Subject: Re: GPL and trademarks and brandnames...
From: Ian Lance Taylor <>
Date: 8 Nov 1998 00:02:28 -0500

   Date: Sat, 7 Nov 1998 22:56:40 -0500
   From: Brian Bartholomew <>

   I think "free software business" is an oxymoron, because the only ways
   you can make money are:

	   (a) by charging for access to proprietary IP (denying "free")

	   (b) by selling non-IP (denying "software")

	   (c) by being a charity or a government (denying "business").

How do you explain the existing free software businesses?

I know that you have argued that a brand name is itself proprietary
IP, but I don't personally accept that argument.  A brand name is just
what it says: a brand, or a name.  It is not itself intellectual
property.  It is not ordinarily sold.  It is more akin to a form of
advertising.  Trademark law exists to arbitrate disputes as to who
gets to use which name, and to prevent fraud via identify theft.

   > there are lots of services you can sell in your mixed economy

   None of those services are libre.  They either boil down to selling
   physical objects which don't copy cheaply (books and CDs of
   interesting bits), or they charge access to proprietary IP that could
   be more cheaply distributed as libre (bug databases, mental code
   documentation).  Libre code development is one of the few services
   that is libre, but it's unsellable because it creates an instant and
   massive free rider problem.

Yet Cygnus does perfectly well selling libre code development.

   > one way to look at free software support is that the vendor is
   > selling insurance against failures or inadequacies in the software.

   The support vendor is incented to invent a constant stream of flaws,
   to produce a constant stream of revenue to fix them.  The end state is
   the Microsoft version treadmill.  Not a libre business model.

Again, Cygnus sells support, but does not introduce flaws.  (There's
really no need to introduce flaws into software; it's buggy enough as
it is.)

In any case, I said free software support from an insurance company,
not necessarily from the original author.

   Asymptotically wonderful software does not need support.  And if it
   does need support, it's so well written and documented that the
   creator has no special advantage in providing it.  I know of at least
   one freeish software product that is so good that users stopped buying
   support contracts.  Faced with this loss of revenue, the license terms
   became more proprietary.

Sure, that can happen.  However, some users of complex software
products will be perfectly happy to buy insurance to limit their risk
if the software can not handle some situation.

From your response, I think I must have been unclear in what I was
saying.  I was not making the usual free software support argument
(not that I think there is anything wrong with it).  I was
specifically discussing support as insurance.  It can be sold by
anybody, not just the author.  It doesn't necessarily provide
documentation, or technical support.  What it provides is that if
something goes wrong, the company will either fix your problem or pay
you some sum of money.

   > I can in turn earn money myself with my detailed knowledge of
   > superhero comics trivia, highly useful for settling bar bets.

   You are incented to keep this knowledge proprietary to protect your
   livelihood.  You earn money by erecting artificial barriers to the
   free flow of this information, and charging rent as a gatekeeper.  Not
   a libre business model.

That makes no sense.  I'm talking about trivia knowledge about comic
books which sell over 100,000 copies every month.  I'm not in the
comic book business.  I can not possibly erect an artificial barrier
to the flow of this information.

It sounds like you have set your standards so high that nothing will
satisfy them.  What's the point of doing that?  Other people believe
that the words ``free software business'' are meaningful, and believe
that there actually are examples.  When you deny it, aren't you doing
it by redefining the words?

   > I'd actually really like to see a free information service of this
   > sort--one which answers questions based on freely available
   > information, but charges per question.  Does anybody know of one?
   > (The Usenet Oracle doesn't count.)

   Talk to a librarian -- I believe there are many for-pay research

I should have specified an Internet service.