the future of LispWorks

Pekka P. Pirinen
Sun, 11 Jul 1999 22:42:24 +0000

Francois-Rene Rideau <> wrote:
> On Thu, Jul 08, 1999 at 07:59:13PM +0100, Pekka P. Pirinen wrote:

> Hum. Since we're debating general things,
> I'm crossposting the discussion to
> I invite you to continue general discussion on the list

I think it's important to have some idea of what one ethical position 
is based on.  This is a rare opportunity to examine it in front of 

> > [...] However, I think the objections mentioned on
> > comp.lang.lisp are worth thinking about.
> Hum. Is that something you posted during my months-old flamewar
> involving flamewarlike Erik Naggum, and wise Kent Pitman?
> Can you resend me a copy?

No, just somebody's remark this week that there's already a PD 
implementation, quite a good one, CMUCL, and there aren't enough
people to maintain and port that one.

I think it might well be that what the Lisp community needs is not
more code but more people.

> >> I have also a page in french on Free Software:
> >>
> >
> > I don't quite agree with some things you say about not giving an
> > advantage to competition.
> If you publish code and the competition uses it,
> then YOU are at the advantage, because YOU lead the technology,
> and the other people follow you.
> So the MORE people use your code, the MORE you gain leadership,
> and the HIGHER the value of your honest services on the market.
> Opening your sources is pure PROFIT! It's free marketing!
> You just have to require proper credits. And so that the credits
> be best given, you'd better put your code under GNU GPL,
> so that it will always be obvious how much of the code was yours,
> and how much was "added" by third parties,
> and will otherwise prevent "stealth" from people
> making your software their competing proprietary "product".

That's all true, but it doesn't cover _all_ the effects of
publishing code.

OK, if you use GPL, then the competitor can't make profit directly 
out of your code.  If they use GPL as well, they will still improve 
their services using your code, and hence their competitive 
position.  In that case, you can use their code as well, and it's a 
level playing field.

The case that worries me is a GPL'd product competing against a
proprietary one.  The competitor can't use the code, but they
will know your architectural ideas, they can run your test suites (or 
will we keep them secret?), and they will make all your bugs 
embarrassingly public.

> Besides, I agree with that part of french laws that make acknowledgement
> to authorship an inalienable right of any author,
> so you don't even have to require credits:
> credits are already required by law, and justly so.

Does that apply to programmers?

> > Although a technological advance is by
> > nature a short-term advantage, it can be turned into a long-term one
> > through path dependence (not that that's necessarily a good thing).
> Which is akin to hooking people on drugs, and should be accordingly
> banned by law. I deeply regret that evil businessmen have corrupted
> the mind of computer scientists (and the public at large) to the point
> where they consider such dishonesties as "normal business practice".
> [cut rest of diatribe]

Yes, it's definitely undesirable.  It's also a fact of life.  Path 
dependence is often not created by just the businessmen, but the 
logic of the technology.

> > System software is particularly like that.

E.g., it's expensive for users to switch to a different operating 
system, since they have to replace all their programs and drivers, 
and hence there will be strong path dependencies in the development 
of OSs, even if they were all free.

> > Also, it's not true that
> > exclusivity never benefits anybody else: rewarding the builders with a
> > limited exclusivity can encourage them to attempt larger tasks and
> > thereby benefit the public;
> Excuse me to be harsh, but I call that bullshit.
> It is the same argument that has always been given to justify protectionism:
> [cut examples]

Yes, it is the same argument, but you need to address it on its 
merits, rather than anecdotes from history.

> We all know that protectionism is EVIL. It has caused ruin.
> It has caused wars. It causes bad quality. [cut other
> bad consequences]

I don't buy into the current rhetoric of globalisation: It's true
that mercantilist and colonial systems of protectionism were pretty
evil, but so are excesses of free trade.  If you refuse to make a
distinction between protecting new business and protecting old
monopolies, you're losing track of what the benefits are.

Anyway, returning to microeconomics, as examples of limited
exclusivity, I think copyright and patents are pretty convincing. 
Not that there aren't problems with the way they are implemented
currently, but that they seem to have stimulated a lot of activity, 
as intended.

> [cut rhetoric on monopolies vs. the public]


That's clever!

> > however, giving them full and indefinite
> > control seems a little excessive.

> There is *no justification* in giving people control
> on anything else but their own actions.  [restatement cut]
> But is it an attempt to their liberties to prevent them
> from making themselves better and more useful workers,
> and that the brakes put by hoarders on other technicians
> be done with the help of Governmental Force only makes the crime
> WORSE, rather than less terrible. It makes a civil offense into a
> political crime.

Wow, you're more radical than a raving libertarian!  They at least
keep the law of "property" (which in their system includes 
"intellectual property") as a social tool for (what they refuse to 
call) government, while you'd discard most of the IP tools.

> Intellectual property is sheer evil. It's downright racket.
> If you don't want to publish your source, fair enough; just keep it secret
> until the market demands your code and is somehow ready to pay you back.

OK, that I can agree with.  You're not as radical as I thought.

> However, you have no right to prevent people from freely copying information,
> trying to understand or decompile it, to modify and enhance it,
> or somehow to do useful things about their own lives,
> with their own time, and their own resources.

That's why I find the idea of "IP" an unwarranted curtailment of 
existing rights, and one that is being introduced into the legal
systems of Western countries by changing the legal practice and
interpretation rather than parliamentary debate.  This is a very
American thing, I suppose, a lot of their rights were created
that way (even while technically seeking a basis in the sacred 
Constitution), but it doesn't fit at all in the Continental idea
of constitutional process.

[more rhetoric on IP omitted, since we agree]

> Laws should favorize activity, that is new and renewed work;
> it should not favorize laziness, that is living by rent of old work.

See, we value the same thing: new work.  So how do you encourage
new work, if it's risky (not everyone will succeed) and/or
expensive (a lot of work before benefits are available)?
I'd say limited exclusivity is one way.  Do you have any suggestions?

> [Stephen King example omitted, although it was a good one]

They are paying him too much.  The exclusivity periods are
too long and the scopes too wide.

> What do you prefer? A world where a few get indecently rich at not
> working honestly, while most people stay poor whatever they do?
> Or a world where most people work honestly
> and get paid decently, no more, no less?
> [restatement omitted]

Rhetorical questions are OK in a speech, but when I hear them
in an argument I look for the hidden assumptions.  You made your
argument, that's the place to stop.

> The technical advance is its own reward,
> that automatically benefits the author.
> No need for artificial exclusivity:
> everyone is already exclusive owner of one's own inequalled proficiencies.

I'll tackle that next time, if I have the energy.

> ANY benefit that will be earned due to artificial exclusivity is
> lost twice by the consumer.

Which is why patents lapse, if not used, and copyrights are limited
by fair use and public libraries.

> I invite you to re-read what Frdric Bastiat

We'll see.

> Sorry to make this mail too long and too impassionate.
> I have no time to make it shorter and more reasonable.

I know, I've spent too much time answering it and still I couldn't
get the tone always right or do justice to all your arguments.
Please take it as a friendly contribution to a common cause of
understanding the ethical basis for our profession.
Pekka P. Pirinen