Intellectual Property

Francois-Rene Rideau
Sat, 17 Jul 1999 01:29:49 +0200

On Fri, Jul 16, 1999 at 02:51:01PM -0700, Samantha Atkins wrote:
> Our services producing software were what I had in mind.
Sure. We earn our salary by selling _services_.
We don't need licenses to sell services.
Even without licenses, we'll still prosper.
Actually, we'll prosper even more.

> Software is an intellectual good and
NO. Software is NOT a good, and NOT a service.
Unlike goods, software can be indefinitely replicated
without anyone being deprived per se.
And unlike services, software does not
Unlike services, software is not a human action.
Software is information.

> a service in that static,
> canned once, software is not as beneficial as software with
> ongoing support and evolution.
Which is why we'll continue to be paid for support
even without intellectual property.
Actually, most of the software industry
is already about support, not licenses.

> As software engineers we provide
> software engineering services that become actual software
> products and tools.
And we needn't licenses for that.

> Algorithms and implentation of interacting sets of algorithms are
> not simply information.
Yes they are. Just like cooking recipes.
Just like financial analyses. Just like news.
They help make things. They help take decision.
Keep it secret if you wish (and if you can).
But don't impose licenses on it.
Finance workers have understood that much better
than information technology workers:
information is not to be licensed,
so that there be a better flow of service.

> Even information must be researched,
> gathered, packaged and so on before it is really useful.
Which is why we needn't licenses.
Our services are required to get the economic machine going,
and we will thus get paid by the machine
even without licensing protectionism.

> Why should we not license the product of our efforts?
Why should we be able to license them?
What right have we to prevent people from giving each
Is that "we", software engineers who benefit from licenses?
Or is that a class of intermediate monopolists?
Is our salary higher and are our work conditions better for licenses?
Or are licenses depreciating our work and imposing hard constraints upon us?
Are software engineers better paid in the few companies that sell licenses
than in the vast majority of companies that don't?

> It is a unique packaging at least as copyrightable as a book.
As little copyrightable as a book.
Even less so since the combinatorial value of software
is much higher than that of a book,
so that software licenses deprive the society much more
than copyrights on non-technical books.

> On the other hand, the algorithms within it should imho be no more
> patentable than a proof in mathematics.
Once you accept the principle of intellectual property, there is no limit.

> What is wrong with keeping the source?
Nothing is wrong per se with keeping the sources,
as long as it's done by secret (i.e. _we_ get to pay for _our_ benefit),
and not by governmental enforcement (i.e. having the _tax-payer_ pay
for _our_ corporate benefit at his own detriment!).
However, users will demand the sources because it's useful to them,
because it allows for much better quality and perenniality of software.

Note that most software engineers use much more software than they write it;
so that we are the first users,
the first interested in that source be available.
Only if you have such a monopoly that you use more internal code
than external code (e.g. MICROS~1) have you interest in software hoarding;
and even then, the corporate interest of MICROS~1 is NOT QUITE
the personal interest of any of its software engineer (unless said
software engineer possesses enough shares of MICROS~1 that he
effectively owns more software than he uses external software).

> If the deal is to sell
> running software to a company then why is the source
> automatically needed or included?
If the customer need only run the software once and can check the result
(e.g. a game, or a one-shot design, etc), then sources may not be needed.
But then again, it is obvious that the distribution/development/support
service itself will have justified the transaction,
without the need of any license.

> If software is a good then is
> all the manufacturing process included with the good?
Software is NOT a good.
A particular physical software package is a good,
and no one denies the right to charge for it.

> While I often bemoan not having source to software I have to run,
> it is also my observation that much of the software is so ineptly
> organized and executed that having the source is almost more of a
> curse than a blessing. Not that yours or my software is like
> this of course. <s>
This is a self-defeating argument. BECAUSE source is not public,
it is not encouraged to be better organized and executed.
BECAUSE licenses prevent cooperation and accumulation of code,
they force people to rewrite a lot of otherwise unneeded code,
and by time pressure rewrite it shoddily instead of reusing and improving
existing proven code. BECAUSE source is not available, a lot
of debugging isn't done.

Lusers I know (including my family) often complain about bugs,
misdesigns and misfeatures in the proprietary software they use.
Often, the bug would have been easy for me to solve had the source
been available; or the luser could have easily afforded a few minutes
of coding time for a free-lance hacker to fix it.
But no one can do change anything about such software, but the license-owner,
who effectively has a monopoly on development services on the software.
The result IS shoddy software. Proprietary software is sold once,
on its look, and support and enhancements are part of its cost structure.
So vendors develop the look a lot, and neglect quality.
Hence, we get extremely attractive user-interfaces to useless software.
Free software lives by support and enhancements,
that are its very revenue structure. It encourages good software,
to the benefit of everyone, including software engineers
who are the primary users of software. It doesn't look as good,
but it is much more reliable.

>> Mind you, your haircutter does not have you pay a license on your haircut.
>> Yet, he can survive and prosper! Your physician does not have you pay a
>> license on his diagnostic, yet, he can survive and prosper!
> Haircutting is a service.  A medical diagnosis is not a reuseable
> commodity like software but a one shot event.
Software development, adaptation, etc, is a service.
It is not a reusable commodity, but a one shot event.
Software is NOT a commodity.
Software packages ARE a commodity.
Free software allows for a free, competitive, quality market
of such commodities (see the many makers of linux distributions),
where price are low and consumers satisfied,
where companies grow fast and compete on quality.
Again, see RedHat, SuSE, Caldera, VA Linux, and many more,
competing on distributing the best Linux packages.

>> Hum. Ever heard about the notion of protectionism?
>> Ever heard that every respectable economist call it a bad idea?
> You would need to show that licensing is protectionism.  So far I
> don't see there is a strong argument there.

Writing is time consuming, so I tend to leave arguments on my web page
(in french, sorry).
Note that you haven't proposed any strong argument for licenses, either.
Of course, lack of positive argument is not the same as negative argument.

Licenses are but protectionism on services related to a given software.
Only the license-owner can distribute, modify, allow to use the software.
Every piece of software becomes a monopoly area, enclosed with fences.

We know that fences are bad for the economy.
They only benefit those who ransom people at the gates.
They create a whole class of parasites.
They do not benefit people who live by doing useful work,
who cannot freely go sell their goods and services accross fences,
and are thus oppressed while their goods and services are depreciated.
There used to be tolls, fees, and fines
at every bridge, at every city door, at every country border.
We managed to get rid of them.
Today, there are tolls, fees, and fines,
at the entry of every software user community.
We will get rid of them.
It's just a matter of educating the public,
against the hype propagated by information hoarders,
some of whom, in presence of intellectual property, hold the mass-media.

Again, I have developed all these arguments and more (in french) on
I don't know what it gives when fed to Babelfish...
I have also accumulated down that page a series of pointers to other pages
(some in french, most in english) about free software.

I do not believe that my message alone will convince you.
I just hope I will raise enough questions that you will try
to look around you, read about various points of view,
and make up your mind based on postjudice instead of prejudice.

PS: so that I didn't waste my time for only one reader,
I cross-posted this message to,
a mailing-list where issues of free information vs intellectual property
are on-topic. See its web interface:

PPS: I _am_ interested in the kind of technology you develop.
I think it's a shame not every software is orthogonally persistent,
and I'm convinced that proprietary software is the main cause
for today's low-level software standards,
which is why I can but disapprove your software being proprietary.
I've written an article that tackles such issues (in english):

> Thanks for the reply.
You're welcome. Thanks for your interest.

Best regards,

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