Subject: Re: "rights" and "freedoms"
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <turnbull@sk.tsukuba.ac.jp>
Date: Thu, 21 Oct 1999 19:31:38 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "Craig" == Craig Brozefsky <craig@red-bean.com> writes:

    Craig> It's only in the last few decades that the mistaken notion
    Craig> that the IP regime is for the protection of inventor's
    Craig> rights has taken hold.  It's a convenient propoganda tool

The history is true.  The inference is fallacious.  The fact that it
is a recent discovery doesn't mean that "inventors' rights" didn't
exist all along.  (I personally believe that they are a recent legal
creation, but don't think claiming a natural right of some kind is
untenable, certainly not by the assertions---I won't dignify them by
calling them "arguments"---so far posted).

And it's only in the last few years that the notion that there is a
"right to source code" has taken hold, and that only among a small
(misguided? :-P) minority.  By your argument, that proves they don't
exist.  Fortunately, the argument is fallacious.

I doubt that "Jefferson and others" would hold that there is a right
to _force_ others to divulge source code.  If not, one should say
"please" when one asks for it, and it's not on to publically call
those who withhold source "immoral" (as some free software advocates
do).  It's nice to share, but only within a commune is it obligatory.
I like living in the free software commune most of the time, but I
really object to having the gate locked.

Thus, if "inventors' rights" are a non sequitor, I see no firm
foundation for "users' rights," either, and the question becomes
simply "what legal rights should be created to maximize the benefits
to users and programmers who like, or would like to better like, their
work?"  But most free software advocates don't like that; smacks of
compromise.

    Craig> for arguing for the extension of copyright and patent
    Craig> terms, and for presenting "piracy" as some kind of horrible
    Craig> violation of another person's rights.  But Thomas Jefferson

_We_ do the same every time we use the word "hoarding."  It is nearly
as rude as the word "piracy" (well, I guess not; it is as rude as
"stealing", though).  It has only slightly better foundation absent a
polemical purpose, and certainly is _intended_ to be nasty.

    Craig> and others recognized that such "rights" are non-sensical
    Craig> and anethema to true progress and communication of ideas,
    Craig> and would lead to ludicrous laws and restrictions on how we
    Craig> talk or think.

They were ludicrous at the time; Jefferson did not have the
information technology that we do.  The arguments need to be reviewed
in the light of the fact that we now can implement various inexpensive
schemes to give developers the ability to extract revenue in very
flexible ways from their clients.  Do developers have a natural right
to do so?  Ayn Rand said "yes."  Do the customers have a natural right
to be protected from that, indeed, to receive the source code at a
nominal cost?  Richard Stallman appears[1] to say "yes."  Or are there
no natural rights on either side, in which case society is free to
choose whom to endow with the property rights?  I say "yes."

Alex Nicolaou <anicolao@mud.cgl.uwaterloo.ca> writes:

    >> Patents stand in the way of progress for the society. However,
    >> they are one of few ways to fairly reward the small percentage
    >> of society that actively contributes to progress.

This is an own goal.  I'm surprised Craig didn't point that out.  If
patents stand in the way of progress, evidently they're hindering the
active contributors, who can't be (and as we've seen on this list,
generally aren't) very happy about that.  (And it's not just free
software people, either, see Oracle's policy on it.)

    Craig> I would wager that 99.9% (this number was found lodged in
    Craig> my nose) of the people who hold patents have contributed
    Craig> nothing to the "progress" of society.

So what?  Find a better way to reward those who do actively contribute
and we will all be eternally grateful.  One of the aspects of the
genius of the GPL is that use of the GPL creates a gift that keeps on
giving, and one can see it do so because it happens in the light of
day.  I know that the various forks of GNU projects have caused
Richard great pain, but were I in his position, when I looked at the
fruits, I would be very proud of the functionality and variety that
those contributions have grown into.  That is wonderful compensation,
to those who value it.

And that's the way one _real_ (not an AI[2] program written using Visual
Basic) economist thinks about it economically.

But not all people can live without bread; some need more than others
to be satisfied.  And not all people write programs for creativity's
sake.  And actually, very few people write programs at all.  The GPL
is a wonderful tool for creators, like those on the FSB mailing list,
to nurture their creations while earning what they need.  It is not
all things to all human beings, perhaps not even all things to all
creative programmers.

What are you going to do for those others, the ones who value the
functionality of software, and the income that functionality can
generate, far more than the beauty?  "Let them eat cake"?

Footnotes: 
[1]  I've heard a different interpretation of what Richard says
(software as a common pool, with user rights to the common pool), but
I don't think it holds water (because access to source requires
entering someone's sphere of privacy if they choose not to reveal it).

[2]  Artificial Ignorance.

-- 
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