Like many, I find the ideal social situation to be similar to that proposed
in the New Testament for the early Church, with all goods held in common.
But, as social scientists are confirming, there is a human nature, and that
nature does not organize itself optimally in a communist mode. Or else we
could just come to the same conclusion by looking at the history of the twentieth
Intellectual property is somewhat different that real estate or material
goods. The history of the human race is based on progress built on shared
ideas and incremental advances in technology for the common good. Still,
I suppose I can imagine some possible benefits from some limited intellectual
property rights, to protect legitimate investment and hard work in business
Now when it comes to software, we are one more step further removed from
real property. Software is essential to the very workings of our modern society.
It is crucial for the common good. I instinctively favor free, open source,
no-strings-attached software. Certainly, the same intellectual property rules
and laws can not apply to software that apply to other categories of intellectual
property. Some of the software licenses that we are told to read and sign
are insulting to our very dignity as a species.
Nonetheless, I can even conceive of some rationale for some software licensing
rules for some instances. If a person or group of people want to invest large
amounts of time and effort building programs and other collections of code
to better accomplish certain business objectives, then maybe they should
have the right to restrict re-sale of that code. Still, it would be better
if they could just compile the code and sell the binaries, and keep the source
for themselves alone. But code can be reverse engineered. But that raises
the whole question of whether it is good for any concepts, ideas or methodologies
to be "owned" by anyone, even for a short period of time. Perhaps. But it
must be done carefully, and under limited circumstances, if at all.
Now, public domain software is very appealing to me. If a person wants to
donate their code to the public domain, that is the best of all possible
worlds. Is it OK for a person or group to be able to release code as open
source but restrict its use? Hmm, I guess but I am more comfortable, frankly,
with purely free, public domain software as the ultimate in promoting the
public good. But does that allow companies (for instance, Microsoft) to incorporate
and extend that software in ways detrimental to the public good? Of course,
it is true that kind of thing happens today; but maybe only because Microsoft
is such a monopoly and is in such contradiction to the public good. In a
better system, there would be no Microsoft-like companies and maybe the GPL-like
licenses would be unnecessary. The GPL is an imperfect solution to
intellectual property rights in an imperfect world. I prefer truly free,
public domain software.
Still, in my heart and in my gut, I am very glad that Richard Stallman exists
and that he created the free software movement, including the GPL. If Richard
Stallman had not created the GCC compiler and started the open source movement,
then GNU-Linux would not exist. Now, maybe Linux would exist if he had created
the GCC and the movement with totally free, public domain ideals, and no
GPL. Maybe. And maybe the code produced by that movement would have been
abused by other corporations. Who knows?
But at the end of the day, I'll take it like it is. I'm glad we have the
Free Software Foundation, Richard Stallman, and GNU-Linux. I'm even happy
we have the GPL. But I'm also happy we have the BSD type licenses, public
domain software , and all the points in between.
In your heart you know its right; given the real world in which we live.
Long live free software.