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Weblog:   Dragging the Butter
Subject:   BountyQuest founder, is this opinion inconsistent?
Date:   2001-11-28 12:55:19
From:   timoreilly
Response to: BountyQuest founder, is this opinion inconsistent?

Whoa...! You're reading a whole lot into my message that isn't there. You seem to have translated my statement that ""to see as much good software created as possible ... we need a range of licensing models" into the oft-repeated statement that "strong IP protection necessarily fosters creative achievement".


I believe the former. I don't believe the latter.
I am not a believer in strong intellectual property protection. I'm a believer in "just enough" intellectual property protection to remind users of the right of creators, for a limited time, to set the terms on which their work is used. That's a very different thing. If my favorite author wants to burn his letters or her unpublished manuscript, that's the author's right, much as I might deplore it. Likewise, if an author wants to charge me more than I want to pay, that's also the author's right. If an author wants to give me his work for free and only wants to make sure that I must pass along that same right to others, that's also the author's right. This is a moral position, just as much as Richard's, and as such, needs no quantification.


Nonetheless, I did make a quantitative assertion, which you refer to above. I don't have quantitative backup, though economists might. I believe it is self-evident, if only because people do have different beliefs and values about what they want to happen to their work. If we say that all intellectual creations must fit a single licensing model, we are saying that all creators are motivated by the same values. And there is a substantial amount of evidence that free market economies (for all their ills, which are many) do in fact produce more goods and services because they let individuals set the terms of exchange, rather than having a single top-down set of rules. As William Blake said in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, "One Law for the Lion and the Ox is oppression."


My concerns about the GPL are actually the same as my concerns about the numerous extensions of copyright that have happened in the 21st century. Both seem to me to over-reach themselves, and try to give too much control over what the user does with an intellectual product he or she receives. Both are in fact examples of overly strong "intellectual property" protection. (And yes, I know that Richard doesn't like the term "intellectual property" because copyrights, patents, and trade secrets are all different, and besides, the notion of property brings with it inappropriate assumptions of scarcity.) I completely support the right of Richard or any individual author to make his or her work available under the terms of the GPL; I balk when they say that others who do not do so are doing something wrong.


I am willing to accept any argument that says that there are
advantages and disadvantages to any particular licensing method. What
I liked so much about Eric Raymond's ideas in The Cathedral and The Bazaar was that he did try to move the discussion to "what works" about
free software and open source. While I said above that my position is a moral one, just as much as Richard's, it's also a pragmatic one. My moral position is that people should be free to find out what works for them.


Of course the real debate here is just how far the rights of creators
ought to extend. When are they reasonable and fair, and when do they
overreach themselves?


There is one really big variable in all of this: beliefs do influence behavior. In the introduction to his book The Open Society, George Soros makes the point that people spend a lot of time trying to decide if
assertions are either true or false, when instead, there is a third category, namely things that are true or false to the extent that people believe in them. He cites markets (his specialty) and history as fields in which what people believe are key drivers of what happens. That's why people spend so much time (as we are doing now) trying to influence what other people believe!


For some things I've written on related topics, see:
http://tim.oreilly.com/publishing/copyprotection.html,
http://www.oreilly.com/ask_tim/orabooks_os.html


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  1. BountyQuest founder, is this opinion inconsistent?
    2001-11-28 13:45:05  fredsmoothie [View]

    • Tim O'Reilly photo Why we need a range of licensing models
      2001-11-28 18:22:39  Tim O'Reilly | O'Reilly AuthorO'Reilly Blogger [View]

      • Please don't muddy the waters
        2001-11-28 21:44:26  fredsmoothie [View]

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