Subject: Who's running your business?
From: Russell Nelson <>
Date: Mon, 29 May 2000 12:47:13 -0400 (EDT)

Lynn Winebarger writes:
 > I know there's plenty of laws that might "interfere with [X's] best
 > judgement", but if X's best judgement were to, say, sell defective
 > products, I'm not too likely to care about his not being able to
 > legally make such a desicion.

People sell defective products all the time.  I try to open a can of
beans with a screwdriver, and cut a gash in my countertop.  Whose
fault is that?  A compiler bug in gcc causes my X-ray machine to
over-radiate and kill a patient.  Whose fault is that?  The person who
wrote the bug?  The person who made gcc into a binary?  Me, for using
it?  The patient for trusting me?  It's not obvious, and any decision
you come to is going to be specific to that case.

These a serious, serious issues for a free software business.  Who do
you want making these decisions?  You, or some legislator who's never
made a business decision in his life, who has no money at risk, and no
stake in the outcome other than getting re-elected?  It's better to
let people contract the liability among themselves.

It would be interesting to hear if anyone has had or has chosen to
face that issue.  Perhaps if we can establish a standard contract for
free software liability, we can avoid having one forced down our

 >     A lot of his argument is pointing out that such legislation is already
 > being made.   Because most people seemed to think "cyberspace" is
 > unregulated (though you, and everyone else on the list may be more savvy
 > than that).

No, it's that cyberspace has greatly reduced the cost of doing
business between jurisdictions.  Everyone lives on a border now, and
can go jurisdiction-shopping.  Don't like the Internic's rules for
domain names?  Go get yours from the King of Tonga.  You want to keep
your money in a gold-backed currency?  Put your money in 
-- they only charge 1% to transfer egold from one account to another,
and they're happy to transfer pennies at a time.

The only bad thing about egold is that you must transfer currency or
gold, and they charge an exchange fee.  Deposits via a credit card are
not acceptable.  However, if you've got a long-term relationship with
a customer, egold could be a very nice way to accept money from them.

 > > Some people justify government because it solves public goods
 > > problems.  All you have to do is create a good law and the market no
 > > longer fails.  But it just moves the public good problem to that of
 > > making good law.
 >     Like it or not, we live in a society.  As a society, we make choices
 > about how we want our society to work.  Government is the tool through
 > which such choices are made.  While I'll agree it doesn't always work in
 > an ideal (or near-ideal) manner, it's still closer than just giving up.    

I agree that we need to make choices.  I prefer to make my choices
known effectively -- every day if possible.  By buying and selling, I
reshape society with every purchase or sale I make.  By buying
carefully I get all the benefit of my purchase.  This has an
externality effect of supporting good sellers and punishing bad
sellers.  So someone who chooses less carefully than I has a better

On the other hand, if I try to get a good law enacted, I pay all the
cost and very only a tiny fraction of that value back in the law.  If
I fail to get the law enacted, I have lost my investment.

-russ nelson <>
Crynwr sells support for free software  | PGPok | "Ask not what your country
521 Pleasant Valley Rd. | +1 315 268 1925 voice | can force other people to
Potsdam, NY 13676-3213  | +1 315 268 9201 FAX   | do for you..."  -Perry M.