Ownership in Software

Niall Douglas s_fsfeurope2 at nedprod.com
Thu Apr 22 00:38:22 UTC 2004

Hash: SHA1

On 22 Apr 2004 at 0:41, Rui Miguel Seabra wrote:

> > Food production has outpaced population growth in every part of the
> > world except some regions in Africa. There is NO REASON why there
> > should be anyone starving at all in the world. Yes as a percentage
> > of the world population, it continues to grow worse with time. Why?
> I don't know. Food degradation during the time to transport it from
> one place to another could explain at least some part of it, but I
> find it interesting that the EU pays us (Portugal and other countries)
> to produce _less_ food. Pretty weird, considering all the hunger huh?
> Why not buy that food to farmers and send it someplace else?

The EU tried that in the eighties but it actually made the hunger 
worse. Why? Because free food to poor countries means local farmers 
go bust, land goes out of use and gets its mineral content blown away 
in the dust. The EU courageously stopped this (unlike the US which 
uses it deliberately as a form of warfare) and now pays EU farmers to 
not produce - this makes sense, because the agricultural subsidy has 
nothing to do with food or the production thereof, it's 100% a vote 
buying measure and always was. We basically pay our farmers a kind of 
welfare to stop them flooding the cities.

> > It's obvious that
> > the powers-that-be will want to control it and use it to extort
> > things out of the general population whose sole purpose after all is
> > to consume as much as possible and not bother anyone at the top.
> I know, but I'm not talking about 'making sense for the profit of evil
> people'. Instead, I'm talkin about 'making sense for society'.

But that's the point you and most free software advocates miss - we 
are and always have been ruled by evil people. Or as many would say, 
in order to rule you must be at least partially evil. Wishing it 
weren't so is a fool's dream - it will always be like this. The 
question really is how to play/fix the system to reduce the 
consequences of this.

Therefore advocating reform shouldn't be because it's the right thing 
to do (though it helps), it should be in terms of: (i) this will make 
you (not us) more money or (ii) this will prevent a popular 
revolution removing you from power. The latter I don't see happening 
over software patents :)

> > No I think this is too much "you're with us or you're against us".
> > It seems clear to me that both paradigms can coexist - both software
> > ownership and non-ownership.
> I don't, because there is no ownership. There is a
> *temporary*monopoly*right* called Copyright :)

This is like saying no one owns their land in London. It's true in 
that everyone rents for 99 year leases from the Duke of Westminister, 
but to all intents and purposes it's ownership in that the lease can 
be subletted, bought, sold etc.

Same goes for software. Obviously no one can own it, just as much as 
no one can own anything past their body. But it's a societal 
convention we use for better or for worse and it's not going away 
anytime soon.

> Are authors liable for faults in their products? Books carry no
> warranties either... you could buy a book written by a competent
> author that effectively taught you something, and you could buy a book
> that might as well be written by an infinite number of monkeys :)

There's a difference - for a book to cause damage it must pass 
through a human who chose to accept or reject it. Software can cause 
damage without any human involvement because it's a tool as well.

I'm not saying that malconfigured software should cause liability as 
this implies human error. I am saying correctly configured software 
causing damage should incur the full costs on its manufacturer. This 
seems right because if you can become the world's second richest man 
through profit by ownership, you sure as hell should be liable for 
bad products.

> > If the EU really wanted to fine MS properly, they'd make all
> > software manufacturers fully liable for all damages caused by
> > misoperation of their software. Every single virus infection in a
> > copy Windows would require MS to pay compensation etc.
> I still think that forcing royalty free full access to all
> documentation on their file formats and communication protocols,
> failing to do that penalty of temporary (10 years, for instance)
> exclusion from the common-market would be much more effective than a
> miserous one time 1% of their cash reserves and mandatory RAND
> licensing.

Actually I'd make source disclosure mandatory. While occasionally 
there is some advantage to closed source, it's of small enough 
proportion it's an acceptable loss.

> > > The GNU GPL is one (of many) Free Software licenses and, I think,
> > > the one most used.
> > 
> > I would bet that in terms of millions of lines of code, it wouldn't
> > be.
> I don't know. A project may have millions of lines of code and not
> very usefull at all.

I'd really like to find out how many freshmeat projects are under the 
GPL versus other licenses. That would answer this question once and 
for all (esp. if they can weight them with activity).

> > Also, to be fair you should point out that the GPL imposes 
> > restrictions some may find onerous.
> That doesn't make sense. They are not forced to use GPL'ed code inside
> their derivate programs, so how could they find it onerous? They can
> instead write their own solution, or would the real problem be doing
> it *their*way*?

As in, when choosing a license there are other licenses available 
which are GPL-compatible which may be more appropriate to their 


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