Subject: Re: Examples needed against Soft Patents
From: Ben Tilly <>
Date: Mon, 27 Dec 2004 00:18:33 -0800

On Sun, 26 Dec 2004 15:46:47 -0500 (EST), Russell McOrmond
<> wrote:
> On Sun, 26 Dec 2004, Ben Tilly wrote:
> > What you're missing is that what you're calling "protecting our own
> > existence" actually *IS* a public good.  It is something that we want,
> > but which would (if it was delivered) be delivered to all, regardless of
> > who actually contributed.  It does not matter whether we're looking
> > for a handout, a limit to government interference, or clean air.  The
> > social dynamics are the same.
>   Thanks.  I understand better what you are getting at.
>   It still makes me wonder why people who make a living using open
> collaborative models for the *development of public goods* (FLOSS
> software) aren't able to somehow leverage these same methodologies for the
> development of other public goods (legal code rather than software code).

You're circling ground that was well-discussed a few years ago.  Since
the list is fairly low volume, we came to a consensus and never got to
the obvious stage of producing FAQs, so there is nothing simple I can
point you at to summarize the previous discussions.

Contrary to a naive impression, most of us do NOT make a living by
developing public goods.  We make a living through a variety of other
activities that correlate in some way with free software.  The entire
business proposition of open source software is that the development
of open source software winds up being commoditized, so it is hard
to profit from developing it.  However there are a variety of business
opportunities that that can create.  And we follow those opportunities.

If you watch closely, most open source software development takes
place at a scale where an individual person can, for individual
reasons, provide the public good of developing it.  The overall
enterprise is large, but it is critical that all of the provisioning of free
software can be accomplished by distributed small groups (often
one person), which are individually far easier to organize.

Find a way for an isolated developer to know that they can affect
legislation through a similar investment of energy, and theory says
that the public good of legislation that we like could get provisioned
in the same way that free software does.  Unfortunately it is hard
for random citizens to get laws written...

>   Is this an issue where what we lack isn't the ability to get people to
> work towards this, but the lack of that "project manager" setting up a
> project on a "public policyforge" to give people a meeting place?

The fact that you NEED a "product manager" gets you into the trap
that makes public goods hard to provision.

>   In the USA a structure around the League for Programming Freedom
> has existed for years, specifically their
> sub-project on Software Patents and yet few
> in the USA hear about this.

Tell me as a random developer, why should I be involved, and what
effect will my energy realistically have?  If you have good reasons,
but I'll individually have small impact, you're unlikely to convince
me to do anything.  This is the problem that you need to solve to
get anywhere.

>              We do hear about what is happening in Europe
> because of  .  I am only now trying to get
> Canadians involved via

If you want involvement, you have to give them rewards for being
involved.  The rewards must be felt on a personal level so that
people can individually feel they benefit for their individual

As a random example, the EFF provides t-shirts, caps, an
informative newsletter, and probably more things that I'm not
thinking of off of the top of my head.  This is pretty standard

>   I interpreted you as suggesting we couldn't solve this problem,
> something I have to believe is false.  Given you have read about what is
> likely to fail, do you have ideas on ways to succeed given we have been
> able to create so much high quality commercial software together as a
> community?

First I'd like to note that saying, "...I have to believe..." is a
statement that you're not willing to accept reality unless
reality conforms to your desires.  This is a dangerous position
to take...

That said, I'm not saying that this problem is not solveable.  In
some situations it has been (at least temporarily) solved.  In
the case that you're interested in, it might or might not be
readily solveable.  But if you're going to solve it, it helps to
understand the causes of the problem, and what past
solutions have looked like.

Also note that I've addressed above why we've been able to
get around this problem to create so much high quality
software, and explained why that solution doesn't translate
easily to affecting the legislative process.