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).


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