The bullying of the copyright industry in Sweden inspired the launch of the first political party whose platform is to reduce copyright restrictions: the Pirate Party. Its platform includes the prohibition of Digital Restrictions Management, legalization of noncommercial sharing of published works, and shortening of copyright for commercial use to a five-year period. Five years after publication, any published work would go into the public domain.
I support these changes, in general; but the specific combination chosen by the Swedish Pirate Party backfires ironically in the special case of free software. I’m sure that they did not intend to hurt free software, but that’s what would happen.
The GNU General Public License and other copyleft licenses use copyright law to defend freedom for every user. The GPL permits everyone to publish modified works, but only under the same license. Redistribution of the unmodified work must also preserve the license. And all redistributors must give users access to the software’s source code.
The highlighted statement is incorrect. As the Ars Technica states: “Copyleft is an important part of Stallman’s vision because it compels companies that use copyleft code to open their own source code when they might not have otherwise been willing to do so voluntarily.” A right, freedom, comes from within. It is negative. It can not place an obligation on another which has not been voluntarily entered into. There can not be a right to education or healthcare in that it is someone’s obligation to provide you with them. To claim such a thing is to claim to have the right over another’s labor meaning they are your slave. In the same way copyright, and therefore copyleft, are an affront to the liberty not only for the publisher but the user. Copyright makes the customer the slave to the producer and copyleft the producer the slave of another in the name of the consumer. Rather then advocating co-slavery, where the real master are those in positions within the government and their fascistic friends, let us advocate the emancipation of all those held under the thumb of organized violent institutions.
How would the Swedish Pirate Party’s platform affect copylefted free software? After five years, its source code would go into the public domain, and proprietary software developers would be able to include it in their programs. But what about the reverse case?
Proprietary software is restricted by EULAs, not just by copyright, and the users don’t have the source code. Even if copyright permits noncommercial sharing, the EULA may forbid it. In addition, the users, not having the source code, do not control what the program does when they run it. To run such a program is to surrender your freedom and give the developer control over you.
One can not surrender one’s freedom except in that case were they have aggressed against another. And then only to the extent to which is necessary to stop the aggression. The user gives up no freedom when voluntarily using closed source software. Stallman is looking to actually restrict user’s freedom by attempting to use copyright to force companies to work within his free software paradigm and restricting the marketplace. If FOSS is indeed a better way for all involved it will naturally become the dominant method of software development and distribution in the market naturally. There is no need to force it into being through threats and violence.
We also use copyright to partially deflect the danger of software patents.
More artificial monopoly privileges will not fix artificial monopoly privileges. Approach this problem from a true freedom oriented perspective and all these contradictions will disappear as will this endless tug of war for power over the State.
I could support a law that would make GPL-covered software’s source code available in the public domain after 5 years, provided it has the same effect on proprietary software’s source code. After all, copyleft is a means to an end (users’ freedom), not an end in itself. And I’d rather not be an advocate for a stronger copyright.
Fundamentally there is no difference between what Stallman advocates and what the stricter copyright people advocate. It is an argument over degrees and not kind. It is an argument that will never be resolved so long as the conversation is held within this intellectual property box. As long as Stallman and those who agree with him can do sue companies for GPL violation (and win)… the RIAA can restrict individual’s access to things they purchase and the game console companies the same. Freedom on all sides would allow the market place to find the best solutions for all those involved without all the unproductive fighting for control and as Eric S. Raymond pointed out… the fear it creates.
A real analysis of the FOSS community I believe would show that FOSS works without copyright. Through voluntary means software stays more or less open as the original author desired. Projects which are slow to change or allow outside participation are forked or replaced and the best method for the community wins out. Those companies which fail to release modifications to the source which they’ve used in their products are ostracized often leading to the code’s publication. If the general customers of their products are displeased with the lack of openness or product flexibility they will take their business elsewhere. They will succeed or fail in the market as everyone else. Artificially sustaining FOSS through monopoly privileges is economically and therefore socially regressive and destructive. It has no place in a free society.
For more information regarding intellectual property monopoly:
- Against Intellectual Property by Stephan Kinsella (book)
- Against Intellectual Property: Property Rights – Tangible and Intangible by Stephan Kinsella (article from Journal of Libertarian Studies)
- The Libertarian Case Against Intellectual Property Rights by Roderick T. Long
- The Case Against Intellectual Monopoly by Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine
- Against Intellectual Property by Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine