Sunday, March 18, 2007

Using GPL V3 against Novell-Microsoft

Eben Moglen plans to use a modified version of the GPLV3 to attack the Novell-Microsoft 'protection from patent suits' deal. Here is the relevant bit (quoting Moglen):
Suppose GPL3 says something like, 'if you distribute (or procure the distribution), of a program (or parts of a program) - and if you make patent promises partially to some subset of the distributees of the program - then under this license you have given the same promise or license at no cost in royalties or other obligations to all persons to whom the program is distributed'. If GPL 3 goes into effect with these terms in it, Novell will suddenly becomes a patent laundry; the minute Microsoft realizes the laundry is under construction it will withdraw.
Its an ingenious strategy though the devil always lies in the details. While a a great deal of the tool chain needed to build the Linux kernel will/might adopt GPL V3, it remains to be seen if Novell can't come up with some circumvention strategy. If you are interested in this, you might want to ask Eben for more details when he speaks tomorrow at NYU's Information Law Institute.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Microsoft Technology Summit 2007

So, I've been invited to the Microsoft Technology Summit, 2007. I don't know the full list of invitees but do know that Robby Russell and Michael Koziarski have been (yeah, I know both Ruby on Rails types, too little to indicate a pattern, what?) (sorry, thats ambiguous, I do know that thinking and talking about FOSS will feature prominently). This, by the way, is part of the description of the MTS:
The purpose is to gather a small group of technologists and discuss today's technology issues and opportunities, as well discuss Microsoft's role & future direction.
Yes, I know the usual EEE worries apply. I'm looking forward to meeting the FOSS crowd in any case.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Mostly good sense and then this

Sun Microsystem's Matt Thompson holds forth on open-source being 'benefit-driven'. (This is related to the story of SUN and NIIT (India's biggest IT trainer) launching a joint training program in India). Most of the interview is the usual explanation of why open-source works, develops user-autonomy, why closed-source is becoming "irrelevant" and so on. It also includes the following quote, which struck me as interesting:
Many people confuse open-source to be a kind of selfless movement that strives to make things better. Open-source can be very `benefit-driven' as well. Here is an opportunity to take somebody else's good ideas, build something on top of it and make money on it! So, the world now sees it as a route to personal success and that's where open-source's success lies.
I wonder how many 'movements' the scale of FOSS have to continually disdain the altruistic interpretation put on them? And continually assure folks that there is a selfish side to it all? Interesting, innit? And I wonder if this is the sort of stuff that drives RMS nuts? (don't bother answering the last question).

Monday, March 12, 2007

Jonathan Lethem Experiments with Freeing Culture

Novelist Jonathan Lethem has a thoughtful essay in Harper's (the Feb. 2007 issue) on copyright and culture; his sources alone are useful and informative, and the essay is a nice presentation of arguments (mostly familiar to readers of Lessig and Vaidhyanathan) that there are serious problems with, and interesting solutions to, contemporary copyright practice. For example, he observes
A time is marked not so much by ideas that are argued about as by ideas that are taken for granted. The character of an era hangs upon what needs no defense. In this regard, few of us question the contemporary construction of copyright. It is taken as a law, both in the sense of a universally recognizable moral absolute, like the law against murder, and as naturally inherent in our world, like the law of gravity. In fact, it is neither. Rather, copyright is an ongoing social negotiation, tenuously forged, endlessly revised, and imperfect in its every incarnation.
Thinking apparently induced action, as he is also engaging in two experiments with some of his works. First, he is seeking a filmmaker to option his just-published novel, one who will agree, with Lethem
to release all ancillary rights to the film (and its source material, the novel), five years after the film’s debut.
And second, under the auspices of his "Promiscuous Materials Project," he's non-exclusively licensing many of his short works for adaptation as stage plays or films. No sign of copyleft anywhere, though.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Tories get with it

From David Berry and the libre-society mailing list:

Shadow Chancellor George Osborne has promised that an incoming Conservative (UK) government would create a level playing field for open source software in the UK, in a move which could save taxpayers more than £600 million a year. In a speech at the Royal Society of Arts, he also announced the appointment of Mark Thompson, of the Judge Business School at Cambridge University, to advise the Party on how to make Britain the open source leader in Europe. Mr Osborne reckoned that opening up the market in software would enable the Government to slash 5 per cent off Whitehall's annual IT bill, because open software allows users to read, change and improve its code, in contrast to proprietary software where a company controls the source code.

Read the full story.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

More from Bernie Galler

I'd mentioned the late Bernie Galler in a previous post noting his quote at the GNU philosophy page. Bernie was indeed a pioneer in noting the freedoms of free software. In Decoding Liberation, our forthcoming book on free software (in case you'd forgotten), we mention his public debate (in the pages of the JACM) with Calvin Mooers twice. Here are the references to the letters themselves, and then two excerpts from our book (one from Chapter 1, and another from Chapter 4)

Galler, Bernie. 1968. Language Protection by Trademark Ill-Advised. Communications of the ACM 11 (3):148.

Mooers, Calvin N. 1968. Reply to "Language Protection by Trademark Ill-Advised". Communications of the ACM 11 (3):148-149.

From Chapter 1:

The year 1968 also saw a significant discussion of intellectual property issues take place on the pages of the Communications of the Association of Computing Machinery (CACM), the flagship journal of the primary society for computing professionals. In a policy paper published by the Rockford Research Institute, Calvin Mooers had argued for trademark protection for his TRAC language to prevent its modification by users. University of Michigan professor Bernie Galler responded in a letter to the CACM, arguing that that the best and most successful programming languages benefited from the input of users who could change them, noting in particular the success of SNOBOL, which he suggested "had benefited from meritorious extensions by irrepressible young people at universities" (Galler 1968). Mooers responded:
The visible and recognized TRAC trademark informs this public . . . that the language or computer capability identified by this trademark adheres authentically and exactly to a carefully drawn Rockford Research standard. . . . An adequate basis for proprietary software development and marketing is urgently needed particularly in view of the doubtful capabilities of copyright, patent or trade secret methods when applied to software.(Mooers 1968)
While most computer science professionals acknowledged the need for some protection in order to maintain compatibility among different versions of a language, Galler's views had been borne out by the successful examples of collaborative development by the SHARE and MAD user groups. Significantly, Mooers's communique had noted the inapplicability of extant intellectual property law to software, which would continue to be a point of contention as the software industry grew. As it turned out, Gallers analysis was correct, and the trademarked TRAC language never became popular.

And then from Chapter 4:

Also in 1968, in the first public discussion of intellectual property issues in computer science, Calvin Mooers and Bernie Galler engaged in a highly visible exchange in the pages of the flagship computer science journal, the Communications of the ACM (CACM). Mooers had announced his intent to seek trademark protection--noting the doubtful capabilities of other forms of intellectual property law with respect to software--to prevent the unauthorized modification of the programming language TRAC. In a letter to the editor of the CACM, Galler argued progress in the design and implementation of programming languages would be accelerated by the active participation of users, and therefore this scientific project needed to remain public (Galler 1968). Mooers response, that the absence of some sort of protection would result in version proliferation and pernicious mutual incompatibility, is an argument that anticipates contemporary claims for the indispensability of intellectual property protection in computer science (Mooers 1968).

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Fire away - you're missing

Robert Lefkowitz takes a few digs at open source at Eclipsecon. I'll concentrate on one dig and leave his nonsense about patents aside (much smarter people than me have destroyed that argument many times over). Lefkowitz's dig in question is a good one because it exposes the incoherence at the ideological principle of the OSI (or the open source movement or ESR's ideology, take your pick) that the way to talk about free software was to drop talk of freedom, and talk only about technical/business issues. So when we get the following:
The ideology of the open-source moment is built atop some odd assumptions, Lefkowitz argued, including the idea that buyers need access to code because product designers can't be trusted to get it right. Couple that with the extensive disclaimers routinely attached to all software, commercial or free, and you have a philosophy standard in the software industry that's at odds with other fields.Flashing a photo of a pill bottle, Lefkowitz quipped, "Sorry this drug was defective. I'm sorry you got sick but, you know, we included the chemical formula on the bottle! You could have fixed it yourself!"
...its worth noting that this claim has nothing to do with free software because nowhere in the Free Software Definition is the claim made that "product designers can't be trusted to get it right". On the contrary, we do trust you. Mind if we take a look at the code ourselves? Mind if we share this with our friends? Or just tinker with it for the heck of it? Or use it any way we want?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Its back!

One sad thing about the corporate newsletter/magazine/blog scene when it comes to open source is the persistent rehashing of a few debates. In a certain sense, its the newsgroup syndrome all over again: stick around for a while, and that flamewar that you poured so much time and energy into, is back! So here, without further comment, is a pointer to the "some myths about open-source...oh, no, they ain't!" debate. Its the last time I'll do this on this blog, I promise. No, seriously, I mean it.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Come again?

Here is a Flash developer, talking about why he thinks "open-sourcing Flash isn't the way to go". The core of the argument is the following:
I like knowing that everyone's version of Flash player is exactly the same. I don't want to have to start hacking applications to make them work in the 2-3 most popular versions of the Flash Player. For me, that's the single biggest reason why open sourcing the Flash Player would be a bad thing.
In response to reason numero uno, why? Why is this so important? I'm genuinely curious. Why is version proliferation such a bad thing, especially when it is known that the most used versions will ultimately become the most common, forcing out those that simpy don't cut it for their user base? And in response to reason numero dos, again, why? Why is this so important to you? Why would you have to hack these applications to get them to work in the "2-3 most popular version of the Flash Player"? Why would there even be "2-3 most popular versions" rather than one which will float to the top? There are tons of free software applications and most of them don't suffer from the kind of version proliferation so dreaded by this gentleman. Development tree mergers happen all the time to take care of that - if the user community and the developer community demands it.

Unfortunately, what these reasons sound like are lame reiterations of very old, tired , excuses for refusing to free the source, and even more unfortunately, they try their best to propagate old, easily-dismissed (but apparently, not so easy to put to rest) canards.