The GPL and secrecy

Derek Martin
Tue, 18 Jan 2000 03:43:59 -0500

Francois-Rene Rideau wrote:
> Remember that I'm talking both about law as it is, and law as it should be.

While I agree that the law favors large corporations with lots of
financial resources, the laws that exist to protect businesses,
including copyright law, came
into existence for very good and valid reasons.  One can certainly argue
about the ethics of witholding information from the public, but that
wasn't ever the purpose of copyright law.  

Historically, it was very time-consuming and expensive to press say, a
book.  The most time consuming and expensive part was determining what
layout should be used so that all the words fit neatly on a page, owing
to the fact that the pages of a book were not printed consecutively.

It then became very inexpensive for a second printer, having already
seen the correct layout of the book, to copy the original, undercutting
the first printer, and making a heftier profit.  Obviously, ethical
printers were looking for a way to protect their businesses, since
eventually this would lead to them going out of business.

If you owned your own business, I think you would more readily see the
importance of having rights as an individual, particularly after
less-scrupulous people tried to take advantage of you by engaging you in
frivilous law suits.  The question that needs to be answered is where to
draw the line.  Large corporations with lots of resources are allowed to
become too powerful, and enjoy way too many protections, IMO, much akin
to criminals in this country. But in each case,they still need to have
them.  Unfortunately there will always be unethical people who will take
advantage of whatever loopholes they can find.  

The real problem, if you ask me, is that the laws we have are way too
complex, and often too ambiguous, to be well enforced.  And law makers
like it that way.  They also tend to be long-winded and have lots of
clauses added to them that have nothing to do with the heart of the law.

> Yes, I know that collective licenses may be enforceable in some countries.
> Hence the hole in the GPL, that doesn't explicitly preclude it. If the GPL
> had a "this license is strictly personal" mention, there would be no hole.

It's impossible, at least here.  You can't give rights to some
individuals and not others, and we've already said that corporations
have the same rights as individuals.  Or, that is to say, it can be
done, such as the case where "handi-capped" people are given special
priveledges.  However, for the most part, rich people make the laws, and
since most rich people got that way by owning businesses, you can be
sure that they will not allow such a restriction to be placed on them.

> On the other hand, if collective licensing is valid, then a well-inspired
> such "community" may get a lot of software with various licenses, GPL, LGPL,
> BSD, MIT, NPL, MPL, QPL, OPL, and whatelse, and allow for unlimited further
> use of that software _internally_. That is, if you're a member of this
> community, then you can freely mix and match any software whose restrictions
> only apply when you distribute it, as if it were under the bugroff license.

The bugroff license is cute, but very idealistic, and probably doesn't
offer the "owner" a lot of protection, in the sense that I don't think
it would prevent an unscrupulous software vendor from claiming the code
as its own, and making it entirely proprietary.  This, as I understand
it, was the problem with public domain licenses that RMS was trying to
head off with the GPL. But I'll leave that for RMS to comment.

I'm not saying I don't agree with you in principal, but I think in
practice, at least at this point in history, what you are asking for is
impossible.  You've got a lot of work ahead of you to change that.

"Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"    "Who watches the watchmen?"    -
Juvenal, Satires, VI, 347 

Derek D. Martin      |  Senior UNIX Systems/Network Administrator
Arris Interactive    |  A Nortel Company  |