Ownership in Software

Axel Schulz axel at schulz.ph
Wed Apr 21 20:56:39 UTC 2004

Ricardo Andere de Mello <gandhi at quilombodigital.org> schrieb am 21.04.04 18:51:37:
> On Wednesday 21 April 2004 14:32, Axel Schulz wrote:
> > And since that time I could not answering the question to myself why
> > software should not be owned, like Stallman suggested. By the way, who is
> > the owner? I think it can be either the engineer or the company (the
> > client) who pays the engineer. Or?
> The owner is the society, that educated the enginneer, that gave him 
> oportunity, that gave his job and life. The inventor has always a great DEBT 
> to the society, because he had access to the information, but a lot of others 
> didn't. Guys, do you have access to the internet and LOTS of information, but 
> in my country 50% are below the poor line. Don't you think you have a big 
> debt? How can you pay all the information you have? Giving it back! 

"The owner is the society"  I consider this argument and I totally disagree. I would put it this way: society has to take advantage of the ownership.  And I am not talking about money.

Consider this:  If I programmed something which is extremely useful I would like to claim the ownership in that program. But I am that smart, that I do not sell it. Instead, I give it away for free and undr the GPL.  
One month later the MIT calls and offers me a professorship - I am at the aim of all my dreams.
If I would not be able to claim ownership in that program, such a career would be impossible.

A great debt does not waive the right to ownership. I can payback my debt in many ways. I can claim ownership without restricting other people to use my program. And this is would should your argument give the force, right? This is not a good justification in the matrial world. Letting people drive with my vehicle I constructed does not fit to my intended goal in first place. But I can give awy the manual how to build that vehicle? I can claim that I am the owner. 

Of course, software is different. Here I can give away or let drive other people my vehicle and give away the manual without any harm. 

You guys are working on free software because this vehicle is useful. To protect it from restriction you publish it under a license which basically prohibits restrictions (GPL). This needs ownership. 

The argument that no-ownership is the golden way is mistaken, as I would say. Because it disallows people to use their freedom by restricting the usage of the result of their labor.


> > 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 - this should be their freedom, too. This is from
> > my point of view the main ethical conflict. It is a question of justice,
> > freedom, and valid claims.
> GNU-Linux is a "good software" and nobody owns it. It's a "proof-of-concept" 
> that stallman is right and you are wrong. ;-)

Sure, is Linux a good software ;-)) 

BUT: ;-)))
Isn't Linus Torvalds the owner? He decided to publish the software under the GPL. From than on the software was available for everybody, and everybody has to agree to the terms of the license. This freedom is ensured because of the original ownership. I agree that it sounds very strange to use the word "ownership" here since Linux is labeld to be free. 

What Linus could probably do is taking the newest version of the Kernel and publish it under a new license. From that moment on we would have still the "free" GPL'ed Linux and Linus can use his Linux for commercial purposes. Since he is the owner, he would be the only one who would be allowed to publish Linux under a different License.

Is that really tru what I say here. It think it fits to the GPL.

Of course, Linus would be stupis, since people would continue to develop the GPL'ed Linux.

Here again a refer to freedom. Freedom is what Stallman wants. But then he has also respect autonomy and the power to change my will and to practice my freedom in the way I want to practice it.

Of course, this presuposes that an social institution like ownership exists. But that is beyond any question and had been justified by many philosophers and legal writers.

> > What Stallman is trying to defend is non-ownership. But this makes people
> > un-free. 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.
> Any lawyer or judge will teach you that freedom only exists with a lot of 
> restrictions. Freedom IS NOT what you read at the dictionary.

I see you point. But before I can talk about restrictions I need a concept of freedom I can talk about, right? I do not need a lawyer to teach me that my freedom is restricted. My girlfriend or my professor does an exellent job in this.

What matters to me that I can construcht a concept of freedom. You have to admit that positive and negative freedoms mean totally differemt thinks and that they capture different entities of life. Herein is the usefulness of Ethics - I do not have to listen to the lawyers !!! ;-))))))

> > I would argue that freedom has to be ensured; and that's why the individual
> > freedom to ownership in software cannot be abolished. The claim for the
> > abolition of ownership in software, as I would say, too weak.
> Hum... I will give you an exagerated example, but it is good to think about 
> the problem. Imagine if when you arrest a killer he says "oh, you can't 
> arrest me! I have freedom to do what I want!". See, society can create limits 
> if decides that an action is prejudicial (the word is correct?) to it. 

The was before he killed a ordinary person (very idealized, of course). He evidently misused his freedom. He was aware of what could happen to him before he killed. 
You have a point, society invents the rules. Sure. But these rules are based on morality. We are also able to punish this killer without any legal law. The father of the victim would do the job.

The problem is that we have to define the rules. And that is why I am hostile to Stallman's idea that software should have owners. It is a propostion of a new rule, to use your idea, and I am willing to discuss it ;-))

> Proprietary Software can cost lives, it's just like patents on medicines. Do 
> you know a company finished genoma project three years earlier and sell the 
> genoma during these three years? Can you imagine how many medicines would be 
> invented in these three years, and how many lifes vanished just because a 
> company's ambition?

No, I didn't. But I am aware of the philosophical debates about IPRs in Medicine. The expression there is "the tragedy of the anti-commons". There they talk about the HIV resarch and show that IPRs will kill, i a certain way, people.

But these are patents. The world needs probably patents in many industries. I do not question patents as such but the applicabilty to certain areas (software, medicine, as you said)

I do not know if ownership in software has something to do with the "cost of lives". The principle of the "properitarian software" should be able to be mirrored in GPL'ed software. GPL'ed software has legal owners. Does it cause the death of people?

> Stallman is trying to say, just like creative commons, that INFORMATION should 
> be free.

Ok! But information is different from software. Here we fight a battle on another field. I know that software is considered as text (like art) or as an instruction for a machine. I mean you can run Linux. You can read a book by XY but you cannot "run" the book. 
So the information in a software is more than just a "message". It is a construction.  Stallman has to accept this and he also has to give people the freedom to restrict the access to this text. Otherwise he would change the world without making it better. Am I wrong?

> Maybe you are on the right track, and I'm on the wrong, but I really think 
> this way.
> The fact is people that don't donate money will never understand this, because 
> they are only worried about their noses. 8-P

This sounds quite pessimistic. I am more otimistic. I think that free software and free arts will make their way. Donations, in these fields, will become less important because the markets will restruture themselves.
What one has to worry about is the the growing gap between poor and rich - not only in the world, even inside industrial countries, and here I share your pessimism.

best regards,

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