The "intellectual property" misnomer

Cliff Wells clifford.wells at
Sat Jul 12 19:06:43 CEST 2003

On Fri, 2003-07-11 at 20:30, Ben Finney wrote:
> On Fri, 11 Jul 2003 22:47:21 -0400, Tim Peters wrote:
> > Ben Finney wrote:
> >> Guido van Rossum wrote:
> >> > The PSF holds the intellectual property rights for Python
> >> Ugh.  Please don't propagate this ridiculous, meaningless term.
> > 
> > Guido isn't writing a treatise on the law, he's briefly explaining
> > (part of) what the PSF does.
> The term he used doesn't explain anything, and only confuses.  It would
> have been *less* confusing to say "The PSF holds something unspecified
> for Python".  At least there is no pretence of explanation there.

Right, I mean, why say anything at all since, you know, some lawyer
somewhere might be offended.  And we all care so much about lawyers. 
That's why I chose programming as a career, so I could deal with lawyers

> > I doubt many are confused by what he said
> People may have an assumption about what is meant by the term, but they
> are almost certainly wrong, since the fields of law that are sometimes
> lumped together by that term have almost nothing in common.

No, they are most certainly not wrong.  Most people using Python have
probably at least perused the license.  Having done so, I doubt that
they need to have it spelled out every time it is mentioned.

> There is nothing useful indicated by the term "intellectual property
> rights", because it presumes there is some commonality between fields of
> law that deal with different intellectual concepts, impose different
> restrictions, and presume different rights.

That's like saying the word "food" is useless because there's nothing in
common between a sandwich and a bowl of rice.

> Those who are not confused by the term, are misguided as to what it
> means.

Or simply don't care.  IANAL and I refuse (until properly sued) to worry
about how lawyers think language should be used (although I probably
should have used the word "allegedly" in there somewhere, just to be

> > and you proved you're not [confused by the term]
> > [by listing some disparate fields of law that might be referred to by
> > the term]
> This doesn't follow at all.  I requested that the "rights" being
> referred to should be stated, not handwaved with a term that presumes
> that copyright, patent, trademark, trade secret, or many other disparate
> legal areas can be lumped together.

And they explicitly name those rights in a more appropriate place than
here.  If you want Guido to run every missive by a lawyer before
posting, then perhaps it's time to ante up quite a donation to the PSF
(which, ISTR, was the primary purpose of the post).

> If PSF holds rights that are covered by *all* those fields of law, I'd
> be very surprised; but if the "rights" are *not* covered by all those
> different legal areas, then the term is useless.

So I can't say I've eaten breakfast unless I've in fact eaten a bit of
every possible breakfast food?  Instead I'm required to list ad nauseum
every item on my plate?

> > So you somehow managed to divine Guido's intent from that "ridiculous,
> > meaningless term"
> No, I requested that the term be clarified, because *I don't* know what
> is meant by "The PSF holds the intellectual property rights for Python".
> It's a meaningless statement as it stands.

Only to those who haven't RTFM (or RTFL, in this case).

> If the PSF holds software patents in Python, I imagine many would be
> outraged.  I don't believe it does.  If it's not the case, why imply it
> with an overbroad term?

Or why use general terms at all for that matter?  Why not make every
statement an exacting mishmash of legalese?  I think I would rather
simply die.  Wait... not me, you ;)

> If the PSF holds trade secrets in Python, they are surely nullified by
> the publishing of the code.  If it's not the case, why imply it with an
> overbroad term?

Because it wasn't meant as a definitive statement regarding Python
licensing terms.  That has been done in an appropriate place already.

> > I don't think pedantic verbosity makes it any clearer, but may mislead
> > due to omission.
> And using a term that attempts to blanket wildly different legal rights
> is *not* misleading due to omission?

When you say "attempts" you seem to be implying intent.  Being such a
lawyerly person, you must know that proof of intent is one of the more
difficult roads to tread in any argument.  If you can prove Guido's
intent was to mislead, then let's have it.  Otherwise, please let it
go.  This thread is so boring and OT my eyes are starting to water.


The cliffs around the crashing sea
Unsolved and endless, wait for me
               -Siouxsie and the Banshees

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