(Fwd) The GPL (was: Re: [Fsfe-ie] 1-page letter, faxes at the

David Golden david at oldr.net
Sun Sep 28 04:36:00 CEST 2003

On Sat 27 Sep 2003 18:16, Niall Douglas wrote:
> Hash: SHA1
> Seeing as the list do want this discussion, below is my reply to
> David.
> I had worked on the basis that divisive discussions such as these are
> best kept off public fora. But if people want to, we can.

I disagree totally, openness and honest acknowledgement of division is 
becoming more and more important, and is vital for a resilient society that 
won't "shatter when struck"- you can't analyse and really resolve division by 
hiding it.   Digression: I recommend the book by David Brin  "The Transparent 
Society: Will technology force us to choose between privacy and freedom?" for 
an introductory and accessible (i.e. not written by Popper) exploration of 
why it's probably for the best to keep such things out in the open, and why 
it's becoming much more important that we do so as technology advances 
(demand reciprocal transparency, not privacy, one of my bones of contention 
with the FSF is their privacy stance.).  http://www.davidbrin.com/tschp1.html

> In fact, some like me  think the GPL a necessary evil and a
> doubtful one still at that.

I do hope one day the GPL will become unnecessary. I don't think it's 
particularly evil. Certainly not compared to your average MS EULA :-)

> I meant that the GPL does many of the same bad things to software as
> proprietary closed source does eg; duplication and thus waste of
> production.

Duplication? The duplicator had a choice, they could always have just abided 
by the GPL, and avoided the effort, couldn't they? 

> The GPL seeks to permanently restrict the use of software
> just like proprietary. I don't for a second call GPL software free
> software.

Again: it only restricts those who would exert exclusive rights over 
non-scarce information themselves, as far as I'm concerned. 

> Well copyright is nearly dead already. Another ten years and they'll
> be screaming out for a legislative replacement.

Perhaps, but the pessimist in me predicts the replacement will be the 
legislation of mandatory DRM brain-implants :-))

> For me it's not a matter of owning information - I believe that is
> the free property of mankind and there's little the law can do to
> change it. 

Property is a legal result, mainly.  Property rights are created by law.  In 
the absence of law, your property rights become "whatever you can defend".
Sure, information should be the free property of all mankind, alright, if 
people insist on talking about it as property...

> What it is about is that if I write a piece of software
> which saves every company in the world ten euro per year, I see it
> only as fair that every company in the world should pay me that ten
> euro for the first year and thereafter the savings are mankind's.
> I don't care how it's done legally, but I cannot be swayed from the
> notion that if a person or group contributes significantly to the
> improvement of their fellow man, they should be adequately rewarded.
> This is one of the best features of capitalism - that taking risk is
> rewarded ie; entrepreneurship.

There should be no guarantee of adequate reward for "taking risk".  If there 
was, it wouldn't be "taking risk" - Think about it! 

Current nominally "capitalist" nations are anything but  - you have 
governments left right and centre swallowing the anti-capitalist arguments 
that people, in particular pseudopeople that are large corporations, should 
be entitled to recoup investments they have made, even if bad (particularly 
if bad, in some cases...).  

In fact, most of the participants in the ever more popular "anti-capitalist" 
protest marches around here (Dublin) are really anti-corporatist if you 
listen to what what they're complaining about. Unfortunately, capitalism 
(free-market capitalism) is being tarred with the same brush as corporatism 
since the fascists in power describe themselves as capitalists, and even call 
their completely-anti-free-market pushes for further first-world 
protectionism "establishing global free markets". [Sigh...]

Whatever happened to "sunk costs are sunk costs" :-( ???

> You have, like many others, made the logical mistake of believing
> there is a difference between manipulating intangibles and tangibles.
> There is not.

You have, like many others, made the logical mistake of believing
there is no difference between manipulating intangibles and tangibles.
There is.

That's a little off, though, really, I actually agree pretty much with your 
version of the statement - but only because, in the limit, I don't really 
believe in intangibles. "intangible" is woolly thinking.   Information only 
exists when impressed on a physical substrate.

Thus, I do not think that ownership of "information" itself is valid, as it 
conflicts directly with physical property rights over substrates.

I acknowledge things get a little awkward at quantum level, where
there's glimmerings that there is a quite close correspondence between 
information and physical items, but it isn't a correspondence that suggests 
that any existing frameworks will be valid as they currently stand once we 
gain the ability to control things at that level.

> Thus this foolish idea of working on software as being a kind of
> services industry (like where you pay an engineer to fix your motor)
> rather than a manufacturing industry (like where you make a motor and
> sell it) is extremely dangerous in the long-term.

Dangerous for who?  Microsoft, yes (but not so dangerous that they couldn't 
successfully adapt, in my opinion).  

Handy you chose motors- I have a masters in mechanical engineering as well as 
being a professional software developer and all round annoying know-it-all 
("consultant").  I happen to know, from personal experience, that software 
production is almost NOTHING like motor production.  Software+Hardware is 
slightly like a motor.  Software on it's own definitely isn't.  With 
software, a sufficiently detailed specification IS the software. 

You can't write down "this is an A.C. induction motor" and have it be called 
the motor, but you can write down "(setf pants (make-instance 'someclass))" 
and have it be called the software.

Further thought:  Modern motors and more complex machines involving motors 
often have control systems.  Software certainly is used , in that context, as 
the settings/instructions for the control system computer.   When you're a 
junior engineer doing some grunt work "fixing" a machine from the 
disinterested manager's perspective, you're actually often tweaking or 
rewriting said settings and instructions (i.e. writing software, perhaps in 
some godawful PLC assembler).  So software _production_ can actually be very 
like motor _fixing_.  :-))

>  That whole idea must be stamped out and I unfortunately notice a strong
> correlation  of this idea with those who believe in the GPL.

Hmm.  "The whole idea must be stamped out"?  A tad extreme, and
not something I like to hear in any context.  

> The key to this logical mistake is to look at computer software as
> pure information. It is not.

Uh.  Yeah, it is, considered by itself. 

> (for example a computer program baking a cake
> is substantially more than the recipe for a cake).

A computer program might, when run on a computer interfaced to a 
servomechanism/robot, instruct a cake to be made.  But a computer program 
will never bake a cake in and of itself, no more than my mind (best guess is 
that's information impressed upon the physical substrate of my brain) can 
bake a cake without my hands.

I would never regard teaching a human how to bake a cake as immoral.  I'm not 
going to regard teaching a robot how to either. 

> Until then, it's a dog eat dog world and you need every
> competitive advantage to survive.

Yep, a competitive advantage like open source.  Sometimes cooperation is a 
competitive advantage.  Kick all those old proprietary weenies butts. :-))

> Amigas were nice. Know a fellow called Carl Sassenrath? He had a big
> influence on the Amiga Workbench.

Well, I've never spoken to him personally, but he did some pretty cool stuff, 
like the Amiga kernel itself, exec.library.  Of course, he then spent years 
on Rebol, which I regarded as a kinda mediocre despite the hype - if you'd 
already used Lisp, Rebol's grand claims rang rather hollow.

> You should try reading entrepreneur books (eg; "starting your own
> company") or economics books. They are so amoral it scares me that
> the majority of the holders of power actually believe that crap ...

Oh I have, I had years of economics, business management, etc, in my degree, 
and I've been working since 2000.   I might be setting up a business soon, 
was kinda waiting to see how that there software patent vote went (and yes, I 
know the whole thing's not over at all yet...).

More information about the FSFE-IE mailing list