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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 
desireable goal.

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

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