open software, cont. (146)

Wed, 15 Feb 89 20:56:41 EST

Humanist Mailing List, Vol. 2, No. 607. Wednesday, 15 Feb 1989.

(1) Date: Tue, 14 Feb 89 22:21:53 EST (37 lines)
From: Shu-Yan Mok <YFPL0004@YORKVM1>
Subject: Submission to HUMANIST on Open Software

(2) Date: Wed, 15 Feb 89 10:57 CDT (15 lines)
Subject: intellectual property

(3) Date: Wednesday, 15 February 1989 1234-EST (53 lines)
Subject: Open software... A few thoughts

(4) Date: Tue, 14 Feb 89 23:18:09 EST (12 lines)
From: unh!psc90!jdg@uunet.UU.NET (Dr. Joel Goldfield)

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tue, 14 Feb 89 22:21:53 EST
From: Shu-Yan Mok <YFPL0004@YORKVM1>
Subject: Submission to HUMANIST on Open Software

I'm sure most of the humanists would agree that the ongoing
debate on open software is itself open-ended. This may
indeed be a source of excitement for both the active and
silent participants. But in more than one occasion I could
not help feeling that beneath the unstructured discussions
there is an unspoken seriousness about the debate itself--a
seriousness which, I think, is misplaced. We are debating
the subject as if we really want to win the verdict of the
audience. But where is audience? The truth is that the
debaters are the audience themselves. Certainly not the
vendors! Equally unlikely are the legislators. This is not
to deny that debating with oneself, or, for that matter,
among kindred-spirited humanists, can be a useful exercise.
Before, I might be convinced that the idea of proprietary
software stinks, but now I may be comforted by the thought
that I'm not alone and that there are indeed many arguments
to confirm my belief (and a few arguments to counter my
belief). I'd like to suggest that when we feel we have more
or less exhausted the arguments for or against proprietary
software, we may turn our attention to arguments of a
different order. The subject is still proprietary software;
the methods of argument also remain the same (critical,
moral, casual, passionate, . . .). Only the questions we
hope the debate can help solve, that is, if we are serious,
are different. One such question is: if the present laws
protecting proprietary rights of softwares are bad laws, can
the humanists justify breaking these laws? To exchange
notes on how to break these laws with impunity (or, the
other side of the same coin, how to exemplify the duty to
uphold these laws) does not belong to the humanist forum;
but to debate whether we are justified in doing so certainly
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------18----
Date: Wed, 15 Feb 89 10:57 CDT
Subject: intellectual property

There's a parody - I think it's a parody - in Jerome Tuccille's *It
Usually Begins with Ayn Rand*: a theory is described to the effect that
inventors have an absolute and inalienable property in their own ideas,
and anyone who wants to pass them on must pay royalties to the inventor.
Obviously Tuccille and I can't give any more details of this
fascinating system since we haven't paid the inventor for permission (and
I don't know whom to pay). This in turn reminds me of an imaginary (and soon
to be extinct!) bird in Douglas Adams' universe, who builds nests that
no-one could get out of - it's heard about evolution and wants nothing to
do with it.
Regards, Stephen Clark (currently at Vanderbilt).
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------56----
Date: Wednesday, 15 February 1989 1234-EST
Subject: Open software... A few thoughts

I know that I'm coming into this debate in its latter stages, so
something along the lines of what follows may have already been

Willard McCarty's thoughtful comments on the issue of the
commercializaton of academic software, or the cooperation of academics
with commercial developers (some would add, the "cooptation of academics
by commercial developers")--Feb 11 1989--brought a few things to mind.
The anxieties revolving around free and open exchange of humanities
computing, versus the restraining effect of proprietary controls and
profit ventures are in large part, I believe, a product of the uncertain
(and anxious) status of humanities computing in the academy: those of us
who are working on software and/or hardware development, without much
(if any) support from the institutions with which we are affiliated are
in a bind: entirely apart from the issue of recognition measured by the
barometers of publications, tenure, etc., there is the barometer of
funding. One can't turn out good work if one isn't supported
materially. That material support will not be forthcoming until the
work that is being done is recognized as valuable by colleagues who
don't share our interest in the application of computing to literature,
linguistics, etc. The lack of material support binds all the more
because of the nature of the work: computing software and hardware is
much more expensive than the tools of "conventional" humanities

On several occasions, I've been party to a discussion between humanities
computing people where a tenured academic has warned a non-tenured
academic not to spend too much time on the computing stuff, and to make
sure that she has a solid base of "conventional" scholarship to fall
back on, lest she be found wanting come tenure review time. Advice not
only from "conventional" tenured academics, but also tenured humanities
computing folk.

I guess that this
is a problem with any field of research that is perceived to be outside
of the mainstream, but it seems to me to be made worse by 1) the
material problems specific to computing (the cost of the tools) and 2)
The continuing mistrust of computing on the part of (I suspect) the
majority of humanists.

Specific problems with specific answers, though I can't come up with
anything other than a general idea that scholars in humanities computing
can and should do what they can to increase the acceptance of their
field by the academic community at large. If developers of software in
the academy were more sure of receiving professional recognition (and
consequent financial support) for their work, many who now fret over
whether or not to charge for, or control the distribution of, their
work, would--I think--be more likely to let the stuff circulate openly.
(4) --------------------------------------------------------------16----
Date: Tue, 14 Feb 89 23:18:09 EST
From: unh!psc90!jdg@uunet.UU.NET (Dr. Joel Goldfield)

If knowledge is property, and the pursuit of knowledge is a business,
and if academic freedom is the freedom to *pursue knowledge* THEN:

1) Pursuing knowledge is the pursuit of property, in which case we
should all go into real estate and;

2) The freedom to pursue knowledge is a business, in which case all
scholars should be paid for their free learning. Then we could all
invest in more real estate. What a system! Let's copyright it! --Joel