses. This is totally and absolutely wrong. The copyright owner is the sole person able to determine the conditions of use of the work. To remove this principle eliminates the foundation for the free software movement.

      There are principles, misconceptions and damned misconceptions

      • At stake is not what individuals are permitted to do with the code their write (anything), but what they can justifiably claim that we, as the state via the court system, are obliged to do to protect their desires.
      • morally, it should be obvious that the answer is nothing: there is no moral right to use public goods to make money, and the court system is a public good?
      • "We", since "we" apply the principle of enlightened self interest, decided that certain laws shall be passed that give copyright rights to creators, for our benefit. And, from the same reason, we are ready to enforce certain licences that you may want to use, because such enforcement is good for society, not because you have any right.
      • The article is striking the right tone. We must find what system of laws governing copyright and licence enforcement promotes the social good of having the maximum amount of value available to everyone. That requires some balance between rewarding creativity without stifling future innovation and without giving creators excessive control (which comes at everyone's expense).
      • How to achieve that is a practical question. If RMS wants to make the case that compulsory licencing of software will contribute to this goal, let him make the case. There are other cases of compulsory licences in the law, but each new case must be judged on the merit.
      • So why not reduce the cant about "rights". Copyright and licencing are not human rights, they are legal tools designed to promote the common good.
    • Wrong. If license terms say "We will eat your third born son. Consent to this term is implied by clicking on the "I Accept this License" button." then they are unenforceable because they infringe on a right that is held to be fundamental. For the same reason, you cannot sell yourself into slavery in the US, no matter how much money somebody offers you or how airtight the contract is - because the contract is fundamentally illegal or treads on rights that are held to be more fundamental than your right to enter into a contract.


      Furthermore, there OUGHT to be substantially more limitations on what rights can be given up by a "click-through" style "license" or an implicit license like the GPL, BSD, or any other usual software license (obviously, enterprise software contracts between companies are different as they usually hold the signatures of representatives/executives from both companies and are substantially more legally binding).


      I don't believe a click-through license should be able to give up rights to jury trial (see Borland Kylix license article from yesterday), because right to settlement by jury trial is a fundamental right in our society. Likewise, with the right to privacy and Borland's license term that lets them search your premises for license infringements at their leisure. I believe that a license that gives up the latter right should probably require physical signature by both parties, and I believe the former term (giving up right to jury trial settlement) should be illegal, period. And chances are a lot of courts would agree with me.


      If we accept this point of view, then we can probably acknowledge that there are real limitations to the kinds of restrictions that a license such as the GPL can place on its licensees. However, the interesting and VERY important difference here is that in the case of the GPL, you are licensing the Copyrighted work for modification and redistribution. This is a right you don't have at all without the GPL, though it's conceivable that it could be ruled that parts of the GPL are "severable" in the sense that the restrictive clauses don't hold up but the distribution clauses do. This would be a very Bad Thing, of course, were it to happen, since it would violate the intentions of implicit contracts that thousands and thousands of people have entered into by working on GPLed projects. I am not the hugest GPL fan myself, but I don't want the rights of those who have released software under the GPL tromped upon.


      A click through license that seeks to limit _external_ rights, rather than grant rights of redistribution or modification of the copyrighted work, is in my opinion, substantially more legally suspect, especially without the legal contract signature. I don't understand how a court could ever rule that such clauses could bind a person and that a person could give up rights _outside_ of the copyright protections already enjoyed by the author of the software they are using. IANAL, but I still hold that this sort of thing will eventually be struck down when a half-way competent lawyer takes it before the courts, UCITA or no UCITA, it's a matter of constitutionality when the license clauses get this outrageous.


      [end rant]

      • One quick note about the GPL:

        Under current copyright law, the GPL does not impose any restrictions. It only gives you the additional privilege of distributing copies (including modified copies) of the GPL'd program, if follow certain guidelines. Unlike most shrink-wrap licences, you don't have to agree to the GPL to read/use/modify the program, but (presumably) nothing else gives you the privilege of distributing copies of the program.

      • It seems to me that if someone is stupid enough to agree to a license that takes away their fundamental rights, they should lose them. If a license is completely unacceptable, the appropriate thing to do is to not use the software (or listen to the music, or whatever), not break the license and then claim, "Well, I don't think it ought to be enforced." Agreeing to abide by something and then breaking that agreement does nothing but degrade the image of people who are really willing to make a sacrifice in order to take a stand.


        Although I'm not particularly worried about software licensing schemes and so forth, what really is starting to worry me is the attitude that people take that copyright law shouldn't apply to them. (Most prevalent in music trading, of course, but existant in many other forms as well.) I certainly am not looking forward to the day when I have to go down to the bookstore and sign a contract in order to buy a book, just because some people can't be bothered to obey copyright law.

  • Just hot air (Score:3, Interesting)

    by arQon ( 447508 ) on Sunday January 13, 2002 @08:08AM (#2831985) Homepage
    Until such time as the GPL is actually enforced, this kind of talk is nothing but a pointless ego-wank for people trying to impress us with how liberal and/or hip to the community they are.

    On a small scale, codifying the GPL just takes the decision on that enforcement out of the hands of the people who produced the code in the first place and give it to an overworked legal system that most of us wouldn't trust as far we can throw it anyway.

    On a larger scale, if ALL end-user code has to be open you adversely impact all sorts of things that you never considered in your knee-jerk reaction. Okay, so you might want Word opened so that we can get of these BS proprietary formats; or Outlook opened so the damn thing doesn't propogate infections faster than an open wound in the Black Hole of Calcutta. That's great, and there are real benefits there. Meanwhile though, online gaming goes into the shitter as every client instantly becomes 100% untrustworthy.

    And what would it really help, as far as the GNU "ethic" goes? The same people that steal GPL'd code today would continue to do so: whether it's one guy and his pet project with a very limited audience (e.g. MQW) or a megacorp that loves the GPL for helping them cut development cost/time but doesn't go for "that hippy ideology" of actually returning the favour.

    Scum will be scum no matter what you do with the laws. "Breaking" the GPL is already illegal, and it's not stopping them so far.
    Seems to me that the only reason the utter drivel of the original article even gets a mention (and thanks for wasting 5 minutes of my life, BTW) is that those with an axe to grind about MS will get wood over the idea.
  • by LatJoor ( 464031 ) <latjoor@nOsPAM.hotmail.com> on Sunday January 13, 2002 @08:35AM (#2832019) Homepage
    According to Lessig there is no reason to ban or punish proprietary providers. But this view is hardly consistent with Lessig's view on the future of software copyright law. In Lessig's future system, proprietary providers are severely punished. They lose about 100 years of protection, the current copyright protection of life of author plus 70 year,s compared to five plus five years and then full disclosure.

    I think the author misunderstands this. Taking away most of the term of the software copyright is not "punishing" proprietary providers, it continues to reward them for publishing closed code by giving them exclusive rights for ten years. It does reduce their *reward* to a much more reasonable term, since most software is pretty much useless after 10 years. Don't forget that this copyright term is a gift from the government to the author, not a fundamental right.

    Meanwhile, those who publish Free Software get no rewards in today's system, and Lessig suggests that they should get some when he says that the government should "encourage" open source. "Encourage" means "reward" desired behavior.

    Copyright is an entirely artificial right, constructed for social purposes, not one of those "inalienable" rights in the Declaration of Independance. It is, in fact, more reminiscent of the medieval system of "rights" where the term really meant privileges granted by the feudal system. For example, in many places in Europe the lord had a "right" to sleep with any bride before the husband got a go at her. These kinds of rights can change as society sees fit, according to what is deemed most beneficial.

    Perhaps it is best that we reward artists and programmers for their work to provide them an incentive, but this is not a matter of fundamental morality. If you don't want your work copied you can keep it secret, but if you share it with others I see no innate, compelling reason why you should have the power to control how each person uses it should it fall into their hands. In fact, I *do* find it immoral that some should try to restrict use of their work or discoveries in a way that unduly restricts the work's benefit to society in the name of profiteering.

    Furthermore, it's unfortunate that this article does not address patents, because even if proprietary sources are divulged ten years from the release of the code, they will remain useless to others if they implement still-active patents held by the author.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I think I should explain where the word lagom comes from...

    The word lagom was invented at the bar tables of the vikings, around year 800.
    The vikings were drinking meed, and sharing the mugs around the table.
    They had a thumb rule which said that the meed should be passed "the team around" - "laget om" in swedish. So to have every viking to drink the right amount, so that everyone would have as much, they invented a word for this amount.
    They made an abbrivation out of the expression "laget om", which now became "lagom".

    has been used ever since :)
  • GNU and GPL is not about politics (law making) or economics (as in direct cash). It's about Getting Things DONE!

    This is very important to understand the priority here. Taking care of "Getting Things DONE" means that the ripple effect (improving all other industries as a result of one industry - i.e. oil and how that effected all others - transportation..) actually CAN and then DOES happen in and from the computer industry.

    Up untill GNU/Linux/GPL the industry was so damn duck butt tight on every thing it could find and put under constrained control, that this Ripple effect was prevented from happening. And even now it's only just beginning and will improve as the locks on software development methodologies are now becommng far more open to improvemnets, lock removal (programming is the act of automating complexity made up of simpler things, where even programming can be far better automated than what the proprietary gatekeepers [milk it, milk it, milk it] have been allowing).

    It's all About Getting Things DONE. When you get things done the side effect is improved economy, and the constitution of the US already supports that, so the politics is already handled too.

    Just Get things DONE! The symptoms indicated in economy and politics regarding the computer industry........

    Well after all the milking that's gone on, ask yourself this question: GOT MILK? (ripple effect)

    Then this question: How is GNU/Linux/GPL helping to generate and cause the long overdue ripple effect? (Got Chocolate Milk? Sweeeeeeet!)

    If there is any laws to change, it the "cannot" based laws. They need to be changed to "can" based. As getting a patent or copyright does not somehow give the creator magical power to best make use of their creation. But being open for others to apply it, improve it, etc., certainly generates far more benefit for the population and society. As such it should also benefit the creator more too. Better to have a smaller piece of a huge pie than a large piece of a really small pie. Which one would you need more milk with?
  • by wfrp01 ( 82831 ) on Sunday January 13, 2002 @09:55AM (#2832201) Journal
    The goal of the GPL is software freedom [gnu.org]. These freedoms are zero indexed, of course:

    * The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
    * The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
    * The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
    * The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

    I think speaking of a "GNU GPL law" only serves to confound the issue. The issue is software freedom, whether this is something society should value, and what means work best to achieve that end.

    The GPL is just a tool.
  • This is a pointlessly divisive debate. What difference does it make if RMS and Bradley Kuhn would support radical change in US copyright laws regarding software?

    It's as silly as a heated debate over the future government of Mars.

    Radical change in US copyright law regarding software has about as much chance of happening in the next 30 years as legalization of marijuana.

    All we can do is fight for what few legal rights we do have (e.g. the right to reverse engineer), and work outside the political and legal system to create a world in which software copyrights don't matter, by writing and supporting Free Software.

    Tim O'Reilly, ESR, RMS, and others: please stop the pointless squabbling.
  • by markj02 ( 544487 ) on Sunday January 13, 2002 @02:22PM (#2833069)
    Copyright law was not designed to be used with computer programs. Its extension to computer programs has happened in a haphazard way via case-law. Only later did some legislation get passed, strongly favoring large business interests.

    Originally, the view prevailed that binary code was not copyrightable because it was obviously (usually) not something created by humans that was readable by them. But by analogy with encrypted cable channels, and because of a general bias towards business interests, that view changed. Today, not only are binaries copyrighted, publishers are permitted to impose onerous contracts on purchasers, something that would be obviously ridiculous if it were done with printed books. In fact, software companies are permitted to get patents without providing a working implementation (often the hard part), they can get a copyright yet fail to comply with fair use doctrines, and they keep trade secrets on stuff that they also claim copyrights on.

    What all that means is that we need to rethink what intellectual property should mean for computer programs.

    Now, RMS's position, is one way in which one might think about changing copyright law. It's not about some communist utopia (no-cost software may or may not be the side-effect, but it's not the goal), it's about the ability to modify programs that you paid for and share the modifications with others, and for that you need source code. You might imagine an open source requirements in which everybody who sells software and claims copyright is required to ship sources with it, but you cannot redistribute sources or binaries you receive yourself, although you may redistribute patches and other users can buy the base software from the same vendor you did. You might imagine legislating that any software license must give you at least the rights of something like the QPL, protecting commercial interests but allowing free software and giving commercial users source access. You might also imagine a requirement to put works that are not available anymore into the public domain or into some clearinghouse (this is also an issue with out-of-print books).

    While some form of proprietary software, as opposed to free software, may be beneficial, I think it is pretty clear that the current legal mechanisms by which proprietary software is protected are not working very well.

    • To summarize, Minix's original license would be beneficial to consumers, while protecting the profiteers' interests. Combine that with a 5-10-year software copyright term and a 3-year software patent term, and the software industry might actually start progressing again.
  • by bkuhn ( 41121 ) on Sunday January 13, 2002 @03:07PM (#2833237) Homepage
    It appears that there are a number of confusions in Pawlo's article that I
    would like to clear up, if possible.

    It is ultimately biased to discuss whether or not "someone wants to make
    proprietary software illegal". Proprietary software is, as Pawlo's
    article notes, based on copyright law. Copyright law is a construct
    created by various legal systems throughout the world, and it makes
    proprietary software possible.

    Laws exist in Free societies for the good of the public. The question
    that we raise in the Free Software Movement is: "When copyright law is
    applied to software, does it have a negative or positive effect on
    society?" And, "If that effect is negative, what changes must be made so
    that the public is best served in the realm of software?"

    These are hard questions to consider, and are by and large ignored in
    today's Free Software debates. I theorize that they are ignored for two
    reasons: (a) none of us in the Free Software community have the means to
    change existing copyright law anyway and (b) we already have legal tools
    that allow us to work for software freedom within the existing copyright
    system. In a sense, we have a working solution to the problem.

    The GNU GPL is a legal tool that works within the copyright system to
    build a world with software freedom for all. However, the GNU GPL never
    tries to do an end-run around existing copyright law, nor could it; it is
    a copyright license. The GNU GPL is the interim solution that is designed
    to give and defend freedom in a world where proprietary software exists
    and is the norm.

    In the future, perhaps our congresses, houses of parliament, and political
    leaders will be ready to have the debate about how copyright for software
    could be changed to truly serve society. The Free Software Movement
    should be ready and poised to enter that debate when it begins. However,
    we at the FSF by and large don't actively propose ideas of how software
    copyright law could be changed to serve society better. It just seems
    silly to play "what-if"---focusing on a message that our politicians
    aren't ready nor willing to hear. So, we focus on battles we can likely
    win: opposition of extending copyright law any further, and a repeal of
    the DMCA and DCMA-like laws worldwide.

    The Free Software Movement is unique among social movements; we currently
    have the means to create the commons we want (i.e., hacking talent) and
    the legal tools to defend that commons (i.e., the GNU GPL). I suggest
    that we focus on building a better commons and defending the commons we
    have, rather than arguing about what we would do if we suddenly became

    president or prime minister.

    I agree that "what-if" and self-satire are fun games to play at a cocktail
    party. However, we have a serious and hard road ahead of us to win
    software freedom for computer users. I hope that we can close this debate
    that has dragged on and on in our community. I suggest that we focus on
    what we need to do in the coming year to defend the software freedom we
    have, and to give software freedom to more people who don't have it yet.
    • Bradley M Kuhn:

      "The Free Software Movement should be ready and poised to enter that debate when it begins."

      Wake up and smell the coffee - this is it!

      I am very surprised to learn of your defensive attitude. You started the debate by releasing free software and the GNU GPL and now you dislike the current debate and wait for the "real" debate to begin? Meanwhile, new copyright legislation is adopted in the EU through the Infosoc directive and the anti-circumvention ideas of the DMCA enter Europe.

      I am sorry, but this doesn't make much sense to me. Richard M Stallman has accomplished a lot by releasing the free software school of philosophy and the GNU GPL. It is the number one major, global, full-scale experiment concerning copyright and Stallman is basically a genius.

      Therefore, it is very sad that the Free Software Foundation choose not to consider and discuss the alternatives to the current legislation. I think you could add a lot of experience and thoughts to such a discourse. I am not convinced that the GNU GPL is perfect in its current draft, but it's a good start for a discussion on todays legislation. So is the BSD license, the open source definition and also any proprietary license. They all develop and push the discussion of copyright further, whether you like it or not. So does the development of software patents and the opposition against them.

      The politicians are listening, but in order for them to even consider a change in major international treaties and conventions like TRIPS, the Berne Convention and WIPO's Copyright Treaty, one needs to give them arguments for a change. Copyright of today is a global issue. Still - laws can be changed. I consider the US Constitution and the work of the framers an act of geniuses. Do you know why? They were simple farmers and they knew they weren't perfect. Hence, even the US Constitution can be changed. That's the beauty of it.

      Regards

      Mikael

  • Lets put it this way: The only people who bash the GPL are those who do not believe that all software can and should be free. It's as simple as that. GPL is anti-proprietary, BSD is not. GPL is only "less free" if you're looking to profit from selling licenses of modified versions. Frankly, if I put a lot of time and effort into a piece of software for the love of programming and with the goal of helping people, I don't want somebody else taking my code, improving it a little, and then selling it as non-free software. If I license the software as GPL, I am guaranteed that the latest and greatest rendition will REMAIN free and that any contributions that others make will also be free.

    Why do some people not believe that all software can and should be free? Because although they may share the "idealistic" vision of a free-information society, they are afraid that somehow, the elimination of proprietary software will put them out of a job. Wrong. There are plenty ways to make money producing software without charging for licenses. Just because VA and others lacked direction and failed miserably doesn't mean the model is some broken dot-Com dream. The reason that there are so few jobs in the production of GPL software is that most programmer geeks are lazy and afraid to take risks. The employers that exist today are the 'previous generation' types, who are trapped in the proprietary-thinking box and refuse to leave because it's working for them. It is the software manufacturing mindset, "build widgets and sell them." Nobody thus far has even made an attempt at truly treating software production as a service instead of a product. Customers don't care about licenses, they care about solutions. Provide a better solution and you will make money. Why is this so hard for people to understand?

    I never thought I'd see the day when Slashdot was one of the biggest FUD machines against free software.
    • Lets put it this way: The only people who bash the GPL are those who do not believe that all software can and should be free.

      I fully agree. Which is why I prefer the BSD license, because I don't think that eliminating all proprietary software is in any way practical.

      As immoral as I might think proprietary software to be, it is even more immoral for me to tell some other person what they can or cannot do with their software, especially if they wrote it.

      I don't want somebody else taking my code, improving it a little, and then selling it as non-free software.

      Nobody can take your code. They just can't. It's physically and metaphysically impossible. No matter how much they download from your ftp site, your original software is still there, untouched and undamaged.
      • I fully agree. Which is why I prefer the BSD license, because I don't think that eliminating all proprietary software is in any way practical.

        Nothing is impossible for those who set their minds to it. The rest can take a back seat and watch. If you believe the world would be a better place without any proprietary software, why not try to make it happen? You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

        it is even more immoral for me to tell some other person what they can or cannot do with their software

        We're not talking about their software, we're talking about your software or software developed by the Open Source community.

        Nobody can take your code. They just can't. It's physically and metaphysically
        impossible.


        I didn't mean 'take' in the sense of physically displace. I meant 'take' as in 'use as the basis for a derivative work.'

        Using the BSD license supports proprietary software. It's as simple as that. You're helping somebody else get rich off of your altruistic efforts. Microsoft can use your code to help further their empire. Adobe can use your code in the next eBook software. Companies can use your code against you. With GPL, they cannot. GPL ensures that your pet project grows by the community and does not fork off into proprietary derivatives. BSD is a temptation for contributers not to give back; GPL mandates that they do (if the software is in any way made public.) If I'm doing Open Source consulting for the purpose of making a living while writing free software, I don't want some other consulting firm using my free code and turning it proprietary to be used in their own solution. That is free-riding. And that would be an economic incentive for me to never release my code, which would ruin my business model. With GPL, my competitor must either contribute to my code, helping us both out, or start over from scratch and re-invent the wheel. GPL ensures that the wheel never needs re-invented.
        • Nothing is impossible for those who set their minds to it.

          A world without proprietary software would be nice. But it's not worth the price of telling other people what they can do with the software they wrote.

          We're not talking about their software, we're talking about your software or software developed by the Open Source community.

          If it's software that I wrote, then I will have either released it under the BSD license, or have been paid good bucks to write it for someone else. Either way I have no problem. If I did not write it, and it is proprietary, then I have only myself to blame if I don't like the licensing terms, since I was the one of my own free will who chose it.

          I didn't mean 'take' in the sense of physically displace. I meant 'take' as in 'use as the basis for a derivative work.'

          And what in blazes is wrong with that? Everywhere I look I see GPL software that has used other software as its basis. If it's okay for GNU to do, then it's okay for everyone else. The sooner GNU dumps their crazy double standard the quicker the mainstream will take them seriously.

          It's as simple as that. You're helping somebody else get rich off of your altruistic efforts.

          And just what is wrong with that? If GNU is all about people NOT getting rich, then they should be honest about it and just say so.

          Microsoft can use your code to help further their empire.

          Yeah, so what? Seriously, so what? If you're against Microsoft profiting off of my code, be aware that if I used the GPL then Redhat could profit just as easily off of it. And if your against Microsoft withholding my own source code from me, be aware that they can do no such thing as I still possess it and am the legal copyright holder. And finally, if you're concerned that Microsoft will withhold the source code for the derivative work (minus my own code), I have no claim to it anyway since I did not write it. If "software should not be owned", then derivative software should be owned that much less.

          Frankly, it's stupid using Big Bad Names(tm) like Microsoft and Adobe in order to scare me into using the GPL. Are you implying that without megacorporations proprietary software would be okay?

          If I'm doing Open Source consulting for the purpose of making a living while writing free software, I don't want some other consulting firm using my free code and turning it proprietary to be used in their own solution. That is free-riding. And that would be an economic incentive for me to never release my code

          I don't know what kind of consulting you do, but you had better get your act together before you get your ass sued off. Code that you write as a contractor for a client is the legal property of the client. It is not yours to release however you want. You can, of course, stipulate in the contract that the client will license the code back to you (under the GPL as an example), so for your legal health I hope you have.
          • A world without proprietary software would be nice. But it's not worth the price of telling other people what they can do with the software they wrote.

            If it's software that they wrote entirely themselves, then fine, let them do what they please with it. But as someone who would like to see all proprietary software go away, GPL allows me to exclude them from using my code. Yes, it's aggressive. But it's a means of change. And it's a means of protection from big software companies who could use our own free code to derail the Open Source movement by always offering a slightly modified or slightly incompatible version with extra features and big name support. It hasn't come to that point, but it could.

            If GNU is all about people NOT getting rich, then they should be honest about it and just say so.

            Perhaps I would say that GNU is about people not getting rich from selling licenses. They are free to get rich in other ways that do not reduce the freedom of the software--which I believe is inherently bad for society. It also eliminates the possibility of software monopolies, instead encouraging smaller businesses that, since they can't make money on licenses, have to focus on services instead. Labor markets (providing the services), follow supply and demand, unlike the virtual markets created by legally enforced copyright. But that's a whole matter of personal philosophy...

            I don't know what kind of consulting you do, but you had better get your act together before you get your ass sued off. Code that you write as a contractor for a client is the legal property of the client. It is not yours to release however you want. You can, of course, stipulate in the contract that the client will license the code back to you (under the GPL as an example), so for your legal health I hope you have.

            Interesting point. I was not aware of this. Actually, I was using this as a hypothetical example, but I have considered doing OSS consulting, so I'll have to be careful here. My idea is basically to provide complete solutions (hardware / software / installation / tech support) at a lower total cost than what proprietary software contractors offer. This would then provide me the income to work full-time on existing Open Source projects such that they would meet the clients' needs as contracted. I guess the sticky point is what the contract officially entails. If they are paying me as providing a service, does is matter if I write code to help fulfill that service?
            • If they are paying me as providing a service, does is matter if I write code to help fulfill that service?

              I guess it depends on the contract, specifically, what they are paying you for. If it's for a "service" or "solution", then the code isn't necessarily theirs. After all, many consultants do the same thing with off the shelf software. But if the solution *is* the code, your legal standing is questionable. The best thing to do would be to create a contract in advance that sets the terms you want. You may want to check out GNU to see if they know of anyone with standard contracts of this sort. I would also check out www.goingware.com for some legal pointers on contracting.

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