Re: The Show So Far
On Wednesday 12 March 2003 04:34 pm, Thomas Bushnell, BSG wrote:
> Right, so here's what I'll do. I'll create a non-free derivative of
> GNU Foo, which adds a splendid text-manipulation function that many
> people want. And I'll write a CGI so that people can type in text and
> my web site will run the modified GNU Foo. I'll charge people money
> for this service, and never release my changes. The original GNU Foo
> did make its source available over the web interface, but my
> modification does not.
I know you meant this as a code hijacking horror story. But I don't see
wrongdoing or problems with this. By definition, you are providing the
computing hardware to run the above service. That costs money and is provided
as a service. You have a right to charge for that alone, IMHO.
Furthermore, if you made enough modifications and/or innovations to prevent
being outcompeted by a free competitor derived from the same GPL sources you
used, then you have committed considerable capital resources. Once again,
IMHO, you have a right to charge for your work. If I don't like to pay you,
I have an easy option -- just replicate from "GNU Foo". The point is, if
it's *easy* I don't have a problem and if it's *hard* then you earned your
Either way though, there's a non-negligible market force pressing you to
release anyway, since as your user-base grows then either your costs increase
(perhaps non-linearly since web services don't scale in a completely linear
way) or your service level declines. Either way, it becomes increasingly
attractive to switch to multiple providers or a distributed library (for
users). Unless it is extraordinarily hard to duplicate your work (or run the
server), this will happen. And if it is so difficult that is a legitimate
reason to keep using the service. (Think of the Google example again).
I personally do not think that putting Google into the pincher is a
Surely the carrot -- allowing free developers to improve the software instead
of having to bear all development costs on yourself -- is adequate to
encourage release, without the stick.
> David Turner thinks this should be prohibited, and therefore the GPL
> should be changed to prohibit it. You have said that as long as no
> distribution happens, it's fine. Which is it?
Well, I don't know what *he* thinks, but *I* think the GPL as-is is a better
thing. I think the change would cause too much "collateral damage" to be
worth whatever it might save us from. (at least, including your example, I
haven't seen a compelling reason to fear the present rules continuing).
Again, this is mostly the perspective of a user.
Although, I am in fact developing a web application, and for me the "carrot"
is far and away sufficient to release the code, even though I expect there
will be few actual deployments. I'm hoping users of my site will be motivated
by the desire to make my site more useful to them.
I do see the counter-point though: what if Microsoft adopted my code and put
in 1000s of man-hours into out-competing me on the web? But I'm not
convinced that's a serious threat -- there are serious reasons why their
product would be inferior to mine if I am accepting free-collaboration.
Maybe a more concrete example of threat would change my opinion.
But the counter-threat of eliminating the flexibility of web services would
stifle innovation (do *you* know the full potential of such services in 10
years? I don't). And you have to erode "fair-use" to impose such a
restriction, which I don't like in principle.
Terry Hancock ( hancock at anansispaceworks.com )
Anansi Spaceworks http://www.anansispaceworks.com