[Fsfe-ie] Re: ethical interpretations of FS

Fergal Daly fergal at esatclear.ie
Tue Jan 27 13:17:45 CET 2004

On Tue, Jan 27, 2004 at 11:26:02AM +0000, Ian Clarke wrote:
> Fergal Daly wrote:
> >On Monday 26 January 2004 14:34, Ian Clarke wrote:
> >I'm not sure about it personally but it most certainly _is_ the philosophy 
> >of the FSF.
> >
> >http://www.fsf.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#UnreleasedMods
> I stand corrected, in which case I disagree with whoever wrote that FAQ 
> answer.

I do somewhat agree with that FAQ answer. I think, if I have written GPL
code and someone else has improved it and is letting other people use that
improved version remotely then I think those improvements should be
available to all in source form. Otherwise, the person is taking my GPL work
and publicly benefitting without giving anything back.

> There are many things which might benefit the public interest were they 
> not secret.  For example, if my e-gold password was not secret then my 
> money could be distributed to the masses, which would probably benefit 
> the public interest.  Does this mean that the FSF should advocate the 
> disclosure of my e-gold password?  Should the FSF refuse to use the 
> software of anyone who doesn't disclose their e-gold password?

Your password would not benefit the public interest because then you would
not keep any money in your account, in fact it would be a net loss as now
people would be forced to transfer money to you by some less convenient
means. Property is only valuable to society because people can be sure that
what's theirs is theirs and won't suddenly disappear. Generally, me owning a
chair has no impact on where you can sit. Things are very different with
software. If chairs were like software, I could sell you a chair and tell
you you're not allowed sit with your legs crossed and that you'll have to
pay extra to swing back on 2 legs. The other big difference is that software
chairs have almost zero marginal cost, so I can get a monopoly on software
chairs much more easily than with real chairs.

I think most people would agree that this extra control and the ease with
which a monopoly can develop are not good for society. It's a question of
how bad are they. The FSF believe that they're so bad for society that users
should have the same rights as owners.

> The argument that I should know what someone else's software is doing 
> with my hardware is strong and defensible, but the argument that I have 
> a moral right to know what someone else's software is is doing with 
> someone else's hardware (and they have a moral obligation to disclose 
> it) is isomorphic to arguing that nobody should have any secrets about 
> anything - which is silly.

It's not isomorphic.

Keeping passwords secret...

Good: we get a trustable system of property transfer
Bad: ??? (assuming you believe in private property there is no actual bad
here, people just wouldn't keep any money in there accounts)

has a very minor impact bad effect (we don't get
your limited money) and a very large good effect on society.

Keeping source code secret...

Good: companies can take a bigger reward for their work, thus encouraging
more work to be done.

Bad: if Word was free then the number of people who could save 300 quid is
effectively unlimited, also people could customise the software to meet
their needs and never worry about being held to ransom by a monopoly

The FSF would argue that the bad actually outweighs the good in the second
case. It might be true but it's not good news for the dot commers,


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