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Re: LGPL module linked with a GPL lib

On 8/2/05, Patrick Herzig <patrick54@gmail.com> wrote:
> RMS doesn't preach the economic superiority of free software. If you
> fail to understand even such a well-explained position I wonder what
> your references to all kinds of precedents and such are worth.

You've got a fair point, in that RMS doesn't see his arguments as
preaching economic superiority; and certainly many commentators have
contrasted RMS's "ethical" perspective with, say, ESR's "economic"
perspective.  I don't entirely agree with the way this contrast is
portrayed, and in particular I think the "ethical"/"economic"
dichotomy is a false one.  "Ethical"/"financial", perhaps; but that's
a calculus of personal motivations that isn't really all that fruitful
to discuss.  Implicit in my perspective is the view that ethics is the
study of human motivation, and economics is the application of the
fruits of this study to the public sphere; finance is just
probabilities and algebra.

So, as I say, I don't fail to understand RMS's attitude that his
arguments are "ethical" arguments and trump "economic" considerations;
I just don't agree.  He is welcome to that position with regard to his
own choice to publish his source code, and welcome to exhort others to
go and do likewise (as I have done, and am likely to do again, from
time to time.)  But when he asks for the legal power to compel others
to do so, in exchange for something he has done or offers to do, he is
well into the economics zone.

RMS rejects the phrase "intellectual property", mostly for reasons of
legislative history and philosophy which I consider insightful and
with which I agree, but also partly out of a belief that whatever
exclusive privileges a creator of knowledge should have over his work
should not be codified as property rights.  (He also seems to think
that they aren't currently codified as property rights, which
perplexes me; but that's another line of argument.)  But he doesn't
believe in "laissez faire", either.

Now, in his view, there is an a priori ethical imperative to share
knowledge, and in the case of software products (which are a sort of
distillate of knowledge yet capable of being sold in a form where that
knowledge is inaccessible), there is an ethical obligation to disclose
the secrets of their making to all who use them.  He would like to
persuade the world that this ethical imperative should be made law;
but failing that, he wants to retain a sort of non-property-based
control over the terms on which others use his work (and works whose
authors signify their alliance with him by attaching the GPL to them).
 He demands (or perhaps just assumes) the power to apply his ethical
calculus when a work that he controls has played a significant role in
the creation of another's work, not just through literal borrowing but
by building on the utility of the existing work -- i. e., over any
work bearing an economic relationship to his.

This brings us to the crux of the matter.  RMS seems to think that he
has, or should have, this power as a natural right; and I (obviously)
don't.  I see an author's (or inventor's) rights over his creation as
entirely socially created; I think that the law as it stands does a
pretty accurate job of capturing that social consensus; and I don't
favor attempts at extra-legal end runs around the legislative and
judicial process, irrespective of the end in view.  There's a
philosophical difference here that goes back at least to Hobbes and
Hume, if not to Pythagoras and Protagoras.  This is perhaps not the
forum in which to debate this well-trodden topic further.  :-)

So does the law in this area follow Hobbes or Hume?  Judge for
yourself.  In any case, I wholly encourage you to deny my selection
and exposition of precedents any force of authority.  If they are
useful to you in making up your own mind, so much to the good; if not,
that's fine too.

- Michael
(IANAPhilosopher, either)

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