Subject: Re: FW: Why would I pay for Ximian software?
From: Bernard Lang <>
Date: Fri, 4 Jan 2002 12:15:20 +0100

On Wed, Jan 02, 2002 at 08:48:44PM -0800, Tom Lord wrote:
>        If you go back to the "tragedy of the commons paper, you will
>        see that it does not apply to software ... very precisely
>        because of these qualities you mention that make it naturally a
>        public good.  The tragedy of the commons occurs when the
>        ressource made public is rivalrous.
> The bits in a distribution are not rivalrous.  The "commons" is the
> engineering infrastructure which produces, maintains, and deploys the
> software, not the software itself.  Proprietary software companies
> have figured out how to administer this resource.  FSBs, for the most
> part, have not.

> The problem seems to be that FSBs are selling what they know how to
> sell, and what their customers know how to buy and receive, rather
> than what they ought to be transacting over.  For what they *are*
> selling, prices are naturally low, so the engineering infrastructure
> becomes "over-grazed".  Some FSB execs even try to valorize this
> situation: arguing that underfunding engineering is an example of
> "focus".

I fail to see where this is a problems of commons.  Maybe I need a
more detailed explanation.

However, your view of the engineering infrastructure, of the available
resources of competent technicians, as a common is indeed an
interesting one.  And there is indeed a problem of commons, but the
other way around.  Proprietary companies tend to overgraze this scarce
resource in the purpose of building competing but redundant products,
each hoping to simply get ahead of the others (getting a stronger
flock even if its means weakening the global resource, and thus every
flock).  The tragedy of commons arises from attempting to turn a
common resource into competing private ones, not caring for the global
usefulness of the resulting production.

   On the other hand, if the exploitation of the common is done
cooperatively in order to produce a common result, which will more
naturally aims at optimizing the use of resources towards maximum
common advantage, the overgrazing is much less likely to result.  In
other words, because free software licences result in cooperation and
in eliminating redundant work (actually not completely, because a bit
of fine grained competing development is needed to improve products),
because the commons of egineering competence is transformed into
another commons of software resources, there is no reason for a
tragedy of commons to occur.

  From an abstract point of view:

   If you have a limited pool of a given rivalrous resource, avoid
turning it into a common, because the invisible hand of economic
selfishness will quickly destroy it by overgrazing.

   However, the best you can do with it is to use it to produce
another common of non-rivalrous goods.  Free software is non
rivalrous.  Proprietary software is rivalrous, through artificial
means (either legal, or technical control of unicity of copies issued
by producer), i.e. in fact through excludability.
  This would probably need to be analysed a bit more tightly ... but
this is all the time I have available now.


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