Ownership in Software

Rui Miguel Seabra rms at 1407.org
Thu Apr 22 00:08:10 UTC 2004

On Wed, 2004-04-21 at 22:56 +0200, Axel Schulz wrote:
> > 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 totally disagree, as well. There is no ownership. :)
However, the author could only create the work because there was a
society that educated him, that inspired him.

Copyright is there so society can have access to the work. But it
carries a temporary economic advantage over publishers that the author
can use to make some money off of copies made of his work.

> I would put it this way: society has to take advantage of the ownership.

Society can't take advantage from ownership by definition. If someone
"owns" something, then it's not available for society.
If you mean that society (and not the author) owns it, than it makes no
sense since it has exactly all the effects of no ownership at all.

> 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.

Ok, stop right here and think: what you're talking about is about
knowing who the author is.

That is still not ownership.

If you create a program under a contract in Portugal (and in many
countries it is the same), even though you are the author, the
distribution rights belong to someone else.

In anglo-saxon countries you usually can waive copyright completely in
favour of someone else (normally a publisher whom you make a contract
with). You are still the author, but you have lost all rights to the
work :)

> A great debt does not waive the right to ownership. (...)
> I can claim that I am the owner. 

Again: AUTHOR, not owner.

> 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.

No. Copyright, _which_is_not_a_property_right_ even though many want to
say it is, recognizes authors, and not owners.

> Sure, is Linux a good software ;-)) 
> BUT: ;-)))
> Isn't Linus Torvalds the owner?

No, he is one of many kernel hackers. His contribution are now a
distinct minotity in terms of code.

> 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.

If they want to REDISTRIBUTE copies or improved versions.

> This freedom is ensured because of the original ownership.

Yes and no.

No because it is not ownership.
Yes since Linus chose the GNU GPL, so all derivate works had to be
published under the GNU GPL.

> I agree that it sounds very strange to use the word "ownership"
> here since Linux is labeld to be free. 

It is strange because we're talking about a government granted
artificial monopoly right. It is you who insist on ownership.

> 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

No he can't, unless all contributors agree or waive their rights in
favour of someone who does.

> and Linus can use his Linux for commercial purposes.

Everyone can use, and some do, Linux for commercial purposes.
Most of them use also more than the kernel, so what is usually used are
variants of the GNU system coupled with the kernel called Linux,
initially developped by Linus Torvalds, hence GNU/Linux.

What you meant was "for **proprietary** purposes".

I think you should read:
Some Confusing or Loaded Words and Phrases that are Worth Avoiding

for a more detailed explanation.

> 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.

You're almost there. Only you mixed the word "freedom" when you're
talking about "power" and "your will". That's no longer a freedom you're
exercing but your power over everyone else. And you're using it in an
irresponsible way: restricting freedoms everyone should have.

> 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.

Which ones? I'd say by no philosopher and by some legal writers, but I'd
seem like being too sure of myself. However, you cold prove me wrong...

> 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.

That was before he restricted freedoms from an ordinary person (very
idealized, of course).
He evidently misused his power. He was aware of what could happen to him
before he did that.

> 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.

I wonder how many donations a successfull company such as Red Hat really

> 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.

Copyright by default restricts freedoms from people. By default you have
to be rich enough to have access to the work.

The digital world allows copies at almost zero price, so why do you
defend a system that creates artificial price (ownership)?

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