[LINK] What's Wrong with Copy Protection
Thu, 25 Jan 2001 10:27:17 +1000
Is open source software an anomaly in an otherwise incresingly
restrictive world (in particular one in which it appears that almost
anything can be described as proprietary IP and hence patentable)?
Bake-Off (tm) that idea, Robert! Resistance is Useless (hungry jacks out of
THHGTTG) and remember, small ones are more juicy (Salman Rushdie before
he made it big, working in the ad. industry) Mind you, if I swipe greasepaint
over my top lip and smoke a ceegar, do the heirs of groucho get to complain?
What about when Woody Allen does it in a movie? And don't get me started on
royalties for 'happy birthday'
Its interesting that many of the more senior fatherfigures in science
this century seemed to have sat on the fence a bit here in respect of
IP. Einstein apart from working at the patent office, held patents in
respect of magnetic/fluid pumped refrigeration. Leo Szizlard patented
the basic atomic process and was rewarded by the crown and some US
commission after the war, in respect of peacetime nuclear power. Frank
Whittle gave up his fundamental patents on the jet engine to the crown
because he worked in the RAF, but then sued (or pleaded, whatever)
at a royal commission on rewards to inventors for settlement after the
war. Watson-Watt was religous about the RADAR patents. Shockley and the
transistor, the list goes on.
But then we get to the 60's and 70's, and after a shitstorm by Ekhert
and Mauchly in respect of the basic computer memory patents, we get Bell
Labs doing UNIX, loosing its IP rights, we get MIT and all the code
developments from there (emacs, X, gnu, Kerberos) we get Berkeley and
BSD and derivatives.
The UK JANET (pre internet for academics) ran on IP protected s/w. I
know, because I wrote some of it, and the cheques came in for years. I
wound up working at UCL with the people who kick-started some of that
software, and got nada. That was a very unpleasant frisson for a while
there. I'm glad I no longer receive any income from that activity.
Marc Andreesen a god? Gates? Larry Ellison? I don't think so. Odd that
we had a bubble (up to the IPO madness of the nineties) which seems to
have laid the bed of the public-good internet, and doesn't seem to have
rewarded the inventors with more than a citation index. These guys sure
aren't broke, consultencies and the like do put shmutte on the back,
but its peanuts compared to leveraged worth off crap perlcode. Bob Kahn
and Vint Cerf should be vested with Aruba. Not the young dudes!
Is the increasingly restrictive IP world visible in most areas outside
software simply lagging - and in a few years the pressures will return
to share knowledge more openly? (It is worth remembering the proprietary
IP in the software industry is a phenomenon of the late 1970's & early
1980's - the trend to open source is a swing back to the early days of
Indeed. But buried in that trend is an older world where scientists as
well as publishing, profited (in some cases, in odd ways) from their work.
Its bounced around, pro and anti, for some time. I think even back in the
mists, people like Goethe dabbled in the market. Did you know Karl Marx
tried to get patent rights over some new technology of the day, fulling or
milling or something, went to court, and lost? Now there is a vision, the
father of radical economics (who picked over the carcasses of ever other
thinker and was essentially a polemicist and summarizer for much of his
time, more than a pure creator) seeking to profit from IP law...
I think we sometimes kid ourselves that basic venality isn't at the core
of much human endevour. I get a good vibe of working in the semi-PD,
but it doesn't pay the bills. I get a bad vibe thinking about where
I might be lifestylewise if I'd turned left back when Microsoft was
small, and hiring, instead of right. Ya have to turn your back on the
But lets not over-mythologize the forbears, many had feet of clay, and
many of the current crop of radical leaders do too. Ask anybody who has
had to deal with Eric Raymond or RMS in the flesh. Outside of the specifics
of the issue, they can be quite a handful. Get 'em started on something
tangential (like Raymond on guns) and its a nightmare.
PS I think we have to limit this issue to an IPR world. In the real world,
things have real costs and consequences. Making a new steel plant that saves
5% of the production cost with 2% less waste and 0.1% more purity would
be a revolutionary advance which would add millions to the worth of Smorgens
but it really would have cost $20million in sunk research, and would require
major capital investment. You cannot compare that with .NET which is at the
core the product of minds only, and will have low millions of cost.
May I add that RedHat sits in an uncomfortable middle ground. I love what
you do, and I really look forward to its advance, but for me the share worth
thing.. its not clear. Building a new jerusalem in the marketplace, thats a
hard one. Looking around the linux world, I see a mix of models, some with
IP rights stated, some without. Its interesting.
Anybody else miss the annual DECUS tapes?
George Michaelson | DSTC Pty Ltd
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | University of Qld 4072
Phone: +61 7 3365 4310 | Australia
Fax: +61 7 3365 4311 | http://www.dstc.edu.au