Subject: Re: Thought crimes
From: Bernard Lang <>
Date: Wed, 27 Dec 2000 03:47:36 +0100

On Tue, Dec 26, 2000 at 08:19:21PM -0500, Jonathan S. Shapiro wrote:
> Bernard Lang wrote:
> > ...why should a programmer get more of a reward
> > than, say, a mathematician who advances the arts ?
> For obvious reasons I am *not* going to answer this question in general,
> except to observe that it's moot. Mathemeticians, after all, only exist
> in theory. :-)
> As it happens, I am in the middle of a collaboration with a
> theoretician, and while he has contributed the key enabling idea, I am
> fairly confident he would agree that
> a) most of the work is in the reduction to practice
> b) before we started looking at reducing this to practice, the
>    theoretical work wasn't even asking the right questions in
>    many places.
> Of course, I would never have thought to look at the problem in the way
> that his very theoretical approach took, and therefore would never have
> seen the opportunity at all. Each of us, I suspect, views the
> contributions of the other as entirely critical to our mutual success.
> How should the rewards (if any) be divided? I do not know any way in
> principle to decide this. We have no metrics for such things. In the
> end, if we are correct and we implement well, the answer is that neither
> of us should care about the division of reward. I therefore suspect that
> rather than haggle we will divide things evenly.

you do not answer my question.
  Given that a mathematician produces interesting results, later to be
used by some other person (unknown to him), how does he get rewarded.

  Or pur another way.  I spent many years undestanding the theoretical
foundation of a problem.  Now it is understood, and even easy.  People
are patenting technical ideas based on this understanding (not itself
patentable).  Should I have kept it secret for years, to make sure I
get all the patents.  Who is going to reward me ?

> > > The problem, in the end, is not that copyright or patent are
> > > irrational ideas.
> > 
> > I think they are irrational per se, but their use is irrational if not
> > properly balanced for everyone's benefit.
> Balanced by whom? Both patent and copyright involve an exchange of
> time-limited exclusivity for publication, but the decision to
> standardize on this exchange rather than some other is predicated on
> some abstract assumption about how the "public interest" is best served.
> I see no reason to believe that this assumption is well motivated or
> even experimentally examined. To extract an example from the original
> conversation: *Should* copyrighted material revert to the public domain
> after X years? Why? Who is the government to say that I should be forced
> to give up the fruits of my labor rather than pass them to my children
> or grandchildren? Why is this a correct structuring of the exchange as
> opposed to some other structuring? The same questions can be asked about
> patent.

I agree with you ... who is the government to say anything.
But you forget that it is the government that protects your ownership.
Get the government off the game, and there is no copyright, no patents.

So you need the government, and it decides, best as it can, what is
the fair trade off.  You do not like it ... get a majority to change
it, or go elsewhere.
   With a little hitch these days ... that governments are chosen by
business more than by people.... and that should worry you.

> One of the things that I like about the open source movement today is
> that most of us have outgrown the "greater good" and "public interest"
> arguments in our public rhetoric. Recent arguments have been based on
> why open source is more cost effective or generates revenue more
> effectively in many cases, and these arguments are infinitely more
> persuasive to me.
> I am not saying you are wrong. I am saying that I do not have any
> principled way to understand what "public interest" means in the
> abstract, and in the absence of such understanding I am very reluctant
> to argue or to accept arguments on the basis of abstract public
> interest.

I think you just answered the question you thought was not answerable.
Apparently, for software, free software is very effective.  Since
patents would threaten it, maybe there should not be software patents
(which does not excluded other forms of reward or protection, to be

> I'm pretty sure that we could definitely get the public interested in
> free beer, though.

Belgian beer ... anytime ... but for budweiser, you'll have to pay me.

> > What other reason is there to live in society?
> Well, the San Francisco bay area is a pretty cool place, but society
> seems unwilling to give it to me...

seems you already had that beer.

Happy holidays


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