Related link: http://linuxtoday.com/news_story.php3?ltsn=2001-08-17-016-20-OP-CY
Eric S. Raymond suggests that we examine flerbage - “I can behave in the confidence that nobody will take my life, my physical property, or my time without my consent” - to determine the merits of different licensing schemes. I’d suggest that flerbage is a distraction from the real issues, which have much more to do with property than with nonsense words.
Although Raymond claims that he is “not prejudicing the discussion by assuming that the software I write is my property”, the argument he makes is set up to protect property from the outset. In order to prevent infringements on life and liberty, Raymond proposes that we protect an understanding of property, rebuilding the Lockean trinity.
After exploring how liberty isn’t substantially affected by current software practices, including open source, he posits a world in which proprietary licenses are outlawed, and the impact on users and developers. First, users:
“As a user, my flerbage doesn’t change. I never wanted to issue software under a proprietary license to begin with, so the new license doesn’t touch me. “
Sure, the life and liberty situation hasn’t changed for users, but that limited viewpoint doesn’t explore how much users gain from the benefits of not having to deal with proprietary licenses. For developers, Raymond describes an infinitely more dire scenario:
“But as a developer, things are very different now. If I walk up to someone and offer them the same proprietary license that I did before the law was passed, police may come to my house to drag me off to jail, or kill me if I resist arrest. My flerbage has seriously decreased. “
For starters, Raymond forgets that lots of developers - those who didn’t want to use a proprietary license to start with - have a major gain outside of his tightly-qualified “flerbage”. They have access to information they didn’t have before, freedom from fees, and the right to change code to meet their needs.
For those poor oppressed developers who deeply want to release code with a proprietary license, the penalties seem distinctly harsh. Death for resisting arrest? Hasn’t Raymond ever heard of civil proceedings, where arrest and death aren’t part of the equation? Hasn’t he noticed that Microsoft executives continue to occupy and enjoy their houses and offices even while the company has been given a rather powerful legal black eye?
The only people presently facing a threat to life and liberty are those trapped in the ugly maze of proprietary intellectual property - notably Dmitri Sklyarov. Some of us writing open source code fear the prospect of patents that could conceivably drive us out of the United States to carry on our work. Involuntary relocation to avoid (potentially bogus) property claims isn’t exactly fun. Coming up with nonsense words and scenarios that merely reinforce the conception of software as property won’t help those of us who find that conception to have painful practical effects.
Is the value of A’s intellectual property intrinsically worth the cost A may impose on B’s freedom?