Subject: Re: Why software patents are bad
Date: 18 Sep 1999 12:55:17 -0000

>Very likely. Business will get into Linux without respecting or understanding
>the copyrights, will resist enforcement, and will probably publicly label the
>author a "hacker" (meaning criminal, to them) in an attempt to gain public
>sympathy when he tries to enforce his copyright. It's only a matter of time.

I agree with that!

>> Or that Redhat itself
>> might someday give into temptation to try to take portions of
>> its distributions proprietary?  Both?  Or something else?
>Remember that Marc and Bob might not be running that company forever.
>Even when you trust the people involved, it's necessary to have good licenses,
>etc., for when management changes.

I'm less concerned about that, because of the huge liability that might
open up against the Directors of the firm.  (Remember, they have a
sort of "contract" with the public due to trading publicly.  If you
haven't read their prospectus, you should.  I read some of it, my
wife all of it, and my impression is that they'd have to start by
changing it to notify the public that their stance vis-a-vis the OS
community is about to go from accommodating to declaring war.  If they
declared war without first changing that prospectus -- and here I'm
rather lost as to what the legal ramifications of *that* task might
be, frankly -- I presume they'd be putting themselves in a position
of having the told the public they were conducting business in one
way, then doing another.  Any short-term profits they might have
expected to make via this self-consuming tactic would, I hope, be
put seriously at risk due to the costs of defending themselves against
lawsuits by stockholders.)

Also, there was a discussion several months back on this list about
the degrees and levels of defensive posture vis-a-vis Linux, GNU
software, and others (but those two, mainly).  Taking Linux proprietary
risks infringement suits from a variety of individuals who might or
might not wish to sue (and Russ is, I assume, right that if they
haven't registered any of their copyrights, the downside risk for
someone trying to take Linux proprietary is even lower).  Taking
GNU software proprietary, however, *certainly* risks a well-funded
(trust me: I, and many others, would donate heavily to the FSF to
fund it!) infringement suit, since it holds the copyrights (registered,
I hope) for most of the core GNU code.

My prediction?  Somebody who takes this risk is either plain-vanilla
stupid and greedy (like the guy who tried to claim he legally acquired
a trademark on "Linux", who should have been prosecuted for fraud)
or does the OS community a huge favor by illustrating, for everyone
to see, just how *incredibly* valuable the OS code base has become:
valuable enough to take substantial, unpredictable risks as to the
outcomes of a variety of likely infringement lawsuits along with the
difficult-to-predict damages that might be awarded (plus, in Redhat's
case, the issue of stockholder suits).

In a way, I really, really wish Microsoft would try something like
this.  And not even because I assume they'd prevail in court!
(Remember, the LA riots were largely sparked by public opinion about
the outcome of a court case, were highly localized, and were, frankly,
stupidly "executed" by the self-designated aggrieved parties against
their *own* community, for the most part.  I don't think the OS/hacker
community, even its most frothing-at-the-mouth fringe support groups,
would do anything quite that "stupid".  Put it this way: if I thought
Microsoft had a chance to win the case, and my sister was still working
there at the time, I'd *strongly* advise her to be out of the country
around verdict time, and remain outside and hard-to-find for at least
a year if Microsoft won.  I mean, she's still a Microsoft employee,
but she *is* my least, the bionic implants were not quite
visible last time she visited.  ;-)

        tq vm, (burley)