open software, cont. (125)

Tue, 14 Feb 89 20:14:59 EST

Humanist Mailing List, Vol. 2, No. 601. Tuesday, 14 Feb 1989.

(1) Date: Tue, 14 Feb 89 00:05:37 EST (74 lines)
From: Brian Whittaker <BRIANW@YORKVM2>
Subject: Re: open software, cont. (195)

(2) Date: Fri, 10 Feb 89 21:00:29 EST (31 lines)
From: Richard Stallman <rms@WHEATIES.AI.MIT.EDU>
Subject: Fame as a reward

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tue, 14 Feb 89 00:05:37 EST
From: Brian Whittaker <BRIANW@YORKVM2>
Subject: Re: open software, cont. (195)

The discussion of openness and rights of ownership, of free dissemination
of software and commercial sales, of copying and copyright has been
refreshingly unstructured, as befits a topic on which it is still
too soon to claim to advance a final judgement. I'd like to add a few
random thoughts to the discussion.

The notion of "intellectual property" is less clear than some suppose. It
does seem at first glance to be simple fairness that someone who develops
a particularly good algorithm should be able to charge for its use and
forbid making changes to it. However, this notion does run contrary to
the common practice in many areas of intellectual activity. Suppose
Descartes had been able to place similar restrictions on the use of
the cogito, or Witgenstein on the advice that we should ask, not what a
word means, but how it is used. What if Einstein had placed similar
restrictions on his work with relativity--this analogy is particularly
tempting, since Einstein had worked as a clerk in a patent office, and
so might be presumed to have an understanding of the advantages and
disadvantages of owning ideas.

In most branches of scholarship, it has long been a commonplace that NO
work is acceptable to the scholarly community unless all of the details of
the method and the data are made available to one's colleagues for
verification. Results derived from secret methods or from secret data are
simply inadmissible. Claiming credit, whether tangible or intangible, for
writing a program while keeping the code secret is comparable to claiming
credit for assertions about Anglo-Saxon kingship or the dating of Hamlet
while claiming coyly that the scholar cannot reveal his sources.

SOCIETY might not be inappropriate. The medieval and renaissance guilds
had guarded their trade secrets carefully, with the result that each
guild owned a few precious secrets, but overall scientific progress was
painfully slow. New institutions like Gresham College and later the Royal
Society were built around the idea that if knowledge were shared
people would profit from one another's ideas and advances would come much
more rapidly. Since then the scholarly tradition of honouring the owner-
ship of ideas has been to provide explicit acknowlegement of sources...
not payment of licensing fees.

The analogy between program disks and books is also suggestive. The student
who is poor can use books in the university library; programs can only be
purchased or pirated. A meaningful deterent to photocopying books is a
reasonable price: it is foolish to spend fifteen dollars photocopying a book
that can be bought with sturdy binding for twenty dollars. The temptation
to copy a program onto a blank three dollar disk rather than spending
three hundred dollars is much greater. Ironically, it is probably possible
to satisfy most of the needs of a business office with relatively
inexpensive software, while the needs of a student or professor often demand
much more expensive software. This point became ludicrously obvious a
little while back when the publisher of a particularly useful and expensive
wordprocessing program brought out a cheaper version for students: the
economy was achieved by eliminating several features, including footnoting,
that are rarely used by anyone except students and professors. This company
thus has two versions of the program on the market: an economy version which
will serve the needs of big business and a very expensive version which will
serve the needs of students.

Finally, there is the problem of finding software that will do the job at
all. Understandably, business is well served with software and manuals
for producing form letters, parts inventories, accounts, and so on. It's
very difficult to buy software off the shelf that will perform even the most
rudimentary tasks of scholarship. Now with a little tinkering, Microsoft
Excell would serve my needs admirably, but it's sealed tightly against that
kind of tinkering and it really is beyond the scope of a mild mannered
philologist to write code from the ground up that will do all that Excell
does and more.

Once upon a time it was said that we stood on the shoulders of giants.
It seems that giants' shoulders have become proprietary and the giants
are charging rent.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------39----
Date: Fri, 10 Feb 89 21:00:29 EST
From: Richard Stallman <rms@WHEATIES.AI.MIT.EDU>
Subject: Fame as a reward

[{14 February 1989

I am attaching a copy of a message I received from Richard Stallman
in response to my comment to HUMANIST on the issue of Copyleft, dated
February 8th. It seems to me to capture well the intended point, that
it is both dangerous and unnecessary to collapse authorial rights into
proprietary rights.

Mark Sacks, Liverpool <>.]

/:/:/:/:/:/:/:/:/:/:/:/:/:/Original message:/:/:/:/:/:/:/:/:/:/:/:/:/:/:

I have no objection to fame as a reward for contribution to society,
and I'm happy to be famous. (Alas, no groupies in this field:-) The
important thing is that fame can be given *without negating the value
of what was contributed*. Even money as a reward is ok with me, as
long as it is raised in ways that don't obstruct the use of what you
are being rewarded for.

My objection to the system of proprietary software is that people are
being rewarded, not simply for developing software, but for developing
software and then being obnoxious obstructionists. It is dangerous
to reward being a bad neighbor.

Forward this to your discussion if you wish.