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Softpanorama Copyleft Problems Bulletin, 2000

Linux Today - Stallman on Qt, the GPL, KDE, and GNOME

Some people think that KDE's team refusal to change the license from GPL to something else (like Artistic license) is their own problem, but I think that this KDE issue is essentially an important test of GPL license itself. I means it’s clear that in this particular case GPL restricts the right of the authors.

I think that this is a different problem than well-known "GPL virus" problem. I would call it "subtle envy" problem (this is probably not the best metaphor, although it catches an important side of this problem, but I would also call it "my way or highway" property, a metaphor that catches the other side of the problem).

If I understand correctly this "subtle envy/my way or highway" problem is a fundamental issue of GPL being, well, limiting the freedom of the authors (in this particular case KDE authors) to distribute their software, if it uses other software that is licensed in a way different from GPL, but also free in some sense like for example "freeware libraries".

One can argue that this protects the users, but my point here is that it protects users at the expense of authors. And it can also harm users more that it protects them. But, users aside, as KDE example has shown it definitely restrict the authors and this is not a bug, it’s a feature.

For example, many authors of Windows programs that use GPL and some (even freeware) library are in the same position as KDE developers. That means that any GPLed program cannot be compiled using Microsoft Visual Studio or Borland tools even if this company granted developers the right to distribute libraries and runtimes, if any, free of charge.

That also means that when RMS says, "GPL is about freedom" we need to understand that the meaning of freedom in GPL is qualified by this "my way or highway" property and GPL is restricting the developers in the use of development tools. Two other influential licenses (artistic and BSD) seem to be free of these problems, but GPL is the most widely used.

I called this feature "subtle envy" because there is an important implicit message in GPL -- equality for users at any cost -- and, as we know from history the demand for “absolute equality” means also the triumph for mediocre or the “triumph of envy”, if you wish.

On the other side, GPL imposes "jungle law" for the authors -- your program can be overtaken at any point by anybody who feel strong (or bold enough) to exceed your speed of development or has better marketing and to a certain extent implicitly proclaims "authors be damned". Actually this problem was addressed in the older versions of BSD.

The fact that the program can be overtaken by stronger player without consent of the author might is some cases might be positive, but one needs to understand that this "the law of jungles" property of GPL exists althouth in reality it might be not that harmful.

Internet Patent News - Source Translation & Optimization Patent Web Site

The Napster Revolution and the Law

Information doesn't want to be free -- people want it to be by Nicholas Petreley. See also Slashdot: Information Doesn't Want To Be Free; People Want It

"Information wants to be anthropomorphized" (Score:2, Interesting)
by Zico (ZicoKnows@hotmail.com) on Thursday September 07, @11:05PM EDT (#44)
(User #14255 Info)
Why should something have to be paid for multiple times when it was only produced once? Because it allows the costs to be shared among the people who are interested in it. That's why lots of people can see a movie for under 10 bucks instead of having to individually pay the millions of dollars that it cost to create it. Which specific items are you referring to when you say that they cost nothing to create? Time is money, after all.

Congrats to Petreley for his article, btw, it's probably the best article he's ever written and is what a lot of us have been saying for a long time: While there are a handful of principled people defending the likes of Napster, it's mostly people just wanting free stuff.

And nope, that's not my quote in the subject, I saw some other Slashdot poster using it for his sig. I'd credit him for it if I could, but I don't know who it was (whoops, IP violation? ;-) ), but wanted to throw it out there because it's a great line.

Re:"Information wants to be anthropomorphized" (Score:3, Interesting)
by B'Trey (ddjonesATspeakeasy.org) on Friday September 08, @08:36AM EDT (#368)
(User #111263 Info)
If this is Petreley's best article, I'm glad I missed the rest of them. The article is shallow, cursory and the few valid points made are quite obvious.

The phrase "information wants to be free" is a description of how the system functions, not a moral judgment. People naturally tend to spread information. It takes a lot of work (encryption, proprietary formats, restriction on the production of various types of hardware or machines, vigorous prosecution and enforcement of a host of laws, etc) to prevent it from happening. And despite the best efforts of the multi-million dollar companies involved, info continues to spread. You can argue about the morality of the situation all you want. But you can't argue with the reality of the situation. Information tends to spread. It "wants" to be free.

As for Napster, the real issue isn't whether distributing copyrighted material is wrong. The real issue is - should a technology with perfectly legitimate uses be restricted because it is used by some for morally questionable purposes? Should Napster be held responsible for the uses to which their users put the system?

Finally, I have no problem with someone being compensated for their efforts. In the case of the music business, however, this isn't happening. You have a situation analogous to feudal England. The "lords" (i.e., the record companies) collect all of the produce (music) from the peasants (artists), who get next to nothing for their labor. If you take a bit of that produce, the lords are screaming that you're heartlessly stealing from the poor, pitiful starving peasants.

Never ascribe to maliciousness that which can be adequately explained by incompetence.

Liberzine.com by Jerry Brito

Online music-swapping software such as Napster, Freenet, continue to demonstrate that the idea of intellectual property as we know it today is dead. Legal or illegal, moral or immoral, distributed file sharing via the Internet precludes the enforcement of any copyright laws.

... ... ...

The answer is by using the middleman-destroying power of the Internet. Several real-life digital entrepreneurs have been leading the way to alternative business models that are making them money. Horror master Stephen King has shed his publisher and is presently releasing his latest novel, The Plant, online in periodic installments that are free for the taking. The catch is he asks readers to voluntarily cough up a dollar if you download an installment. If at least 75% of downloaders pay for the installments, he keeps publishing the novel online. If they don't, he stops.

The experiment has been a great success so far. Over 152,000 copies where downloaded the first week and 78 percent of them were paid for. Here's the important part: it's all profit. Because there's no publisher, no bookstore, no paper, King gets to keep every cent.

The artist once again known as Prince was onto something when he sold his five-CD set "Crystal Ball" exclusively on the Web without the help of record companies, distributors, or record stores. On his website, he advertised the album and told his fans he would release not one song until he had 100,000 pre-orders for the entire record. He sold 250,000 copies and kept 95 percent of the revenue which industry experts estimate at $5 million.

Because recording artists only get 10 to 12 percent of a CD's retail price, selling directly to the fans is a boon to them. "We got paid!" Prince said, "More than for the last five to six albums on Warner. It's straight-up money, and the check's on time, not quarterly."

The Business Models

The message is clear. In a copyright-free world an artist can communicate with his fans directly via the Internet and say, "There's an album ready; it won't be released until a quarter million copies are ordered." Artists will have to gauge the market for their music (or books, etc.) to set the right number, but at the same time they can now also set the price for their "intellectual property."

Once the set number is reached, the album is released. Because the record is now in the public domain, copies of it will instantly be available for download to everyone. But what does the artist care at that point, he has been paid -- and paid five times more than had he relied on a record company. Furthermore, he might choose to distribute solely in digital format, reducing the cost to the buyer because there is no CD to manufacture or ship. So what is the incentive to pay for music that will eventually be free?

As Prince has said, the world can be divided into "music lovers" and "music consumers." We are all music consumers for the most part -- interested in the hit single of an artist, but not necessarily the whole album. We listen to it on the radio (or get it off Napster for free) until something else comes along - in effect consuming it. But we are also music lovers when it comes to a few artists. We are fans with special relationships to the works of certain artists, and want to hear everything by that artist including b-sides and live versions, and want to be the first ones to do so. Music lovers will subsidize music consumers, but we all get our turns at being both.

Not a good enough incentive for you? Try a value-added approach. Those first music lovers who sign up so that the album is released could also get an actual CD with the liner notes and artwork they will want as true fans of a particular artist. Because once the album has been released it will be universally available on the Internet, there is no point in manufacturing more CDs. The buyer then has a more valuable limited edition in his hands. A very good incentive.

And remember, artists will only have to sell one-fifth of the number of records on the Internet to make the same amount of money as they would in traditional markets.

Maybe initial buyers could get a free concert ticket with their album purchase. The rock band Limp Bizkit is financing its current concert tour with a $2 million corporate sponsorship from Napster. Their shows in cities across America are free (much like music on Napster is free). But zero price attracts unlimited demand, so tickets have had to be raffled, and prospective concertgoers have waited for days outside venues with limited capacity. Tickets to "free" corporate-sponsored concerts could easily be given to the initial buyers. The possibilities are endless for value added incentives.

Is the Record Company Dead?

That is all great for the artists, but what about the middleman, the record company? Is it left out in the cold? Not necessarily, but it too will have to change its business model completely.

The "disintermediation" models of Prince and King work well for them because they are already famous and have a fan base they can count on to be the initial buyers. Although many new artists are using the cheap, efficient Web to promote themselves, it will never replace the promotional investment a record company can make. Book publishing and record companies will have to shed the distribution aspect of their business and become marketing and promotional companies that discover, package, and sell new artists -- PR agencies cum venture capitalists of sorts.

They may sign a new artist and make an investment in him for a percentage of earnings (via Web sales, of course) for the first three albums. They may be matchmakers, arranging corporate sponsorship of tours. They will certainly transform into something different -- and less powerful -- than what exists today.

In a world without any legal protection of intellectual property (either because there because there is no copyright legislation, or because the network has rendered futile any attempt to enforce it), consumers stand to pay less for music and artists to keep a greater share of their sales.

Linux.com - Columns: Gated Communities  by Bruce Perens - Mon, 10 Jul 2000 01:01:59am

Red Rock Eater News Service The Poachers and the Stormtroopers

Let's start with two recent stories, both involving Star Wars and the internet, which illustrate some of the complexities of popular culture in the digital age.

Earlier this spring, a two page color-spread in Entertainment Weekly profiled aspiring digital filmmaker Kevin Rubio, whose 10 minute, $1,200 film, Troops, has started to attract the interests of Hollywood insiders. Troops spoofs Star Wars by offering a Cops-like profile of the stormtroopers who do the day-in, day-out work of policing Tatoone, settling domestic disputes, rounding up space hustlers, and trying to crush the Jedi Knights. Rubio's film made imaginative and resourceful use of CGI-work which is as good as found in most big budget productions. As a result, he is fielding offers, from companies like Dreamworks, to finance his first feature film. George Lucas, the producer of the Star Wars series, has announced his own enthusiasm for the short, which has been digitized and placed on the web where it is attracting a phenomenal number of hits each day. Anyone who wants to see Troops had better be prepared to wait a long time to access and download it given the constant st ream of traffic to this highly publicized site.

Last fall, the usenet discussion group devoted to Star Wars felt they ought to respond to increased traffic sparked by the re-release of the films and create a separate newsgroup where fans could post and critique original fiction set in the Star Wars universe. Such stories often involve rereading the Star Wars saga from the point of view of Darth Vadir, the Emperor, the Stormtroopers, and the other imperial forces. In a rare action, the Usenet hierarchy vetoed the plan, not even allowing it to be presented for a formal vote, claiming that it promoted "illegal activities," i.e. that it encouraged the violation of Lucasfilm's copyright interests in the characters. Interestingly, the same group the official gatekeepers of the internet had previously failed to stop the creation of discussion groups devoted to the circulation of child pornography, information about making terrorist weapons, or the exchange of illegal drugs. Many believe that they made this decision based on a series of cease and desist letters issued by Lucasfilm attorneys aimed at shutting down fan-related Star Wars websites or blocking the circulation of fan fiction about the films. Through the years, Lucasfilm has been one of the most aggressive corporate groups in trying to halt fan cultural production.

Let's pause for a moment and consider what these two stories have in common. Both involve the circulation via digital media of original artworks which appropriate their core themes, images, and situations from Lucasfilm's Star Wars. In both cases, the same core idea is explored what Star Wars would look like from an Imperial perspective. In both cases, this appropriation is unauthorized, even if after the fact Lucas would choose to give his blessings to Troops. Rubio has said that he would seek Lucas's okay before commercially circulating his film, "if nothing else, just out of respect," but he acknowledges that "the pocketbook and morality tend to be on opposite sides of the scale."

[Mar. 14, 2000]  Linux Today Byte.com Internet Patents Are Changing The Rules

"Title 35 of the United States Code enacted on July 19, 1952 by an Act of Congress and having taken effect on January 1, 1953, is the set of laws that govern U.S. patents. It has been amended many times since then, most recently on November 29, 1999, through Public Law 106-113 (including Senate bill 1948 of the 106th Congress whose Title IV pertains to patents), whereby a number of changes were made to incorporate the World Trade Organization treaty on patents that resulted from the Uruguay Round Agreements Act, and to make the Patent and Trademark Office more efficient. Several important changes to principles of infringement and right of priority and the process of dispute resolution were also made by this recent legislation. These changes and the general use of technology in almost every business process make patent law more important to the future of every industry...."

"The final class of patent, statutory, does not afford any legal protection to the patentee, but does convey legal protection to the general public by registering the invention and thereby formally declaring it to be prior art for the purpose of future patent filings. This class of patent is most commonly used to register inventions made by the U.S. Government and it is known as Statutory Invention Registration, or SIR."

"Anyone can apply to receive SIR patent status for a novel invention, and there is only a small one-time fee for this type of patent compared to the larger and periodic fees required to receive and maintain a regular patent. However, statutory patents are only used when the patentee wants to guarantee that no third party will ever be able to claim patent protection for an invention. This makes SIR a very interesting, if currently overlooked, option for protecting open source inventions....When searching at the U.S. Patent Office website, you can find SIR patents designated with the prefix of "H". Section 157 of USC Title 35 defines SIR. There is a window of opportunity in which a patent can be filed. After that window closes, the opportunity to patent is gone for everyone because the public disclosure and use of the invention stops the clock and marks the date on which the invention became public prior art. If you or another party fail to secure a filing date within a year of that event, the effect is a little like filing a Statutory Invention Registration to secure rights for the public, the invention becomes de facto public domain. A variety of factors combine to establish a special right of priority and unique status for the person who files a patent application or reveals a novel new invention first. In particular, public disclosure of an invention by you does not prevent you from obtaining a patent on the invention, provided that you file for patent protection within one year of disclosure."

[Mar. 4, 2000] SJ Mercury- Greed undermines benefits of digital technology

"... greed has overcome the public interest when it comes to intellectual property."

"The entertainment and information industries are leading the charge. They make no secret of their ultimate goal -- a system where consumers pay each time we read, view or listen to anything. Today, sadly, the forces of greed have the law on their side."

"The patent system is a total mess, as I've said in this space before. This time, however, let's look more closely at where we're heading with copyrights. The direction is dismal..."

"The worst impact is looking more and more probable, and you can trace it back to another 1998 law known as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)."

"The movie industry has come down like a ton of bricks on programmers who reverse-engineered a program that unscrambles the information on entertainment DVDs. The programmers who did it say they were trying to make it possible for DVDs to be played on computers running the Linux operating system. The entertainment industry, wielding DMCA, has convinced at least two judges that this activity is illegal because it can also be used to make copying of DVDs easier. The music industry, meanwhile, is trying its best to stamp out MP3..."

[Feb. 6, 2000] Why we Should fight UCITA


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Created June 1, 1998; Last modified: July 07, 2013