GPL not encouraging new technology

Alex Hudson home at
Sun Dec 1 21:10:03 UTC 2002

On Sun, 2002-12-01 at 18:54, Niall Douglas wrote:
> No I must disagree. All law can be said to be the grease between the 
> cogs of society and it is no more so in commercial enterprise. If you 
> compare the illegal drug black market (which is an example of 
> partially unregulated capitalism) with the sanitised version we're 
> legally allowed practice, then it is clear laws define a marketplace.

Sure, but there needs to be a clear need for the law. The default is
that the law doesn't exist. Your reasoning for some shared source scheme
appears to be along the lines of "I like source code". Generally, the
more specific the law, the worse it is. Eg., your example of the law
"saying no one may make a copy of some software for a friend" doesn't
exist: copyright is a very general law, not specifically software

> Never said any of that! Really! This list seems to constantly misread 
> and misquote my arguments! I will assume it is because I am not being 
> clear enough, nevertheless no other list I'm on does this so it seems 
> odd.

You were the one who differentiated between "distributing" and
"distributing for profit" - I was making the point that I was making no
such differentiation, and in fact doesn't make sense when reading it the
way you outlined. I don't think I'm misreading you.

> > I don't think that's necessarily the case. Proprietary software
> > tends to come to market fully-formed (i.e., developed already);
> > Free Software isn't usually written and then marketed.
> Now I'll repeat myself, this time with hopefully more clarity. 
> Proprietary software tends to get money much earlier in its 
> development cycle because the workers need paying. Free software 
> tends to get money only once it's mostly complete and mature because 
> you can't sell something which isn't written yet.

Here again you've missed what I said. I disagree with that fundamental
assumption you make above. I'm not going to argue with the rest of what
you say; there's not point, because I believe your assumptions are
wrong. You state the above two points as if they were facts; they're
not. Unless you are stating your opinion? 

> > Anyhow, it's arguable whether the above is the case anyway: I suspect
> > a contractor re-using GPL on a bespoke, proprietary, development is a
> > licence violation, pure and simple. I can't see otherwise.
> Depends entirely on what is called "distribution". It can be argued 
> that a privately funded venture to produce some bespoke solution 
> involves no distribution.

No, I don't think that's what it depends on. Privacy is only allowed
within an organisation, or for a person. A contractor working for a
company is not part of that organisation (this is fairly clear in
copyright law, I think), so for them to give some customised GPL
software to the company they work for means they must distribute under
the terms of the GPL or it's a violation.

> This is all true and I completely agree the patent system is not 
> perfect. However if you consider the world before patents, the 
> overall situation was worse.

You're saying that the patent system was responsible for the end of the
dark ages? I think most historians would argue literacy was, but..  I
don't see how patents were a cure for anything. They were, and are,
purely a device for making money, the 'fosters innovation' argument is

> Obviously implicit in the definition of "innovation" is a strong 
> subjective quality.

Well, indeed :o)

> > Proprietary software has wham-factor; Free Software tends not to.
> That would depend. Free software tends to be much more powerful in 
> non-obvious ways. I go "wow" much more often with free software than 
> with mainstream commercial.

If it's not obvious, it's not wham-factor. I think you prove my point :)
Proprietary software has the capability to blow people away. I don't
think Free Software can do that. Not because it doesn't reach the same
heights, but because people see the ascent. A little like mathematics: a
result is far more impressive when you see the proof, but not the
scaffolding. Proofs tend to be polished, and 'elegant': but of course,
that's not how the mathematician got there :) 	

> In my experience all rights get transferred to the purchaser who can 
> theoretically take out a support contract with someone else. They 
> never do, but they can.

I suspect we have different experience (you mentioned the military). In
my experience, especially in modern times, companies are very unwilling
to give up 'IP', especially if it's something they can go on to develop

> > You produce your criteria - possibly with examples of proprietary
> > software that fulfils the criteria? - and maybe someone will knock
> > them down for you. 
> That is entirely possible, and of course I know the proprietary range 
> much better than the free one. However I came at this point from the 
> basis of logical theory and then looked for evidence to disprove it. 
> So far, I have not found any.

But, what I'm saying is that I don't think you have set out any case by
which you can disprove it. For a start, trying to disprove something is
exactly the wrong way to go about things...

In your responses to my examples, the first was a question (e.g.,
'maybe' :), one was an example demonstrating you don't realise what's
'wow' about the Hurd, and the third was arguably a straw man (rather
than argue that Apache 2.0 multiprotocol support isn't innovative, you
argued that developers are inherently conservative and hence a project
couldn't be innovative). I can't read your examples any other way.
Personally, I believe this to be bias on your part. Of course, since it
is an unwinnable argument, neither of us is correct.

> > I will only note that 'unsubsidised' is a rubbish criteria: this has 
> > nothing to do with our argument.
> It has everything to do with it. Government subsidies are AFAICS the 
> only method free software has of creating real innovation.

Why is business subsidy impossible? If we're arguing about subsidy,
subsidy is a method that pays for Free Software before it can come to
market - precisely how you compain Free Software is funded :/

> DARPA's funding of ReiserFS. There is next to no chance of pure blue-
> sky research in free software, whereas if nothing else Microsoft's 
> many failed blue-sky projects show some effort is put that way with 
> the hope of first-to-market.

Nautilus is a great example of a blue-sky project that failed. And
unless you used Eazel services, please don't tell me it wasn't
innovative :p I personally believe a lot of the Hurd is *very* blue sky
- in the vm example I gave you, I think it's highly innovative for
processes to manage their own memory needs without requiring ring 0 CPU
access. And this isn't old; this is new Hurd innovation. 

> > Ditto the quality argument: Free Software does not
> > prescribe love from developers, more peer review, or any of that.
> > These are not the differentiating factors.
> Oh come on now! You telling me free software isn't on average of much 
> higher quality than proprietary? I'm sorry, I just don't believe 
> that.

No, that's not what I'm saying, although I'm not necessarily agreeing
with you. I'm saying that Free Software isn't necessarily of high
quality. There's a difference there. If something is Free Software, it
doesn't gain peer review because it's free. It gains peer review because
people are interested in it. Free Software is not a development model,
and hence cannot affect the quality of software. Free Software tends to
be more pervasive, yes, but I'm not convinced that software + more
developers = better software (mythical man month, and all that jazz..)

> And why aren't there enough programmers on this project? Answer me 
> this one question straight, no mucking around. If you can answer this 
> without fufilling my logic regarding free software offputting 
> volunteers for radical ideas, well, we'll have made progress!

Hurd not attracting programmers? I think it's to do with a number of
factors, but you'd be 100 times better asking this question of Marcus,
or anyone else with more than 10 minutes use of the Hurd (like me ;). I
think one reason is that there aren't many hackers with enough low-level
hardware knowledge/PC boot knowledge to go around. The main reason is
probably that it's a system people don't have much knowledge of - Linus
had Andy Tanenbaum's book, for example, new hurd developers have much
less documentation to go on, and obviously less relevant experience
because it's such an innovative project. I also think that the FSF/GNU
puts off a lot of people, because they don't understand the
organisation. I think the Open Source split was damaging to the free
software movement. I think Hurd was too isolated; I think they have made
a lot more progress with the Debian infrastructure in place. There are a
huge number of reasons, but I don't believe it was because the Hurd is
radical (except, of course, that lack of relevant experience slows

> No you're mixing and matching my arguments about totally separate 
> things to make it look like I'm saying something else - which isn't 
> productive. The strongly growing unsubsidised qualifications 
> exclusively referred to free software innovation.

Ah, so you are holding Free Software to specific standards that a
"commercial" (proprietary) venture isn't held to. You state you think
Free Software is always commercialised as a mature project (e.g.,
subsidised), you also state "every commercial venture will subsidise any
new programming project", but then you say to your standards free
software innovation has to be unsubsidised for it to count. If that's
not what you mean, I apologise, but I'm sorry, that's how it reads.

> I see what you're saying but I'm afraid I have not been clear enough 
> in my arguments. I'm talking bigger pictures, over the space of 
> years. Quite simply, I'm asking the question: who will produce the 
> most radical innovation over twenty years? Free software or 
> proprietary?

Well, let's take this is as the basic argument then. Free Software is
certainly old enough for there to be established examples which would
point one way or another. 

I would go back to my point on competition: if innovation were possible,
and it was desirable (from a consumer's point of view), and only
proprietary software was capable of delivering sustained innovation,
then proprietary software would be able to out-compete Free Software
because it would be able to out-innovate it. 

Now, I don't believe that has happened, and given the current evidence
of it not happening, I don't see that it will happen. So, if it's not
the case that Free Software can compete on innovation, it must be one of
my other assumptions that is faulty: that it's a) possible or b)
desirable. Potentially, I would argue on point a). I suspect you would
say that perhaps relatively, it is not as desirable in the short-term as
(say) TCO, and hence gets swamped by other factors. I'm not sure it
matters, whatever argument is put forward: it is enough that Free
Software succeeds; your goal that it is also as-innovative is your goal

> Thus under my view software patents are boneheadedly stupid. 

Hooray :o)

> Also licensing software should be illegal - you should get what you pay 
> for, and that includes source. You should also get the right to 
> modify and redistribute with appropriate royalty payments.

Well, clearly you are arguing for something non-free, although I doubt
you dispute that. I personally don't see a workable legal basis for what
you describe, even if it were desirable: the only means I can think of
make it equivilent to shared-source, which is not better than what we
have. I would like to see what it is you propse, merely out of interest

> > interesting, nor do I think it is innovative (cf. shared source,
> > Borland's Delphi system, and numerous other software which have been
> > distributed in the way you seem to propose).
> I've not seen any guaranteeing right to produce derivative works.

All Delphi programs are derivative works... ? Royalty-free too, comes
with source.. still non-free tho'

What you describe just sounds like non-free software, to me. And it will
suffer an inability to complete, just like current non-free software. 



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