Subject: Re: the walls have ears
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <turnbull@sk.tsukuba.ac.jp>
Date: Mon, 21 Jun 1999 19:25:30 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "Jean" == Jean Camp <Jean_Camp@harvard.edu> writes:

Well, actually I wrote and Jean quotes without attribution:

    >> Nobody is born endowed with GNU Emacs, or the computer to run
    >> it on, for that matter.

    Jean> And no one is born with a printing press either, does that
    Jean> mean the free press is not a right?

... yadda yadda yadda ...

My records indicate that the message to which Jean is responding was
private:

>>>>> "me" == Stephen J Turnbull <turnbull@sk.tsukuba.ac.jp> writes
      in <14161.62740.927831.799162@tanko.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp>:

>>>>> "Jean" == Jean Camp <Jean_Camp@harvard.edu> writes:

    Jean> What about the freedom to have those who would disagree with
    Jean> you silenced?

    me> I find this all fascinating, but I don't consider it on-topic
    me> anymore despite later references to Microsoft's behavior.  I'll
    me> continue offline, but if anybody wants copied, let me know ;-)

The "offline message" referred to is the one from which Jean reposted
excerpts.

I won't complain too much about that (my message was more flammable in
tone than it would have been if I was writing for publication---believe
it or not---but not embarrassingly so, and I did offer to copy
interested parties), but I can't resist noting how consistent it is
with Jean's generally cavalier philosophical treatment of authors'
rights.  Consistency _is_ a virtue....

Unfortunately, the point-by-point response to Jean's most recent post
is really long, because Jean consistently is selective in interpreting
my words, often is careless about context, and consistently sets up
incoherent analogies, so that I feel it necessary to guard against as
many potential misinterpretations as I can imagine.  Since I don't
think this aspect of the dialogue is going to improve (but do go ahead 
and surprise me, Jean, please), and most of the content is quite
off-topic, I'm not going to post that response to the list.  If anyone
cares about the detailed arguments,[1] I'll put it into HTML and post
an URL, but the essay is only half-baked as yet so I'm not going to do
that unless requested.  It will probably end up on my site at some
point in the not too distant future in any case.

However, I believe that the attempt to turn socially desirable
outcomes (here, open source) into "economic rights"[2] is very
dangerous to free software businesses, and to all other businesses.
(It also depreciates the very idea of "rights.")  So I'll make a
couple of general points here.

Perhaps it is not dangerous to "pure" free software businesses, but
several of the practices under discussion in other threads (such as
the Cygnus and ACT practice of requesting that customers not
redistribute their commercial products, and possibly the dual
licensing policy of Aladdin) would very likely be restricted by any
kind of "right to open source," and certainly Russ Nelson would be
guilty of (a) crime(s) against humanity, as he admits to holding as
proprietary the source of some (one?) packet drivers.  Raaaight....

As individual members of the political economy we should worry.  I
forget which fictional character said it (Lazarus Long?), but "when I
hear someone talking about `[economic] rights' I reach for my wallet
and my gun."  You know the tax collector can't be far behind....

I also believe that this procedure (ad hoc creation of so-called
"economic rights") is often rather counterproductive in terms of its
stated goals (see any recent issue of the Economist for discussions of
the high level of Europe's unemployment and utter failure of the
"Coalition for Jobs" or whatever it's called for the gist of the
argument---that is definitely off-topic).

In particular, in the arena of software, I think that it is a much
better idea to try to create competitive open source versions of
closed source programs (and better yet, leading edge implementations
of applications that have no analogy in closed source :-) and educate
users about the value of open source than to attempt to pry open
closed source ex-post by creating a "right to source code."

"Prying open existing closed source" is probably a straw man, at least
possibly not characteristic of Jean's intentions; but in today's legal
environment, which of you FSB proprietors would like to defend your
development process against a customer or competitor who files suit to
have all your code published?  There's no guarantee it would be
dismissed as "frivolous," not that I can see, as long as you have any
unpublished code in your possession, in whatever embarrassing state of
half-brokenness.  Far-fetched?  Perhaps.

Impossible?  I think not, and given a "right to read source," even if
not retroactive, would any of us put it past Microsoft to keep, say,
Linus Torvalds or Abisoft busy in court answering to such suits?  We
can write the laws to prevent that?  Tell that to the tobacco and
handgun industries, which have been attacked from rather unexpected
directions, and surely have---and have exercised!---sufficient
political muscle to get loopholes introduced into all the laws they
could imagine being applied.

The idea is illiberal in itself, probably counter-productive, and has
potentially very annoying side-effects that could be exploited more
easily by the bad guys than by the good guys.  Thus I consider it
important, and on-topic, to argue against opening such a can of worms, 
now that the subject has been opened.


Footnotes: 
[1]  Nobody ever did request the original "offline message" ;-)

[2]  I should note that it's not clear that that's exactly what's on
Jean's agenda, but it's the only short coherent interpretation I have
come up with, so I'll go with it until Jean clarifies.  It is also
closely related to Brian Bartholomew's advocacy of "charity software,"
but again not identical.  Caveat lector.

-- 
University of Tsukuba                Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences       Tel/fax: +81 (298) 53-5091
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What are those two straight lines for?  "Free software rules."