Metaprogramming and Free Availability of Sources
Sat, 3 Jul 1999 08:05:06 -0700 (PDT)

>     On the other hand, may i suggest that convincing government officials
>     to pass must-come-with-source-code laws is even less realistic. 
> We are talking about a situation where copyright laws are abolished,
> at least for software.  That is a situation quite different from the
> present.  To get there will require considerable public pressure.  The
> same public pressure could well achieve must-come-with-source-code
> laws also.

That's true. It was probably wrong to say that must-come-with-source-code
laws are impossible to achieve.

>     that's true, but you do have the choice of other hardware that does
>     come with specs.
> In some cases, there is no alternative hardware that has published
> specs, or it is considerably inferior.

That's true. I guess what I'm saying is that if enough people wanted
hardware with specs, they'd get it, if an entrepreneur (perhaps one of
the people who wanted the hardware himself) saw enough demand for it
to justify the cost of designing and manufacturing the hardware.

Our problem now seems to be that not enough people care whether their hardware
comes with specs or not. The best way to solve this problem seems to be
to spread the message of free software and hardware, and encourage people
to buy from companies who make their specs public. This is going
to have to happen before changes in the market or the law can occur.

My hope is that free software and hardware will prevail naturally, without
government assistance. Of course, it would be nice if government
protection of monopolists (copyrights and patents) would end, but
although i wouldn't object personally to a must-come-with-source-code
law, I don't see it as necessary. In particular, it would pollute our
non-government-intervention message ("get the government out of the
spread of information and peaceful use of ideas"). Also, I could
forsee problems with the law if programs began to constructed interactively
by compiler/interpretive systems, rather than by source code. It
might be possible to make the system output a human-readable specification
(but it might not, or it might require excessive computation), but the law 
then begins to become a burden, requiring special effort on the part of the 
person distributing the software. Why not let the market decide? In
a free market (not hampered by copyrights and patents), people will
choose the software that best suits them. If they like software that
comes with source code, they'll choose that software and recommend it
to others.   

If the group of people who like public software and hardware specs grows
powerful enough to influence the creation of a must-come-with-source-code
law, then the law will not be necessary, because those people will also
have considerable power over the market. There may still be some who
try to distribute hardware and software without source code, but their junk 
will not become widespread, because the market will reject them over
better choices (and there certainly will be better choices). Hopefully
better reverse-engineering tools will turn this into a non-issue.
Of course, reverse-engineering is often illegal now, but hopefully
removal of laws rather than addition will solve the problem.

Of course, all this talk about laws is just fantasy, since we currently have
practically no control over what happens to the laws. The only thing we
can do now to try to change the situation is to write free software
to compete with proprietary, and spread the message of free software
(and hardware). On the other hand, if change in the intellectual property
laws will ever occur (in America), my guess is that it will be (directly or
indirectly) by the Libertarian Party. Currently, "intellectual property"
is not even mentioned anywhere on their broshures or web site or even
their "Platform" (a big list of their views on lots of issues). I'm
not sure why this is (I'm guessing that no one has even brought the issue
up); I asked David Bergland (the leader now) in an email, and he didn't
exactly say why, but he invited me to next year's convention, where they
decide on all that stuff. Anyway, I think they have potential. They're
definitely the Linux of the politics industry (with Democrats, Republicans,
and Perot-ans corresponding respectively to Microsoft, Apple, and Be :-) ).


- iepos