Ownership in Software

Axel Schulz axel at schulz.ph
Thu Apr 22 16:27:57 UTC 2004

Hej Frank,
Hej List,

> > You are free to create software and you are free to share the
> > source code but if you force someone to give away his work or
> > doesn't allow him to do with it what he wants to do you violoate
> > his rights and freedoms.
> Yes, and that's exactly what Stallman advocates. E.g., he criticized
> another license for requiring that each derived work must be
> distributed or published.

But doesn't that presupposes that you have the source code? I have to accept a license by M$ when I want to install their software. But how shall I distribute or be forced to publish a derived work?

If Stallman really says so, he goes a little to far I think. And this is my problem. I like his ideas. I make use of the FSF and the GPL [1] but to much freedom harm others, just as to much restrictions do nowadays.

> If you write something for your own use, there should be no
> obligations. 

Right! But you should respect the rights of others. But with your own work you can do what you want. Besides rights are there without any legal recognition. 

> But as soon as you give the work to someone else, every
> use of your power affects others' freedoms as well, so any arguments
> based on "absolute freedom" fail at this point, and you have to
> weigh the freedoms of both parties against each other.

It is tricky to talk about "absolute" entities. Rights, duites, freedoms and so on can be absolute. An American philospher (Mackie [1]) claimed that the only absolute right in moral philosophy is the right to life. If we accept this, than we have to measure and weigh laws and our principles and conventions in respect to that right. But this is beyond the purpose and competence ;-)) of this list.

Back to the absolute freedom. I think the concept still holds. I do not accept that there is a natural relation between the "absolute freedoms" of the "power-holder" and the one who takes the software.

This relation arises when the "taker" agrees to the condition. One of the condition is that the "power-holder" may excercise her power.
I see this issue as an contractual relation in which both sides now what they agree about in advance.
I know that in your (engineering) professional life this is a myth. I read very often on other list what trouble the introduction of OO.org causes. But that does not waive the moral concepts which apply to some kind of ownership, and that is waht I am interessted in.

The question is if by denying the right to "ownership" you do something better to society. And if it is really necessary to deny a freedom to "ownership-wanters".

The GPL is a very smart solution. It restricts also the "taker" of the license but it does something very good to society. But this software has an author. That is way I hold that Stallman is a little mistaken.

What do you think?


[1] http://newedu.de/litdat/
[2] http://www.uwichill.edu.bb/bnccde/_e&ae/ph19b_Rights.htm

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