More on Protecting Source Code

Cliff Wells LogiplexSoftware at
Fri Sep 20 09:36:53 EDT 2002

On Tue, 2002-09-17 at 01:14, James J. Besemer wrote:
> Or if I reduce those thoughts to paper or to software or to wood and 
> metal that somehow everybody else is entitled to share the benefits of 
> my possibly substantial endeavor?  
> What a load of bullshit.

Sort of.  The idea of "owning" ideas/information is indeed artificial. 
I don't see how you can argue otherwise.

However there are good reasons for having such a concept (as you outline
below).  However, also note that there are exceptions to intellectual
property laws (in the U.S. anyway) where the rights of the author/owner
are occasionally diminished in the interest of the common good.  It's a
balancing act between the two interests (creator and public).  The
problem that many (including myself) have with the current state of
copyright/patent law is that it is often enforced in such a way that the
interest of the public is disregarded.  Consider the fact that it is
still illegal to copy software contained in the ROMs from an Apple //e. 
Clearly Apple no longer has any monetary interest in maintaining the
copyright on that software (the hardware for which it was written is no
longer sold) and there is possibly some benefit to releasing it to the
public domain (for emulators and whatnot, or possibly as examples for
education), but the law continues to protect Apple's "interest" in this
piece of code for no apparent reason.  I'd suggest that 5 years is
adequate time to protect a piece of software, not 35 or 95 or 120 or 70
years after the death of the author (depending upon the particular work
being considered).

> An artist who creates an image or the specifications for a musical 
> performance has every right to own his creation and benefit from its 
> use.  This is no different for a programmer and code of his own creation.  

It is different in that software has a much shorter useful lifespan than
a work of art.  A book written in 1976 can still be sold and hence has
some value.  I'll sell you my copy of Wordstar for CP/M, if you're
interested.  I'm guessing you're not.

> Even if you go back to the early industrial age, key products of 
> industry was intellectual property.  E.g., engineers had to produce 
> drawings and written specifications before they could build a bridge or 
> a mousetrap.  That "information" was every bit their property as the 
> more tangible artifacts they later sold commercially.  An unscrupulous 
> competitor could use the IP to recreate the commercial artifacts at a 
> fraction of the original owner's cost.  Or he could reverse engineer the 
> IP and again enjoy an unfair  advantage.  That's blatantly unfair and 
> it's a good thing we have laws to protect against such theft.

All true.

> Now if somebody elects to give away their IP -- out of charity or in 
> hope of scoring points in some circles -- that's fine.  But if he 
> instead elects to profit from it, in a free world, that should be 
> perfectly reasonable and respectable also.
> >but it
> >can be made more property-like by laws that restrict people's freedom to
> >use information. 
> >
> Copyright laws have precedent dating back to pre colonial England. 
>  Interesting new books and music were intrinsically hard to create but, 
> (after Gutenberg) once created, they were easy for the unscrupulous to 
> copy and receive full benefit of their publication.  Robbing the 
> creators the fruits of of their labor is inherently unfair.  Not only 
> does the IP thief unfairly benefit from work he did not perform he also 
> robs the real owner of income he otherwise would have received.  
> Thus IP laws naturally evolved to protect rightful property owners. 
>  It's meet and good.
> People fought and died (and more importantly prevailed) in defense of 
> the rights to be free and to own property.

And others have fought and died to free property from the hands of a
privileged few.  What does this prove?  Nothing except that people fight
over property.

> Now I don't necessarily support some of the more recent changes and 
> extensions to copyright laws.  Some maybe go a step too far.  However, I 
> don't think they can or should be rejected altogether.  At their core 
> they're not arbitrary; rather in protecting the works' creators they're 
> the epitome of fairness.

The problem is that these laws are usually created as the result of
lobbying by groups that have a specific interest in protecting their
intellectual property and the interests of the public are just as often
neglected.  For instance, there is a "fair use" clause for copyright
that allows individuals to make archival copies of copyrighted works.  I
wonder what happens to that right when I buy a copy-protected CD of a
game?  Who is lobbying to protect that right?  The RCIAA?  Not likely.

> >The state has given you the 'right' to use the power of its court and 
> >police to forcibly restrict people that use information you have created 
> >in violation of copy-restriction laws.
> >
> Yeah, sure, in your dreams we could instead have laws that say all 
> information was free.  I submit that such a situation would actually 
> stifle innovation.  Sure a few dreamers would still invent but the 
> volume and time to market would be greatly diminished.  
> Lack of ownership is precisely why most socialist countries soon became 
> and forever remained vast economic wastelands. 

It may have been one reason, among many.  Gross over-simplification
weakens your argument.

 Denying individuals any 
> incentive for working harder than others, the economy soon deteriorates 
> to where it can hardly provide the necessities of life let alone invent 
> clever and innovative luxuries.  Worse, collectivist economics are 
> unnatural in that they fly in the face of most human instincts.

Probably true.

  Thus it 
> requires a large and oppressive government to enforce collectivism and, 
> in practice, those governments typically become corrupt.

The two or three examples we have available to examine would seem to
support this.  However, the common American view of equating an economic
system (socialism, communism) with a government system (totalitarianism,
dictatorship) is flawed.  It doesn't seem impossible that there could
exist a democratic socialist state any more than it would be impossible
to have a capitalist dictatorship.

  In any case, 
> economies invariably, immediately revert to capitalism soon as the 
> communist/socialist oppression ceases.

And Russia's economy has flourished ever since ;)  Even if we disregard
how U.S. trade with Russia has changed since the cold war (and its
effect on their economy) there isn't much of an argument to be made

> It is precisely the promise of commercial reward that makes America the 
> incredible fount of invention and creativity that it is.  

And of course the natural resources to make those grand ideas a reality.

The simple 
> formula of rewarding people for their own hard work is what made America 
> the worlds only superpower.  Not only do we have the most powerful 
> military in the world our people also enjoy one of the world's highest 
> standards of living.  

And not at all because we have almost unlimited natural resources or
because we use our powerful military to make sure that we obtain other
countries' natural resources at a "reasonable" price.

Most socialist countries have had to choose one or 
> the other or don't have the choice of either.
> I just don't get you folks who push this Communistic view of economics. 
>  It's childish.  Marx sounded good on paper 100 years ago and yeah we 
> all believed it when we were idealistic teenagers. At the cost of 
> hundreds of millions of citizens (murdered by their own government) and 
> a significant fraction of the 20th century's world's human resources, we 
> gave Communism every chance to succeed.

Ah, by giving them a chance to succeed, you must mean by imposing
economic sanctions and encouraging them to bankrupt themselves on
military spending.  To pretend that the USSR collapsed without help from
outside forces is stretching it a bit.

  After almost a century of 
> experimentation with collectivist economics, the results are all in and 
> the bottom line is that it simply doesn't work.  The net cost to The 
> People in the long run is always greater than the net benefits.  If you 
> don't understand this then you really haven't been paying attention to 
> recent world history.

And most of these countries were in the same position prior to adopting
socialism.  And they'll be in the same position after they switch to
capitalism.  Name one wealthy country that switched to socialism and
went broke.  Name a poor socialist country that switched to capitalism
and became wealthy (not counting billion dollar handouts the U.S.
rewards these governments with - perhaps that's where some of the
motivation to switch to capitalism comes from?).

> The problem with Capitalism is that not everyone shares equally in the 
> wealth.  The problem with Communism is that everybody DOES share equally 
> in the misery.  I prefer Capitalism.

I don't disagree with your conclusion, just how you got there.  Your
arguments sound too much like cold war propaganda.  

> >But that is not enough for you. You also want the 'right' to complain about
> >something that was given to you freely and expect that righteous rants 
> >about your view of intellectual property laws will somehow compel people 
> >to modify it to your specification without compensation.
> >
> You're being unfair.
> Mr. LeBlanc was not complaining about anythinthe fact that during the Cold War the USSR was g that I could see.  He was 
> merely describing a tangible shortcoming of Python (one which launched 
> this entire thread) that restricts its use for some purposes.  He 
> further, humbly suggests how it might be made a little more useful to 
> commercial users.

And at last we agree.  I didn't see a complaint in David's post or
indeed anything that required such a response.

> --jb
> -- 
> James J. Besemer		503-280-0838 voice
> 2727 NE Skidmore St.		503-280-0375 fax
> Portland, Oregon 97211-6557	mailto:jb at

You know, I work like 2.1 miles from your house (as
flies).  We could add two to the millions who have fought and died over
this topic, if you like ;)

Anyway, taking this to alt.neverending.arguments...


Cliff Wells, Software Engineer
Logiplex Corporation (
(503) 978-6726 x308  (800) 735-0555 x308

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