Subject: Re: Examples needed against Soft Patents
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Wed, 29 Dec 2004 21:46:12 +0900

>>>>> "Ben" == Ben Tilly <> writes:

    Ben> On Tue, 28 Dec 2004 16:06:37 +0900, Stephen J. Turnbull
    Ben> <> wrote:

    >> >>>>> "Ben" == Ben Tilly <> writes:

    Ben> Can you offer me concrete examples where groups have actually
    Ben> [organized to protect themselves]?

    Ben> I wouldn't summarize the elided text that way.  Certainly my
    Ben> intent was to ask if any large groups have wound up creating
    Ben> effective organizations to protect themselves where people
    Ben> generally belonged to the group because of the desire for
    Ben> the public good, rather than for some other kind of
    Ben> incentive.

Urk.  No, I don't believe that has ever happened, I don't think it
ever will, and I don't believe that that is what _The Logic of
Collective Action_ was about.  As far as I can tell, altruism is not a
decision, it's a reflex, if you see what I mean.

    Ben> I stand by my claim that, even in the face of clear impending
    Ben> doom, the need for a public good will not by itself get most
    Ben> people to actually do anything useful about it.

For most people, impending doom is the truck's license plate filling
the rear view mirror.  At which point there's not much useful to do.

Most problems that somebody characterizes as "impending doom" solve
themselves.  Eg, Y2K.  ;-)

    >> Some successful in accomplishing their goals, others not.  All
    >> are formal organizations, composed of (at the time of
    >> organization, at least) mutually sovereign members.

    Ben> And most are organizations where members have reasons to
    Ben> belong other than "the cause".

Organizations where people belong because of "the cause" are hardly
ever public-spirited, in my experience.  Free software (as opposed to
"FLOSS") advocates are a case in point; they can give you a million
reasons why a policy that is clearly enormously advantageous for them
personally is actually good for everybody.  Do they actually do the
empirical study required to demonstrate that those benefits are
non-negligible, or that they outweigh the (equally theoretical)
benefits of proprietary modes of distribution?  Heh.  AFAICT, free
software advocates don't really care about "the public"---certainly
not enough to try to find out what really would benefit "the public."

There are exceptions, like Russ Nelson (as I understand his position,
freedom comes first, "open source"-style advocacy is both compatible
with more general ideas of freedom and is a way to advocate freedom to
those who think differently from him)---and you know what rms thinks
of _him_.

FLOSS advocates in general are only slightly more interested in real
evidence about public welfare.  That's where this thread kicked off.

    Ben> My point is that it is a bad strategy to try to motivate a
    Ben> group by pointing at the big public good that you're hoping
    Ben> to provide.

OK, but I don't think that applies to Russ's question.  He's trying to
motivate the group by pointing at the benefits each of them will

    Ben> That is, the analysis applies even with something like
    Ben> information orsoftware where my use does not diminish what is
    Ben> available for others to use.

    >> My point here is that the network externalities may be
    >> _positive_, requiring a large group to get the total benefits
    >> over the hump of the initial investment.

    Ben> By hypothesis, the network externalities are positive in the
    Ben> case of a public good (that's the "public" in the name).

Sorry, there is a useful distinction between public goods and network
externalities.  In a pure public good, the benefit is linear in
population because each individual receives full benefit regardless of
the rest of the population.  (Eg: a one-player game as free software.)
With a network externality, it's superlinear.  (Eg: MUDs as free software
---the more, the merrier.)  I really have to insist.  ;-)

    Ben> The basic analysis that I'm referring to totally ignored
    Ben> transaction costs.  The concept is neither required nor
    Ben> useful for understanding that basic analysis.

    Ben> Now it may be that bringing in transaction costs and defining
    Ben> them in a particular way is useful to be able to generalize
    Ben> the analysis, and figure out how it applies in some cases.  I
    Ben> can't speak to that.

    Ben> But it wasn't relevant for what I was trying to communicate.

In the absence of factors like network externalities and transactions
costs, "the logic of collective action" applies to a two-person
society.  We call it "the prisoners' dilemma."

    Ben> I strongly doubt that Russ has thought his beliefs out in
    Ben> this way.  I suspect that he believes that, "This is
    Ben> obviously important, why aren't people addressing it when
    Ben> their payoff is so obvious and the cost to each of them
    Ben> contributing would be so small?"

    Ben> That was the question that I was trying to answer.

Well, I have answered _that_ question differently: "what's obvious is
a matter of opinion."<wink>

    Ben> This does not mean that the issue can't be addressed - in
    Ben> fact it can be, and software patents have been warded off in
    Ben> a number of countries.

Typically because it's a cheap way to give the U.S. a good poke in the
eye.  Fun and educational for the whole family!  ;-)

    Ben> Knowing this theory, you can try to avoid some of the obvious
    Ben> pitfalls.  Or, more likely, you can look at how other public
    Ben> organizations work, and with a theory to guide you about why
    Ben> what they do should or shouldn't work, you'll have context to
    Ben> figure out how to replicate the successes and avoid the
    Ben> possible failures.

I have no problem with that statement.

    Ben> It is not that free riders shrink the pie, it is that people
    Ben> would individually be better off trying to be free riders
    Ben> themselves.

    >> In the case of the alleged logic for patents, it _is_ important
    >> that the free riders shrink the pie.  Even for free software:
    >> Russ McOrmond himself describes a business model based on
    >> achieving a satisfactory revenue commitment before releasing
    >> any work.

    Ben> Huh?  Please explain.

In many cases it would be possible to finance a "club good" _if you
could keep the free riders out_.  This is why private golf clubs work,
for example.  If you can't keep the free riders out, they reduce the
pie, and there no longer is a net benefit to the "paid-up members".
If it truly was a public good with no congestion, then you can get a
small group to provide it.  That's the point of my gardening example:
free riders looking at my garden doesn't change my enjoyment, so I
produce it.

    Ben> My perspective says that it isn't how big the pie is that
    Ben> matters, it is whether you can find a small group that
    Ben> captures enough pie to be motivated by it.

That's not how I understood what you wrote.  In fact, that's exactly
the point I was trying to make, along wit