Ownership in Software

Rui Miguel Seabra rms at 1407.org
Wed Apr 21 16:44:14 UTC 2004

On Wed, 2004-04-21 at 16:32 +0200, Axel Schulz wrote:
> I have to say that I disagree with Stallman at this point.
> Society needs good software (more than ever). And individuals
> should be allowed to claim rights in their products

I'm sorry, but I fail to see any connection between both statements.

Do you mean that without ownership there is no good software?
   I wouldn't say so.

Do you mean that if people claim rights to their products software is
   I wouldn't say so either...

> What Stallman is trying to defend is non-ownership. But this makes
> people un-free.

hmss? Ownership causes loss of freedom to others and gives power to
some. You're confusing having freedom with using power.

In an abstract world (as it is the digital world) ownership is
detrimental to society.

Imagine that a Star Trek food replicator exists. So, for a marginally
zero cost, you can have any food you want, whenever you want. Hunger
could be abolished but... your phrase could be rewritten (mainting all

| I have to say that I disagree with Stallman at this point.
| Society needs good food (more than ever). And individuals
| should be allowed to charge for their products.

As you can see, it makes no sense. It is even more evident since the
evil of physical hunger is easier to understand than that of
intellectual hunger, for we see people actually dying of hunger.

If such a thing existed, replication of food would probably cost as
little as replication information in the digital world now does.
Creating food would be as easy as creating software, all you would need
is imagination and an instrument.

Does it make any sense to claim ownership of food, restricting the
possibility to end physical hunger?

Does it make any sense to claim ownership of software, restricting the
possibility to end intellectual hunger?

> The concept of freedom has in social philosophy two
> meanings: (1) to be free from something (negative freedom) and
> (2) free to do something (positive freedom).  Basically, we are
> un-free when our wants are denied their satisfaction.
> Stallman listed in his article some good arguments for non-ownership.
> But I am not completely certain if the claim embedded in the argument
> cannot be fulfilled by other means, e.g., with FREE (GPL'ed) software,
> too. If it could - why deny the (positive freedom) of other people to
> claim rights (of authorship) in their products? How could one justify
> such a claim?

Because to satisfy that "freedom" for a few individuals you restrict
freedom for society as a whole, for instance? Because it is evil to act
your power in spite of others?

> However, both kind of freedoms have to be defended in a political
> theory. I cannot see how one could defend a non-ownership in software. 

I hope now you can, even if a food replicator may not be, in the near or
immediate future, a reality, software replication exists.

> The GPL and the whole idea of FREE Software is very sound. This
> is a valid claim. 

Free Software...

... has little to do with the GNU GPL in particular.

The GNU GPL is one (of many) Free Software licenses and, I think, the
one most used. It's primary purpose is to use copyright law to prevent
appropriation of Free Software, making it un-free.

The GNU GPL gives you:
     *  The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
      * The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your
        needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition
        for this.
      * The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor
        (freedom 2).
      * The freedom to improve the program, and release your
        improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits
        (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for

But adds a restriction on freedoms 2 and 3: those who receive copies or
improvements must also have all 4 freedoms (yes, recursively).

> Literature:
> Stallman R (1995): Why Software Should Be Free,
> In: Nissenbaum/Johnson: Computers, Ethics, And
> Social Values, Prentice-Hall, pp. 190-200 

Maybe you should add other relevant articles on
http://www.fsf.org/philosophy/ ?

> Note:
> (*) I am not a software developer. That's why this question
> might sound to you a little strange.

A little, but not that much. What do you do, by the way?

Hugs, Rui

+ No matter how much you do, you never do enough -- unknown
+ Whatever you do will be insignificant,
| but it is very important that you do it -- Gandhi
+ So let's do it...?

Please AVOID sending me WORD, EXCEL or POWERPOINT attachments.
See http://www.fsf.org/philosophy/no-word-attachments.html

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