Ownership in Software

Axel Schulz axel at schulz.ph
Wed Apr 21 19:51:48 UTC 2004

Hej FSF list,
Dear Rui Miguel,

Rui Miguel Seabra <rms at 1407.org> schrieb am 21.04.04 18:48:07:
> 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.

No! I intended to say the opposite. An individual should be free from a moral point of view to claim rights in the result of her/his labor. I hold such a claim as valid. If the law does not recognize such a claim it would be immoral and cause harm to the individual. 

On the other hand, good software is produced which has morally no owners. Legally it has owners, of course, otherwise the GPL would not be enforcable. My conclusion from this statements are that good software is possible even though it has owner (legally: yeas, morally, as I understand the community: no)
I think Stallman went to far when he claimed that software should not have (legal) owners. This would harm people (those who want to own). And this is what he wants to avoid: harm, isn't it?
That's why good software without (morally) ownership is possible.

Law and Morality is highly interdependend. To draw a clear-cut line ist almost impossible. This makes the whole discussion so "messy".

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

No. See explanation above. But they should have the freedom to claim rights. And I did not intend to say that owned software is better or something like that. This is beyond my competence.  Stallman seems to say that software should not have owners. And that this is better for society. I am hostile to this opinion. How restrictive these justified claim rights are is a matter of social justice and latter jurisprudence.

> > 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.

I do not agree with you. I would put it this way: power (or autonomy) is a premiss to perform your freedom. 

> 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
> logic):
> | 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?

I see your point. And I learned something. ;-) BUT: When this food machine would be possible. And some producers claim property rights in it, why should I deny this. I can get a GPL'ed food machine which does the same job, right? (Remeber, I only refer to copyright. I am hostile to patents, just as your are?!) Is that a good analogy to your example? 
You ask for the sense. From an ethical point of view I would say, yes. You should people give the freedom to own something. 

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

Do not get me wrong and let me explain: I think yes. It makes sense to claim ownership in food which had been planted (plants) or raised (animals). But this is totally different from the software case, isn't it?
I see and I respect your point, but ownership makes sense.  
The second claim your question implies is a very moral one. "restricting the possibility to end physical hunger" In ethics we use the concept of prima facie rights. A prima facie rights is valid as long as a morally higher claim emerges. Now you might say that this "higher claim" is there, all the time. I agree. But I have no solution to that problem. BUT: It does not justify the abolishion of property rights in food. The "ownership of food" has nothing to do with the possibility "restricting the possibility of hunger". I know, you might not accpt this but that is how I would argue. 
The right to property in this case should be overriden, of course, but it should not be abolished.

If the right as such would be abolished a starving family in Africa would have no "legall" justification to defend their claims based on that right. I know that this is a highly sensitive issue in my argument my sound inaccpetable.

> > 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?

The power I can enforce is depended on the legal possibilities. For example, it would be possible to own something without having or using the possibility to exclude or restrict others from the usage. Do you agree that Linus Torvalds did excactly that? I read that in the header of the source code of the Linux kernel appears the copyright of Linus Torvalds. To enforce that right the legal system has to recognize ownership (here copyright) in software. Only then can Linus enforce his claims/rights. Tux and "Linux" are trademarked but free for unrestricted (??) use. You construct your case around the evil people in this world ;-)  

I can not see the necessary dependency of practizing personal "freedom" and restricting "freedom" for society as a whole. If a dictator would do what he wants and claim to practice is personal freedom, I would care. If my neighbor decides to practise his freedom by licensing his software under the GPL I do not care. There are different kinds of freedoms which has to be weight different

By the way, why do you say that I restrict the freedom for society? If I allow ownership in software I give society and people who decide to write a software under any license they choose. They have also the freedom to make it PD (no copyright at all). I increase their freedom. People in the society can then go on and choose (again) which software they want. 
The freedom of the software developer does not restrict other (society). Instead, I would argue that something new emerged (the software) and people can decide if they use it or not.

A different example:
If I would restrict other people to use my "product" (property) I should be allowed to do so. I can fence (1) my property (house, garden etc.) and protect my home from burglers and to enjoy some privacy. But in case of an emergency (2)  I have to let pass the firefighters my property to get to the neighbor etc. It would be unjustified to take the exceptional case as an justification for a generalization (here: no prooerty rights) This again refers to the prima facie idea. 

Sound is your argument about material goods which may indeed harm other people, like in the case of food. One might indeed argue that the same is true for ownership in software. But I am not sure about this.

> > 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. 

Rui, thank you, I learned a lot. 

I think what you (and I mean the community) bothers are restrictive rights, which "influences" the development of software. Industry design, patents, trademarks, DRM, TC etc. are a real threat to you. But I think that copyright (protection of authorship) is not. And this is what ownership in software refers to, or?

A patent right is totally different and is probably (as such) also justified. But the application of patents to software is unjustified. DRM/TC seems to me to be a ideological sword which escapes any rationa reasoning. Their justification is based on wrong assumptions about ownership rights in software. Because not evey computer is equal to "windows" ;-) 

But know I fget into another sphere. So, I will stop here and see what else you have to offer ;-))

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

I am studying Applied Ethics and I am working at the moment at my MA thesis. It is about IPRs in Software. And you can be sure that I will quote you ;-))))

And waht are you doing?


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