Subject: Re: The term "intellectual property" considered useful
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Thu, 04 May 2006 20:50:42 +0900

In the following, I'm aware that Kelly has responded by characterizing
Richard's paraphrase as "reasonable."  That's his choice, with which I
respectfully disagree in principle, though it may serve amply for
Kelly's particular usage.

>>>>> "rms" == Richard Stallman <> writes:

    >> Still, I wonder what's wrong with the term as used in this
    >> sentence: "The venture capitalists are concerned that we are
    >> protecting our intellectual property."

    rms> The term "protecting" is propaganda too; see

Your use of the term "propaganda" is propaganda, too.  No term, by
itself, is propaganda.  Sadly, it seems fair to characterize your usage
of "'TERM' is propaganda" as reflecting your intent, as this thread is
about your attempt to deprecate all uses everywhere of "intellectual
property" as propagandistic.

In this case, the whole point of "property" in general is that you
have the right to protect it, by force in some cases, but preferably
by appeal to the government.  If any form of "property" is at issue,
of course advocates are going to use the word "protect".  I see
nothing propagandistic about that.

Rather, what you are here calling "propaganda" is merely a presumption
of a certain collection of legal facts that you wish were repealed,
and their implications.  So point out the presumption, and advocate
repeal of the facts.  For the rest of us who must deal with that
collection of facts in practice, it is nonetheless useful to have a
term for that collection, and your present attempt to substitute
something else is quite buggy, as I'll argue below.

    rms> However, limiting the issue to "intellectual property"
    rms> doesn't really fit the investors' wishes either, since this
    rms> is simply part of a broader possible intention to get every
    rms> possible legal advantage over competitors.

You "simply" are not in a position to make that judgment.  It's quite
possible given the presumption of free software business that the use
of the GPL for *all* the company's software has already been discussed
with the VCs, they're "on board," and they are concerned only that he
not be naive about enforcing the GPL and getting necessary licenses
for technology he plans to use, or distribute under the GPL.[1]

Is it so horrible, on FSB, to presume that free software businessmen
have made a moral choice to use FS licenses, and that implies a moral
responsibility to get capital only from sources that acknowledge and
support (or at least not interfere with) FS licensing?  In such case,
may we not *presume* that *our* investors are with us?  Sure, we could
be mistaken---which is why I add the second kind of responsibility,
which is to avoid such mistakes.  If you believe that such mistakes
will be unavoidable, in fact, that they will be the rule, aren't you
force to deny the raison d'etre of this mailing list?

    >> How would you rephrase the sentence above?

    rms> How about:

    rms>   The venture capitalists want us to use all available legal
    rms> powers to handicap our competitors.

Speaking of "propaganda", there's a good and gratuitous example.
From it I gather that you harbor a strong antipathy toward venture
capitalists in general.  I certainly must advocate that an ethical
businessman *not* speak that way about his investors (unless he's
acknowledging a fatal error in judgment of his own, and advocating
that the VCs be fired!)

In fact, there's a simple substitution that answers the problem of the
"propagandistic" connotations of "property".  It doesn't immediately
bring "land" to mind; it includes various familiar forms of property
that are by definition term-limited such as "government bonds"; it
doesn't automatically and strongly associate with the word "rights".

That is the word "assets."  Viz:

    The venture capitalists are concerned that we are protecting
    our intellectual assets.

It's a little bit inaccurate, as the connotation of legal means (or
physical security) is much stronger for "property" than for
"assets".[2]  But it doesn't presume that the VCs chosen are "Gates &
Gecko, PLC", as yours does, and it doesn't include lawsuits for
antitrust violations or slander or breach of contract and the like, as
yours does.  It doesn't openly suggest preemptive strikes, as yours

In my opinion, it is clearly an improvement over Kelly's original,
given *your* social advocacy goals, and overall much more accurate
than the formulation you gave.

I don't expect you to agree, as IIRC I've mentioned the word "assets"
before and you've ignored the suggestion.  Nonetheless, I think FSBers
should give it consideration and discussion.

[1]  This doesn't deny that the VCs may have agreed to the GPL only
because the business plan involves derivatives of GPL software, or
that they may have zero interest in promoting free software per se,
the real goal being restricting distribution as far as the GPL allows.

Nonetheless, by funding development and distribution of GPL software,
they *are* promoting free software, are they not?  Isn't this
precisely the reason why you invented copyleft?

[2]  Where it often simply connotes good financial management.

Graduate School of Systems and Information Engineering   University of Tsukuba        Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
        Economics of Information Communication and Computation Systems
          Experimental Economics, Microeconomic Theory, Game Theory