Metaprogramming and Free Availability of Sources

Francois-Rene Rideau
Tue, 29 Jun 1999 03:49:02 +0200

>>: Richard Stallman

>> I agree that privacy is an important right, and I would object to any
>> law requiring people to release all software that they write.
>> But when someone chooses to make a program available in some way, it
>> is no longer a matter of privacy.  Then he or she should be required
>> to show users what is in the software they are being invited to use.

>: Jim Little
> Why?
> [...] In my mind, this is the _opposite_ of freedom -- the compelling
> of someone to do something they do not wish to do, when their preferred
> approach harms no one.
Well, in most modern laws, people do not have the liberty to withhold
their own liberties and become slave, even willingly. They may not
accept work conditions considered excessive, even willingly. They may
not work if too young, even willingly. So it is arguable that in _some_
cases, people may not have the liberty to accept contracts that will
later put them in impossible situations.

Now, there remains to know whether or not accepting
to use proprietary software or otherwise software without source
is indeed such a situation where the consumer is put at disadvantage
with respect to the producer. I think that indeed it is.
So that at least, the _default_ contracts, whenever software is used
in a business situation where life or work depends on it,
might be that source be available. And I can imagine
that no consumer software could be sold in shrink-wrap boxes
without the sources. There are lots of similar regulations
regarding publicly sold goods and services of all kinds,
so as to protect consumers from dishonest businessmen who would try
to ensnare them into purchasing apparently great
but really awful goods or services. And such regulations
are generally considered a good thing. They mean the average consumer
needn't be a specialist to avoid gross mistakes, for the standard traps
are made illegal.

Oh, and I'm not making a statement for or against a law
in this particular arena;
I'm just saying that there are valid arguments in both directions,
and that one shouldn't make one's mind without weighting both of them.

PS: no need to just re-state your opinion, either way.
Everyone has one's opinion. You may consider.

> (You may argue that withholding the source is an
> implicit harm, because those who would benefit from the source won't,
> but that's the same sort of "harm" as my refusing to give all my money
> to the first person who demands it.)
It is NOT about implicit harm, but EXPLICIT harm,
when you ensnare gullible people into buying proprietary infrastructure
such that they'll have to keep buying your next versions till the end
of times so as to continue using their data.
Again and again, it's not about being forced to publish sources
of whatever you write, but being forced to publish sources of
whatever you sell in general public conditions to average customers.
Publicity of the offer and the average (non-technical) nature
of the customers motivate laws to protect the customer.
Perhaps they are not enough motivation in this case,
but in many other cases, they are indeed enough motivation.

> No other industry is required to distribute its formulas, blueprints, or
> schematics.  Why should software be any different?  What is it about the
> nature of software that requires compelled distribution of source code? 
> Why should any industry be forced to reveal its secrets?
When you buy food, the producer is forced to publish the ingredients.
When you buy a car, it must have been homologated
(which implies that plans be available).
When you buy electronic devices, the schematics must be public
(and often patented, too; and patented _implies_ public).
Since software is used to produce information and your professional activity
and your life depends on it, it is understandable that you should have access
to the source; or else there is no way to prevent your being both crooked
and ensnared with the software, and have no technical and legal recourse.

On Mon, Jun 28, 1999 at 04:30:21PM -0700, wrote:
> You seem to be suggesting that we (or the government) have the right to
> punish someone if they make software available without source code.
No. Only if they enter *public* market
with reputedly unfair public conditions;
which conditions might include offering proprietary software.

> On the other hand, in the absense of copyright, most people would release
> their source code voluntarily, [...]
> customer demand would pressure them [...]
Yes, so that framing laws might be unnecessary.
They _might_ be useful, still, if used as a bootstrap measure.
Of course, like all laws except the most fundamental ones,
they should have limited validity duration (and a relatively short one,
in as much as they are technology-dependant and/or bootstrap related),
and require being explicitly reconducted by parliament if necessary.

PS: Again, I'm moving the discussion out of

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