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Re: The Show So Far

tb@becket.net (Thomas Bushnell, BSG) writes:

> Anthony Towns <aj@azure.humbug.org.au> writes:
> > > Anthony Towns is quite right that it is illegitimate to argue "this is
> > > a genuine pain, so it must be non-free".  
> > 
> > I think there's a difference between having people be *unable* to hack
> > on the software (in the case of the desert island, or the broke student),
> > and having people be *unwilling* to hack on it (in the case of Microsoft
> > and the GPL, or the protestor and the QPL).
> Let me think about this paragraph and get back to you.  (I think I
> know what to say, but I'm not sure yet, and I want to think more.)  I
> say *this* only because I don't want you to think I deleted it without
> really noticing.

Ok, I've thought more.  Anthony has an excellent point here, and we
should pay attention to it.  But I think that it doesn't ultimately
control.  There are several problems:

First, the difference between inability and unwillingness is not so
obvious in general.  Suppose the fee for something is $5000, and I
don't have that much cash.  Am I unwilling, or unable to pay?  Well, I
am *able*: I could sell my car and some books, or cash in my IRA, and
then pay the money.  So maybe I'm just unwilling.  Suppose the fee is
$50,000.  Now I couldn't get the money together that way: but wait!  I
could rob an armored car, and get the money that way.  So I really am
*able* to pay, I'm just unwilling to do it.

Unable and unwilling are thus sort of polar extremes, but there is a
big broad continuum of gray in between that makes the analysis very
hard to carry out.  (Does a company's attention to the fiduciary
obligation it owes shareholders constrain like an inability, or like
an unwillingness?)

Yet, the intuition that Anthony articulates is a good one, even if
hard to apply in practical cases.  So it's worth paying attention to
on its own right.  

However, I think the intuition fails.  Consider the tax return
argument.  "If you have filed a tax return, and the author of the
program requests it, and pays you the costs of photocopying your
return and sending it to him, then you must supply a copy on demand."
Clearly this is a term that everyone has the *ability* to comply with;
that is, it basically falls on the inability side, not the
unwillingness side.  But we don't accept that as a free license term!

Or how about this: "If you have $100 in your bank account, then you
must send it to the author of the program as soon as you have the
ability, otherwise, you can use the program at no cost."  Is *that* a
free software licensing term?  I think certainly not: but note!  It
*does* pass the desert island and the poor student test...


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