Subject: Re: Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Encyclopedia
From: Erik Naggum <>
Date: Thu, 01 Nov 2001 02:32:00 GMT
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp
Message-ID: <>

* Ed L Cashin <>
| I don't see why not.  You did not address my argument but rather restated
| it with the important part missing.  I'll rephrase it:
|   * the only way for a given piece of code to always be usable,
|     modifyable, studiable, and redistributable is this:
|   * restrict other people's ability to declare that the code is NOT
|     usable, modifiable, studiable, and redistributable.

  This is a non sequitur.  The former point refers to "a given piece of
  code", but the latter refers to code that must be modifiable, and to make
  this an actual issue, code which _has_ been modififed.  How can that
  which is valid for "a given piece of code" be valid for "a modified piece
  of code"?  That is the _crucial_ missing argument.  Note that the whole
  point of what can be done with "a given piece of code" that more than one
  person has access to cannot possibly be dictated by one person, but the
  modifications made by one person can.

| The only such restriction is the one restriction that is absolutely
| necessary in order for the code in question to remain available for
| everyone to use, modify, etc.  Namely, that no one can restrict anyone
| else's rights.

  But _you_ have restricted someone's rights to keep control over his _own_
  work, namely his modifications!  Why do you fail to understand this point?

| The reason that's fair is that it's the perogative of the copyright
| holder to make the software available under any terms they find
| appropriate.  If the copyright holder wants to be sure that their
| restrictions are never placed on anyone's ability to use, modify, etc.,
| the software, then there is only one way to ensure that: stipulate
| explicitly that no one may restrict anyone else's rights to use, modify,
| etc., the software.

  You know, I see no principal difference between what the GNU GPL is
  trying to enforce and what the entertainment industry and Microsoft are
  trying to enforce.  I think it would be a very good idea for you guys to
  get together and change the copyright laws so that you actually _can_
  make that sort of restrictions on people.

  It is legally uncertain whether you can require people to give you their
  work for free.  No matter what kinds of requirements you make on people,
  it is highly doubtful that you will be able to get a court to defend a
  demand to get people's copyrightable work transferred to you for free,
  but we will not know for certain until someone sues someone for not
  having returned some modifications they made to some source code to the
  owners of the original.  A contract that causes only one party to benefit
  is generally considered a case of fraud and not at all upheld in court.
  Now, one might argue that getting access to source code is a value, but
  in that case, it has a value commensurate with the value of the work that
  has been donated to it, meaning that the transfer of any work back to the
  originators must be taxable or specially exempt from taxes under certain
  provisions.  Cleverly, the FSF is tax-exempt charity.  The problem here
  is that you cannot _both_ give something away for free, _and_ require to
  be paid (by requiring other people's work for free) without getting into
  thorny tax and valuation issues.

| You mean the original release of the code remains in the public domain.
| The part you're not attending to, though, is that public domain code can
| be modified and redistributed in products that have quite restrictive
| licenses.

  This does not _need_ attending to, because public domain is explicitly
  unconcerned with what happens to that which is in the public domain.
  That is sort of the whole _point_.

| If the author of the original code is OK with that, so be it -- I'm not
| saying it's wrong at all.  But it is important to acknowledge that when
| that happens, the same code is making a new appearance in the world as
| restricted software.

  How does this differ from two different licenes for the same software so
  people _can_ make money with software that is encumbered with the GNU GPL?

| It's true that the public domain version may (or may not) still be
| available, but it is easy to see that the rights of the users of the
| version with the restrictive license have less freedom.

  This does not quite parse, but I assume you mean the users have less
  freedom.  What _are_ those "rights of the users", anyway?  What kinds of
  legal bases do they actually have?  But how can you get _less_ freedom if
  you (1) have access to the public domain source code _and_ (2) a better
  version of same?  (1) should cause you to have exactly as much freedom as
  you had without (2).  For this to produce less freedom, you would have to
  consider (2) to have taken something away from you, probably in exchange
  for some real money.  In other words, you were an idiot for choosing (2).
  Now, we do not restrict anyone's "right" to be an idiot, but it is pretty
  damn stupid to argue that losing your freedom because of it is anybody
  else's fault.

  Norway is now run by a priest from the fundamentalist Christian People's
  Party, the fifth largest party representing one eighth of the electorate.
  Carrying a Swiss Army pocket knife in Oslo, Norway, is a criminal offense.