Ownership in Software

Frank Heckenbach frank at g-n-u.de
Fri Apr 23 00:10:42 UTC 2004

Axel Schulz wrote:

> > Since we agree that absolute principles aren't applicable here, I
> > think your argumentaion isn't very sound. Even if you assume that
> > the "owner" can impose some conditions on the receipient, where
> > would you draw the line? Some examples for you to think about (all
> > are very real with proprietary software):
> > 
> > - The right to fix problems (especially if the "owner" doesn't do
> >   it).
> > 
> > - The right to get compatibility (if interfaces and data formats are
> >   undocumented, sometimes this requires reverse engineering).
> > 
> > - More generally and related to the previous point, the right to
> >   your own data. (If you store them in a proprietary format, you
> >   might not be able to do with them what you want, or you might even
> >   depend on the proprietary vendor (repeated license payments etc.)
> >   just to be able to access your own data on another computer, or in
> >   the future, ...)
> > 
> > - The right to check if the software does anything nasty which could
> >   harm you (intentionally as in backdoors, or unintentionally as in
> >   security holes). This requires source code or reverse engineering.
> > 
> > - The right to your computer at all. (Think about DRM, or about
> >   required remote access to the "owner" for checking your license
> >   compliance, etc.)
> > 
> > - The right to do unrelated things. (I think some proprietary
> >   companies once tried to restrict you from using certain free
> >   programs at all on the same machine. I don't know, though, if this
> >   restriction was legally valid.)
> > 
> > I hope you agree with at least some of the points. So now it's up to
> > you to provide a definition where the "owner"'s rights should end.
> > Just saying the "owner" can put any conditions on the recipient
> > would deny all of the above rights.
> That is impossible for me. These are legal questions. I just want
> to see if a general right can be defended. Besides, what you list
> here would be effects of ownership.

Legally, the questions are answered by the lawmakers (not always
well, of course, and differing amoung countries and times). I
thought you were interested in the moral questions. Since you are
defending "ownership" rights, it's now up to you to answer which of
these rights the recipient should have (or otherwise, which of these
rights the "owner" may exclude), morally.

For me the answer is simple, the recipient should have all of those
rights (and more). If you are defending more restrictive
"ownership", you must say how far you mean it to go. Should the
owner be allowed to restrict all those rights? Some of them? None of
them? If you don't say this, you're not telling us what you're
arguing at all, and a discussion makes no sense.

> > > > authorship != ownership, authors != owners
> > >
> > > You consider it this way. Many people here consider it this way. 
> > > I do not. My justification is that only authorship in software is
> > > insufficient because of the dual nature of software (-> the ACM
> > > artilce I quoted).
> > > 
> > > So, for me  "authorship != ownership" is not true when it comes to
> > > software.
> > 
> > Just to point out a logical flaw in your argument: Stallman says
> > (and you disagree) that software should not have owners. You say
> > (and Stallman probably disagrees, like most of us here do) that
> > authorship = ownership. Combining these two statements results in a
> > statement ("software should not have authors") that neither one
> > necessarily agrees to, i.e. it's meaningless.
> (1) Stallman and you:
> owners != authors
> software should NOT have owners
> software should have authors
> (2) Me:
> owners = authors
> software should have owners
> software should have authors
> (3) Your conclusion: 
> software should NOT have authors

That's not my conclusion! Do you know what quotes (Anführungszeichen
in German) mean? I was paraphrasing your statement: "[The GPL] does
something very good to society. But this software has an author.
That is way I hold that Stallman is a little mistaken." (If you
think Stallman is mistaken *because* this software has an author and
this results in a good thing, you're apparently assuming that
Stallman means that software should not have authors.)

> This doesn't derive! You cannot take my premiss (owners = authors)
> and applied it to Stallman's (owners != authors).

Yes, it doesn't derive! But it was you who made the wrong
connection, when you claimed that Stallman is against authorship.

> If you do this, you get this result. Am I wrong? I am not that
> good in logic. The premiss is the foundational for the statements.

As Rui pointed out, you can derive anything from a wrong premise.

But it's maybe even more important to note that anything you derive
from your premise *and* Stallman's quote, cannot be considered as
being said by Stallman (as you seem to do), because it's based on
*your* premise. (Neither can it necessarily be considered your
opinion because it's also based on Stallman's quote. That's why I
said it's meaningless.)

> Why I take this premiss did I explain in earlier mails.

I think this premise is wrong, both according to my moral opinions
and to legal practice.

But my criticism of your way of argument applies even if you don't
accept this -- unless you can *prove* that your premise must be true
(not only justify that it could be acceptable).


Frank Heckenbach, frank at g-n-u.de
GnuPG and PGP keys: http://fjf.gnu.de/plan (7977168E)

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