the future of LispWorks

Francois-Rene Rideau
Mon, 12 Jul 1999 14:27:16 +0200

> 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.
Exactly. The GPL serves as a mutual protection contract,
much like free-trade agreements between countries.
It protects the user from the computer industry,
but also the programmer from his employers,
and the employers from the programmers.
Everyone gives up a petty advantage of his in exchange
of not having to suffer all the petty advantages of all other people.
The only losers are monopolists who'd have accumulated
more advantages on their side than they cumulatively have to pay
on all other sides (see micros~1).

> 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?),
If _your_ test suites or architecture become standard,
then _you_ are leading the market, and so good for you.
Remember, time they spend working on _your_ ideas
is time they don't spend being original.
Also, you can trust your enemies to know your general architecture anyway,
as well as anything of yours in which they may have an interest;
such is not the case of your friends. See fortune cookie in .sig below.
Moreover, if you adopt the free software model,
you have no loss of "sale of your product" to expect
from your competitor reading your code.
For you don't sell licences to code anymore,
you sell service, and no one can take that away from you.
Your service might be development, adaptation, or maintenance;
it may be selling _trustable_ distributions;
it may be quite a lot of things.

> and they will make all your bugs embarrassingly public.
*Assuming there are bugs*, having them exposed is much less embarrassing
than having them hit you unexpectedly and ununderstandably.
Plus the long term effect of bugs being exposed
is that your code with be noticeably more reliable.
As an existing experience, consider the effects of bugtraq and CERT alerts:
every exploit is tested against all existing platforms;
the free platforms have the bug fixed at once,
and are generally entrusted to be quite stable,
whereas the proprietary ones have much more trouble;
all in all, such reviewing is unanimously considered
a positive factor for open projects.
See again fortune cookie in .sig below...

>> 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?
It should, at least. But France is a bizarre country, and
not only don't I think that such an interpretation has had
the opportunity to be attacked or defended into court before,
I also fear that France doesn't live by the Rule of Law, anyway,
so that it is difficult to fight lobbies of publishers,
who had a contradictory law pass according to which the publisher
is considered the author in case it had a work developped by several
authors under the publisher's command.

> 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.
My opinion is that the responsibility of ending the dependance
should be legally assigned to the provider,
who would then propagate it to the original price,
which would in turn lead to a much fairer market.

>>> 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.
I remember people having ported their applications from proprietary OSes
to Linux by typing just "make" :)
So it's actually a matter not just of free software but also standards.
Something especially evil about the Win32 API
is not only its not having free implementations (yet),
but also its being controlled by a proprietary vendor
such that replacement is impossible.
Of course, even with the most free software
and the most agreed upon standards,
there are still migration costs associated to moving
from one platform to one another.
Free of shackles is not the same as free of worries.
Any freed slave can tell you!
At least, when software is free,
there is a free market in APIs, and in providing migration paths.

> Yes, it is the same argument, but you need to address it on its 
> merits, rather than anecdotes from history.
Well, since it's the same argument, I refer you
to all the economic literature written since the 18th century
against protectionism in general.
Note that economists are quasi unanimous in condemning protectionism.
A few classical texts are accessible from my page:

> 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.
Those "old monopolies" became so only because they were granted protection
at the moment they were "new business".
I see no particular use in _protecting_ new business,
and I also deny government authority to grant such protection.
Either the business is profitable and a benefit to mankind,
and it needs no protection, or it isn't profitable
and can't stand competition, and protecting it is harmful.

_Promoting_ new business might (or not) be good idea;
but then, indirect means of protection are quite inefficient,
and direct funding is a much more efficient means the end
(just like public research is a better way to have people research
on long-term topics than indirect incitations;
at least such is what both theory and practice suggest).
Actually, if an activity is beneficial and isn't funded because
funders do not realize it, then the government would better
have the information be disseminated in a more efficient way
so that businessmen fund the activity in a fair way,
than try to manage things themselves in unbusinesslike ways.

> 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.
Intellectual property pays everything according to a priori quotas
rather than letting the market negociate a posteriori price.
This means most things will be either underrated or overrated,
that the society at large will lose a lot
when paying for overrated activities,
and will lose the opportunity to see underrated activities.
It also means that proficient but immoral businessmen
will systematically push towards overrated activities,
leading to worst than an inefficient market, a biased market.
Absence of IP means that creative activity would be rewarded
at free market price.

Again, in presence of protectionism, you should always look both at
that which is seen and that which is not seen
Whenever some gain of protection _is seen_,
there is a corresponding loss that _is not seen_;
if you're interested in public welfare, you should make the sum.

> That's clever!
Unhappily, it's not mine.

>> 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.
Not all libertarians are for intellectual property,
and those who are most often are so from mimicking the prevailing uses.
There are also those who see the *word* "property" and react
without any thought about the whether or not it matches
the usual notion of property, stand up to defend IP.
Now, if you re-read classical liberal texts about property
and its justification, you'll see that its roots is systematically
in the _physical_ nature of goods and titles that be owned;
"intellectual" property not only defeats all these justifications,
it violently contradicts them.
The very same justifications behind physical property
justify information not being ownable.

Oh, and I discard _ALL_ IP tools, as well as all legislative tools whatsoever.
I don't believe that law is to be left to the whims of the legislator,
who may take just any decision that suits his current idea of welfare.
Like all classical liberals I believe in natural law:
laws of nature such that negating them leads to ruin,
while acknowledging them is a necessary step towards prosperity.
The socialists tend to believe the legislator has arbitrary power;
we classical liberals call that abuse of authority at best,
totalitarian dictatorship at worst.
We believe that the legislator has no tools, only a duty,
that the government is not to manage, not to plunder,
only to enforce rules that guarantee freedom.

Oh, I do believe there are arbitrary aspects to laws,
like on which side of the road people should drive,
or at what age people should be considered to reach majority;
but these arbitrary aspects are precisely those where
the precise choice mostly doesn't matter,
and is only used to "break symmetry",
because the choosen alternative is not important,
only the fact that a choice be made.
Such rulings are the very contrary to an arbitrary use of power,
and even in the "arbitrariness" of the "choice",
tradition is to prevail, which again leaves the legislator
with the sole duty to acknowledge natural law and traditional fact,
without room for legislatorial whim.

>> 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.
I refuse to think of myself or anyone as being "radical" or not.
A fortune cookie says:
Conservative, n.: One who admires radicals centuries after they're dead.
                -- Leo C. Rosten
That ideas be new and paradoxical (in the original meaning
of opposing common opinion) or that they be not
is an utterly irrelevant criterion as to their validity.
We should only be concerned with rational justifications.

That said, I do think sources should be available
for any business-critical software,
and that the public should and will demand them;
I also think it should back this demand with money,
and that the right to not reveal sources until you feel properly compensated
is a particular case of the fundamental liberty to not be forced
to take active part into anything against your will.
Market mechanisms will lead to sources being acquired at a fair price
by users, possibly organized in consortiums
(like, for instance, unions of IS departments of fortune 500 companies).
Every company's insurance policies
will demand sources for the company's software;
and regulations for consumer software may mandate source
for software publicly sold in shrink-wrapped boxes.
So that sooner than later, your sources will have to be available
if you want to hit a big market.
Because you cannot be forced to publish, you can get compensation;
because you're in a race with other people,
you will have to publish early and frequently.
All in all, the market will determine the right price.

>> 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.
Indeed. A most dangerous underhand attempt to fundamental liberties.

> 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.
Funny how you say "Continental", coming from Scandinavia
and living in Great Britain :) I don't know much of finnish History,
but GB has a definite history of growing laws bit by bit and
fitting them on a huge contradictory body of accumulated tradition
that be retroactively interpreted
(darn, those british still live in a monarchy inherited from
the most cruel conquest, and consider as among their founding laws
a Magna Carta that was gained by the Norman Lords allied against their King).

Rather than interpret this danger by national culture,
I'd rather say that it arises due to lack of interest and understanding
from both the public and its representative legislators
about fundamental rights, which leaves an open field to lobbies.
I'd say that democracy is ill of not acknowledging
the classical liberal principles on which it was or should be founded.
It's ill of legislators believing in their own almighty power,
and trying to devise combinations and legislative tools to induce welfare,
whereas any such attempts can only lead to failure and more confusion.
As a result, we live in more of a lobby-cracy,
and people increasingly confuse the common interest
with the corporate interest of traders.

>> 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?
A well-known tool for risk aversion is mutual insurance:
people put money in a pool and share the risks and benefits.
As for expensive work needed before there be benefits,
it corresponds to the well-known notions of investment and capital.
If other industries have always managed to find insurance and capitals
without "protection", there is no reason why the most profitable
and fastest growing industry in the world, the computer industry,
couldn't also find insurance and capitals without protection.
And if it has a little bit more difficulty,
it will only be a fair rebalance of price
to more correct values in a free market.

So in practice, I see the emergence of lots and lots of companies
like Cygnus or RedHat or VA Linux, that accumulate capital
so as provide free-software services including but not limited to trust.
Such companies will pay stable salaries to innovative programmers,
hence serving as risk-aversion pools for those programmers.
To avoid and risky long investments is also an incentive
for these companies to publish code early and frequently,
so as to sell services early and frequently,
at everyone's benefit.

The expected _indirect_ effect is to give an incentive towards new work.
But the _direct_ effect of exclusivity has always been
_forbiddance_ and _destruction_ of new work to ensure rent to old work.
Forbiddance and destruction are its very raison-d'être.
And of course besides this direct effect,
there is the cost of actually enforcing the exclusivity,
and psycho-social effects of an arbitrary exclusivity on people.
The question is whether that indirect effect indeed exists, is positive,
and compensates for the direct effect, the cost, and the psychosocial effects.
In the computer industry, where work crucially depends a lot on previous work,
where copying is so easy that enforcement is very expensive,
where exclusivity encourages so much people to not cooperate with each other,
the negative effects of intellectual property are incredibly more important
than any possible positive effect; and the different grows bigger and bigger
as technology makes communication increasingly both easier and more important.

> The exclusivity periods are too long and the scopes too wide.
My opinion is that any strictly positive period is too long,
and any non-empty scope is too wide.

>> 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.
Which is why patent-holders will enforce their patents
even in the least offensive case, which leads
to just as oppressive an atmosphere.
Plus publishers are now demanding a tax on public libraries
as well as trying to restrict the notion of fair use
and to extend the duration of copyright.
It's not a fight for authors, it's a fight for publishers.
Authors are the victims, too.

You don't make a bad thing good by limiting it in time.

>> 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.
Cool. Thanks!
As you see, however, this lays questions
that go far beyond our sole profession.

Ouch, I'll stop now. This becomes much too boring and time consuming...

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"A commercial, and in some respects a social, doubt has been started within the
 last year or two, whether or not it is right to discuss so openly the security
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 than we can teach them respecting their several kinds of roguery.  Rogues knew
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 been deemed to be, surely it is in the interest of *honest* persons to know
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