[svlug] Microsoft taking notice of free rivals Linux, Apache
Seth David Schoen
schoen at uclink4.berkeley.edu
Sun Sep 6 12:28:25 PDT 1998
Rafael Skodlar writes:
> I believe that I own the software I bought. It's not the property of
> anybody else regardless of the accompanying "tiny print". I can do
> whatever I please as long as I don't make copies of it and sell it for
> profit. I've seen all kinds of stupid legal disclaimers like "the end user
> shall not disassemble the code, reverse engineer; software is property of
> manufacturer, etc..." When I buy a car, assuming I payed in cash, I own
> it, not lease it!
I don't believe intellectual property inherently exists, but something like
it can be created by contract.
If you lease a car under an agreement that says you are leasing it, you don't
magically own the car by the time you have paid enough money to meet its
purchase price. :-)
A friend remarked the other day that, living in Berkeley for several years,
he had paid something like $50,000 in rent. But this doesn't mean that he
gets a $50,000 house in consideration of his payments; since the nature of
his agreement specified it, he gets _nothing_.
If you bought a car and signed a contract that said "I will not drive this
car on Sundays" (maybe you bought it from a very traditional religious
Christian) or "I will not drive this car on Saturdays" (from a religious
Jew), you should certainly abide by your contract. Obviously, not many
people would want to buy cars under these terms. (Yes, these religions
do not require people to place these conditions on things they sell. But
historically people have sometimes been concerned about the side effects of
others breaking their Sabbaths, so it's not entirely inconceivable.)
The disputes over shrink-wrap licenses are very worthwhile, though. If you
bought a car and it was delivered to you with a piece of paper glued over the
handle which said "By opening the driver's side door, you are agreeing to
be bound...", it would really infuriate people (and they would doubt that they
should have to follow that contract). So the corresponding thing in software
is equally questionable, but the general idea that someone can sell you a
product under certain conditions should not be.
IOW, the software vendors could, without relying on _any_ intellectual
property law, make you sign an NDA in order to buy the physical media on
which their commercial software was located. They would never allow anyone
to have the physical media without signing such an NDA, and they could then
prosecute piracy as a breach of contract rather than as a breach of copyright
(and under civil, not criminal, law!).
One of the many, many reasons that this would be cool is that it would give
free software a tremendous ideological and propaganda boost, because of
people's skepticism about signing contracts. Of course, to enforce the
GPL, people would need to sign contracts promising to uphold it, or GPL
code would need to be placed in restricted parts of FTP servers. "By
clicking here, you are agreeing not to incorporate this software in a
proprietary program, nor to place any other restrictions on its distribution."
The world of strong contracts and no copyright is certainly an interesting
one. I certainly think it would benefit RMS-style ideals, especially because
it would make it more obvious when people asserted ownership over information
or tried to keep things secret.
Would you buy a car with the hood welded shut?
Would you buy a book that you couldn't lend to someone else?
Seth David Schoen L&S '01 (undeclared) / schoen at uclink4.berkeley.edu
Magna dis immortalibus habenda est atque huic ipsi Iovi Statori, antiquissimo
custodi huius urbis, gratia, quod hanc tam taetram, tam horribilem tamque
infestam rei publicae pestem totiens iam effugimus. -- Cicero, in Catilinam I
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