Subject: Re: OpenSources "opensourced"
From: Ian Lance Taylor <ian@airs.com>
Date: 20 May 1999 12:34:38 -0400

   Date: Wed, 19 May 1999 16:20:00 -0700
   From: Rich Persaud <persaudl@autometa.com>

   "Open Source" is about natural selection in computer-encoded 
   knowledge.  Anything propagated by digital bits with a near-zero marginal 
   cost of reproduction.  Precisely *like* source code, you *do* want people 
   making improvements to the primary source material.  One need only have 
   version control to achieve accountability, linked to the digital reputation 
   of the author.  Why should one author imply more accountability than 
   multiple authors, when we have digital audit trails for authorship? Let the 
   original author manage the SCM system for tracking modifications.

If I take a document, and liberally add and remove the word ``not,''
and then add my name as coauthor, I have severly distorted the message
of the original author.  How many people will take the time to figure
out that the original author said something quite different?

This is, essentially, forgery.  I think there is something wrong with
a license which permits people to forge messages in this manner.

Essays and source code may look the same to a computer, but people
treat them differently.  People are wary of modified source code in a
way that they are not wary of a modified essay.  Of course, people may
learn to be careful about modified essays.  Right now, though, I don't
want my name attached to an essay which people may legally modify and
continue to attribute to me.

   Open source eliminates the need for each author to start from scratch. 
   Imagine if each generation of human beings was to forget all knowledge 
   developed by past generations. We wouldn't get very far as a species.  Yet, 
   that is what we ask of IP authors. Do everything yourself.  Start from 
   scratch, because you don't have property rights.  This completely ignores 
   the advertising and distribution value of having someone sub-class your 
   IP.  Would you rather own a small piece of a small pie, or influence the 
   evolution of an infinite number of expanding pies?

This is a strawman.  IP rights are not indefinite.  The RSA patent has
expired.  Copyright terms are getting longer and longer, but those
only cover specific expression, not IP in the sense that it requires
people to start from scratch.

I'm not a big fan of IP, but it's not because it requires each author
to start from scratch.  It doesn't.

   Current global resource distribution is the result of military 
   conflict.

This is simplistic.  There are many strands to history.  I recommend
the recent book ``Guns, Germs, and Steel'' by Jared Diamond.

   More wars have been fought over ideology than 
   property.

I doubt it.  If we are assigning a single cause to warfare, I would
say that most wars are fought over property (resources might be a
better term) or population pressure.  Ideology is used to simplify the
terms of the war to give the soldiers some reason to fight,
particularly since they often do not stand to share in the property
gains.

   Ideology has been propagated by open source techniques.  The 
   literature of the major religions was created by collaborative development, 
   but they didn't have good version control.

Perhaps, but I'm not sure I buy it.  The pope's proclamations may be
somewhat collaborative when they are created, but they are not changed
after they are promulgated.  We still read the unmodified
St. Augustine, St. Aquinas, and Martin Luther.  The text of the Lotus
Sutra has been the same for 2000 years.  What makes these texts open
source?

   Global resource distribution 
   (national borders) would be very different today if religions had limited 
   their evolution and distribution with intellectual property rights.

The Catholic church did limit the evolution and distribution of their
IP.  They said that only the priesthood reporting to the Pope could
interpret the Bible.  People who tried to interpret the Bible in
unacceptable ways were excommunicated and, until the successful
Reformation, killed.  Yet the Catholic church remains one of the most
powerful existing religious bodies.

   Those who want to be closed, go right ahead. It is profitable to be closed 
   as long as no one is being open.  If at least *one* high-quality provider 
   of IP is open, the economic value of being closed is eliminated for every 
   other provider of IP in the same contextual space.  Just ask 
   Microsoft.  Free doesn't generate software revenue. It generates mindshare 
   which then drives collateral revenue (training, services, software that 
   builds on the free base).  That's the good thing about natural 
   selection.  It always selects, if you wait long enough.

If you are selling IP, and somebody else makes provides equivalent IP
in an open way, then I agree that you are probably in trouble.
However, this only applies if your only value is your IP, and that
only applies if your IP is only valuable in itself without reference
to any material object at all, and that only applies in the software
market and in electronic data distribution, which is very very new.  I
don't see the historical forces you describe at all.

   One good thing about current overloading of the term "Open Source" is that 
   even a flawed Open Source implementation spreads the Open Source 
   meme.  Closed systems (software, books, music) invite competition from open 
   systems.  No need for us to argue about which is best.  We'll know the 
   answer soon enough.  Open competition changes markets much faster than 
   closed competition.  We are looking at fractals embedded in 
   fractals.  Those riding the Open Source train dare not forget that the 
   train is being driven by the most ruthless enforcer of property rights that 
   humans know.

   It's name is Nature.

Despite my problems with the rest of your note, I do more or less
agree with this (although I don't know what fractals embedded in
fractals have to do with anything).  I would say it quite differently,
though: software and electronic distribution are very different from
anything that has come before, and force new ways of thinking.

Ian