Free Information vs Information Protectionism

Peter Wood
Sun, 27 May 2001 13:16:06 +0200

On Sun, May 27, 2001 at 06:54:46PM +1200, Paul Foley wrote:
> [Oops; accidentally sent this reply to Faré instead of cybernethics]
> On Sat, 26 May 2001 11:28:00 +0200, Francois-Rene Rideau wrote:
> > On Sat, May 26, 2001 at 02:40:30PM +1200, Paul Foley wrote:
> >>>> I claim you owe me because you
> >>>> agreed to owe me when we made our mutually-agreeable exchange.
> >>> Except that copyrights are not based on such mutual agreement,
> >>> but on preventing third parties from copying.
> >> Property rights are not based on such mutual agreement in general; I
> >> don't have to make separate agreements with every person on Earth in
> >> order to own..oh, say, my shoes, do I?
> > I'm thus happy to see you drop your previous argument above.
> What previous argument?  Are you confusing me with the person you were
> replying to (Mitchell Morris)?
> >> Do I own the result of my own labours?
> > Depending on what you call "the result", yes or no.
> > You certainly do not own all the consequences of your labours.
> > If you build a knife, that is latter used by someone else to
> > win a cooking competition, or to kill his wife, you don't own this result.
> I'm not responsible for other people's behaviour; of course not!  But
> I presume you'll allow that I owned the knife, until I sold to the guy
> who killed his wife?  If I build a gun and it fires a bullet through
> the fence and kills my next door neighbour, am I still not responsible?

Not unless you acted irresponsibly, for example, allowing a child to
get hold of the gun, or firing it yourself by mistake.  It certainly
isn't the fact that you built the gun that makes you responsible!

> >> Any code I might write is surely that;
> > Depending on what you call "result", it is or it isn't.
> Do you admit that some "labour" has occurred?  The only result is that 
> pattern of bits in the computer!
> > In any case, I dispute it is something you can legitimately claim
> > to own in an exclusive way.
> Do you have a reason?
> [Or can I come and kill you and then claim to the court "I dispute
> that life is something you can legitimately claim to own"?  It's
> considerably less tangible, and vastly easier to copy than computer
> software, if that's your criterion 

Hah!!  You have never watched a woman give birth, then!  I think my
cdrw drive does things faster, easier, and less painfully and even
much quieter :-/ Also I think there is in fact nothing more tangible
than life.  Death and life are the most tangible, immediate,
*physical* things there are.  If you want to make a more accurate
comparison here, you should have said "person" not "life".  You are
welcome to come and take my "person", though not my life.  Do you see
how ridiculous that idea is?  But of course you can't take a person!
Why not?  Because "person" is like software : it's made of ideas.  You
are welcome to my mind, but keep your paws off my brain! :-)

> -- it only takes a single cell to
> produce life, but requires a vast array of highly specialized cells --
> the human brain, and all the support machinery necessary to keep it
> alive, years of learning, centuries of building up knowledge, and
> language to pass it on, etc., etc., to produce a computer program]

I fear you have too much respect for the crap we produce.

Life is much more complex than *anything* human beings have ever
invented.  If you get into *any* branch of biology, it doesn't take
long before you start finding white areas on the map.  Even stuff we
think is quite simple is not fully understood at the lower levels.
Neumann machines, on the other hand are very well understood.  There
is no single thing in CS that is conceptually difficult (unlike, for
example, physics, mathematics, philosophy or even religion), although
Quantum computers (if they come) may change this.  What do you say to
a computer that solves your problem before you run the program :-)

My bottom line on this issue is that software is ideas, and ideas can
not be owned, only kept secret.  I think this is a statement of
*fact*, not an opinion, because "ownership" properly refers to
physical things.  I think that software ownership is a *lie* that 
has been bought by people who have been dazzled by technology.

One reason for the importance of source code being available is that
programs "live" in people *not* in computers.  And if more people
cared a bit more about programming and a bit less about making money,
that statement wouldn't sound so strange.