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You Can't Oppose Copyright and Support Open Source

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the baby-with-the-bathwater dept.

GNU is Not Unix 550

Reader gbulmash sends us to his essay on the fallacy of those who would abolish copyright. The argument is that without copyright granting an author the right to set licensing terms for his/her work, the GPL could not be enforced. The essay concludes that if you support the GPL or any open source license (other than public domain), your fight should be not about how to abolish copyright, but how to reform copyright.

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In a world without copyright... (4, Insightful)

c0l0 (826165) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014293)

...it would be possible to have commented disassemblies of everything that a computer can run openly available. That would be a lot better than the situation we have right now in SOME cases (by far not all of course - but please note you could still publish sourcecode in a more high-level language if you felt like it ;)) when there are only legally encumbered BLOBs available for crucial components of a system like, for example, graphics or network drivers, which you may execute, but not touch in any other way (in the US at least, that is).

Summa summarum, I think it's better to live in a world with copyright in place.
I just - like many other fellow advocates of Free Software - would wish for more people to publish their works under more permissive and freedom-granting licenses: to have art, culture, knowledge and wisdom spread for the greater good, and not just immediate, monetary profit in the first place.

Bottom line is: supporting Free Software and/or the GNU GPL does not automagically make you speak out against copyright per se at all.

Re:In a world without copyright... (3, Insightful)

HeavensBlade23 (946140) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014363)

It would be *possible* that things would become more open without copyrights, but it wouldn't neccessarily happen. Companies might be come even more secretive about their source code since secrecy would be the only method of protection they have left.

Re:In a world without copyright... (2)

Darundal (891860) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014387)

Your wish runs counter to the fact that people act for their own self interests. The copyright is just a way to make sure that people have incentive, by (theoretically) allowing the amount of money a person makes to be a result of the quality and usefulness of their labor. Those who publish under the GPL and other licenses are people who either are smart enough to build up companies with their own code, let everyone else look at it and do what they want with it, and basically still make money from those their work benefits, or who work for companies already and see their own efforts as volunteerism that will possibly at one point or another offer some return. However, the guy who wrote the article is totally and completely batshiat crazy; he assumes that using the system to produce results closest to those that one desires automatically means one doesn't desire a lack of the system.

Re:In a world without copyright... (2, Interesting)

the_mighty_$ (726261) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014465)

This is silly. Copyrights are not necessary. All you need is respect for contracts. Example: a programmer writes code. Then he gives the code to his friend after asking his friend to contract that he will agree to release all his modifications to the source code (or whatever) and that the friend will require anyone he gives the code to to agree to the same contract. Viola. Open source without copyright law.

Re:In a world without copyright... (2, Insightful)

shawb (16347) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014633)

In my opinion, that would be a far worse scenario than copyright law. Anybody purchasing software or media would have to agree to licensing contracts to use it. These contracts would likely be at least as binding as current contracts. The only difference is that there is no expiration on the contracts, and therefore the information would never reach the public domain. Under copyright law, the information in theory will eventually reach the public domain and be usable by society as a whole without an arduous contract. It may be said that the current copyright system is broken, but simply getting rid of it will cause more harm than good.

On a different note, it is not necessarily incongruous to simultaneously hold the belief that copyright is bad while supporting open source. One can feel that copyright inherently causes harm to society, but still support open source as a means to work within a system that is already broken. True, without copyright open source would be unenforceable. But without copyright, one would also have no need to enforce the GPL, as any releases made would be into the public domain assuming it is possible to disassemble the software. This includes software that incorporates code that would have been released under the GPL, satisfying what I see to be the intent of the drafters of the GPL.

Re:In a world without copyright... (2, Interesting)

umofomia (639418) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014685)

In essence, your idea is no different than a trade secret and your contracts become NDAs. However, if your code ever leaks to someone without a contract, they will be able to do whatever they want with it and you will have no legal recourse, which is the point the article is trying to make.

Re:In a world without copyright... (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014863)

The only difference between that and copyright is that you don't need to be a lawyer to use copyright effectively.

Re:In a world without copyright... (3, Insightful)

Babbster (107076) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014471)

I just - like many other fellow advocates of Free Software - would wish for more people to publish their works under more permissive and freedom-granting licenses: to have art, culture, knowledge and wisdom spread for the greater good, and not just immediate, monetary profit in the first place.

Immediate, monetary profit is what copyright-reform advocates want to protect. As a current example, I think Sony/Marvel/etc. should have the right to make as much dough as they can on the recently released Spider-Man 3 for the next 10 years. After that, it should enter the public domain. The same, I think, should apply to software, books, etc. I could probably be convinced that a reasonable compromise would be 20 years (at least until corporations actually get used to having to create instead of indefinitely rehash). Any longer than that, with high-speed distribution (get the product out) and the availability of numerous and sophisticated marketing methods (let people know about the product), actually serves to stifle creativity more than it helps.

Re:In a world without copyright... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19014623)

Reform copyrights! No closed source software should be allowed to be copyrighted. Copyrights are supposed to get people to publish their works, and in time, give back to society. What of closed source software? By the time it falls into public domain the source codes will no doubt have been lost for 99% of all closed source projects, and even then, there is no incentive to ever release the source codes. This goes against the purpose of copyrights, and turns copyrights into a form of trade secret with legal teeth. The only software that should ever be copyrighted are open source projects, or close source software that has registered their code with the library of congress so that it wont be forgotten.

GPL != Open source (4, Insightful)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014681)

Yes, GPL does use copyright law to do its heavy lifting, and the removal of copyright would break GPL. For anti-copyright/pro-GPL people this is not necessarily inconsistent as it is somewhat like legal Jujitsu - using the enemies strength to defeat themselves.

However there are other forms of open source software too, many of which do not rely on copyright in any shape or form.

Ultimately, open source software is a philosophy and changing the legal tools will not change too much. The GPL is also just a tool and even if the GPL was to be ruled invalid (or was invalidated by the removal of copyright laws) not much would change. When the Shroud of Turin was shown to be fake the nuns didn't commit mass suicide; similarly open source software will continue, with or without copyright, GPL or whatever icons.

Re:In a world without copyright... (2, Insightful)

samkass (174571) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014817)

This article seems to equate "open source" with the GPL. BSD and Apache licenses would have much less problem with lack of copyright.

Re:In a world without copyright... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19014871)

This article seems to equate "open source" with the GPL. BSD and Apache licenses would have much less problem with lack of copyright.

How do you make that out? They're licenses. In the absence of copyright there'd be nothing to license. So they're entirely dependent on copyright law.

abolish copyright (5, Insightful)

nefarity (633456) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014301)

Who are these amazing people that want to abolish copyright?

Re:abolish copyright (1)

omeomi (675045) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014337)

I was wondering the same thing. Even in the open-source community, I don't think there are all that many people who want to completely do away with copyright. If I make something, why shouldn't I have the right to choose whether to make it freely available or not? Seems perfectly logical to me...

Re:abolish copyright (1)

catbutt (469582) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014447)

If I make something, why shouldn't I have the right to choose whether to make it freely available or not? Seems perfectly logical to me...
Although, doesn't that same logic apply to patents as well? The slashdot crowd certainly seems to be pretty strongly anti-patent.

Seems to me the whole issue of intellectual property revolves around people wanting to draw sharp lines on things that are inherently blurry.

Re:abolish copyright (1)

chromatic (9471) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014513)

Although, doesn't that same logic apply to patents as well?

Why should it? You can't copyright an idea.

Re:abolish copyright (1)

catbutt (469582) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014745)

Sure you can. If you write a book that is similar enough to, say, Harry Potter or Da Vinci Code or whatever, you will get sued for copyright infringement, even if the words are not identical. It's the idea that is protected. Same as a patent. There are plenty of technical differences between patents and copyrights, but conceptually they are identical. "I thought this up, so I get to be the only one to make money on it"

Re:abolish copyright (2)

chromatic (9471) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014797)

It's the idea that is protected.

Source, please. I prefer statute, though I will accept case law.

Your "choice" is actually the coercion of others (1)

Geof (153857) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014509)

If I make something, why shouldn't I have the right to choose whether to make it freely available or not? Seems perfectly logical to me

Let me paraphrase that:

If recombine other people's ideas, and distribute my particular combination, shouldn't I have a right to demand that the government forcibly prevent others from copying or recombining those ideas further?

That is the most emphatic form of the argument against you. Remember, all ideas are based on previous ones, from Shakespeare's plots to sort algorithms to Apple's look-and-feel. ("There are only seven plots.") And the right you describe here is not something to be defended, but something that must be positively enacted and enforced by the state. As phrased, however, you do have the right to decide whether to make something freely available: don't distribute it in the first place.

I am not necessarily taking the stance that copyright should be abolished. It's a very complicated question. The world would be a very different place without copyright, and I'm not smart enough to say whether that world would be better (I have my doubts). I do feel safe in predicting that the transition would be painful and quite likely violent - and it's simply not going to happen. So the question is entirely hypothetical. But I don't think what you describe is "perfectly logical" in the least.

Re:abolish copyright (1)

644bd346996 (1012333) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014677)

I think that the typical argument is that IP restrictions (copyright and patents) prevent society from exploiting good ideas fully. A good example is the situation with AIDS drugs. If there were no copyrights or patents covering those drugs, they would be far more accessible. The only really good argument I've ever heard in favor of IP is that it can encourage more innovation by guaranteeing inventors a chance to profit from their inventions. Because of the success of open source software, we now know that copyright is not necessary for there to be profitable, innovative software companies.

There is no doubt that copyrights and patents have a negative effect on society in the short term. They produce artificial scarcity. In the long run, though, we pretty much don't know which way is better (except in the case of software).

Re:abolish copyright (1, Funny)

solevita (967690) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014411)

Terrorists and Linux users. The "and" in that previous sentence was probably superfluous.

Re:abolish copyright (1)

Salgat (1098063) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014435)

Good question. The only copyright I am against is for music(being able to distribute it freely mind you), and just because I'm against that doesn't mean I oppose the copyright law in general.

Re:abolish copyright (1)

radish (98371) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014437)

Look on any thread involving the RIAA, MPAA or BitTorrent - they're everywhere. Anyone who supports the unrestricted duplication of (recently created) commercial copyrighted works is, IMHO, arguing for the abolition of copyright. I'm all for restricting the length of copyright, fair use exemptions, etc. However, I have a firm belief that someone who creates something should have some say about how it is distributed and the right, if they so choose, to demand compensation for it's use.

Re:abolish copyright (2, Funny)

Babbster (107076) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014533)

Anyone who supports the unrestricted duplication of (recently created) commercial copyrighted works is, IMHO, arguing for the abolition of copyright.

I don't know about that. If I, for example, steal someone's car I'm not necessary against property rights in general; I'm just a thieving bastard. :)

exactly - straw man argument (5, Insightful)

Baldur_of_Asgard (854321) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014523)

I've kept up with this issue for years, and I can't think of anyone who wants to abolish copyright outright.

Ensure Fair Use? Sure.

Restrict copyright to a reasonable 20 or 30 years (even though 5 years would probably be sufficient for most purposes)? Sure.

Abolish it entirely? Well, it probably wouldn't hurt as much as some people think it would, but it wouldn't be especially useful either, as long as Fair Use is allowed and it expires after a reasonable 20 or 30 years.

You can oppose copyright ... and support BSD (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19014317)

Funny, I've never heard anyone say BSD wasn't open source.

Re:You can oppose copyright ... and support BSD (1)

RockoTDF (1042780) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014759)

BSD uses a different license than the GPL or GNU

An argument from thin air. (5, Interesting)

reality-bytes (119275) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014323)

The dangers of linking to someone taking a mental dump in their blog.

The author in question cites an ethereal 'anti-copyright crowd' and proposes that this 'crowd' are those who would license their software under the GNU/GPL.

I don't think I really need to point out that the reality is very different.

Sure you can (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19014333)

As different priorities - the immediate priority is the propagation of open source, Creative Commons, and similar "free" copyright mechanisms. But these mechanisms are really just a means to an end, an attempt to use copyright against itself, and so it is perfectly consistent to still support a long-term goal of the ultimate overthrow of all existing copyright legislation and the adoption of a general system of intellectual freedom. Simple enough to me...

I've said it before (3, Interesting)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014335)

And I've been modded down by some shifty Microsoft lovers that lurk here on this peaceful website. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE..

Anyway, the GPL is like a Judo move. It rests on the strength of copyright law. If you make copyright stronger, then you make the GPL stronger. It's like a Judo master using his opponent's strength against him.

Ahh, straw men (4, Insightful)

Z0mb1eman (629653) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014341)

"How can I get people to read my blog... I know, I'll pick an extreme opinion that few people actually hold, combine it with a more popular but unrelated opinion, and write a long argument to shoot the whole thing down as self-contradictory."

Yes, mod me down -1 cynical.

Re:Ahh, straw men (1)

Lurkingrue (521019) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014591)

You forgot to add:
"and I'll get it posted on /."...

(How *is* this stuff getting put up, anyway?)

Of course he's in favor of copyrights ... (5, Funny)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014349)

From his blog:

Brain Handles © 2007 All Rights Reserved.
Looks like an objective opinion to me.

Re:Of course he's in favor of copyrights ... (1)

PhxBlue (562201) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014457)

Aren't all opinions subjective?

Re:Of course he's in favor of copyrights ... (1)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014519)

It's also possible that he doesn't know how to edit the Wordpress theme he decided to use.

Re:Of course he's in favor of copyrights ... (1)

RandomPrecision (911416) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014787)

Either he has a copyright message, or not. You could accuse him of supporting or refusing copyright either way, if you use that as evidence of either one.

Why abolish copyright? (2, Insightful)

KingKaneOfNod (583208) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014353)

It's a fundamentally good idea; people who create something have exclusive rights to sell it. Where things go wrong is when people decide to meddle with it, like continuously extending the period that it applies. Something like a 5 year limit would be appropriate in today's fast paced world. Just think; who here wants to buy a DVD or CD that is over 5 years old? Not unless it was originally issued in some other format, right? Don't confuse copyright with the fallacy of "intellectual property". Intellectual Property is a collection of laws (copyright, patents, trademarks, etc.) which should never be grouped together, because each is different and for a different purpose.

Re:Why abolish copyright? (1)

Turn-X Alphonse (789240) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014535)

While I am inclined to agree with 5 years you must consider the world is not that fast. Take for example classic radio stations, most of them play music 20-30 or even 40 years old hour after hour. Do we write these off or take them into account in this 5 years?

5 years sounds nice but it does not apply to everything. I mean sure for films 5 years may work but music is a different beast and paintings even more so. How do you balance all of these mediums and not punish artists who get dropped from their label when their copyright ends? This is not a black and white issue, it needs to be based on something like sales for music/videos but that would encourage format switchs and 2 minutes of extra footage added every 4 years to sell yet another box set. Or shows like Family guy that didn't take off until several years later in DVD form.

So what exactly is the balancing point between abuse and no protection at all? Do we make Mickey Mouse public domain or consider he's still being used today in new cartoons and hence actively producing content and deserving of protection for it?

Re:Why abolish copyright? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19014647)

If it were up to me I'd say 50 years. If that were the law of the land, right about now the early classic rock 'n roll records would be falling into the public domain, with the early Beatles to look forward to in less than a decade. All the black and white Hollywood classics from the '30s and '40s would be public domain. That sounds about right.

Sixty years would be a good compromise, which is a bit less than the average person's lifespan and a bit more than their adult lifespan (after age 18). I think this is about what it used to be before Disney and others got into the business of lobbying for extensions.

Re:Why abolish copyright? (1)

paraax (126484) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014709)

While I'm not defending the 5 years as the ideal length of protection, arguing that just because something is commercially viable it shouldn't be public domain seems odd. Mozart appears to be commercially viable still. There are stations who happily play his music. Should his work still enjoy copyright? The whole idea it to find the point where incentive is balanced with the overall cultural good. I personally like the 14 year original term of copyright. Especially in today's world I think it would serve its purpose.

And yes I am going to ignore Mickey Mouse. Perhaps trademark can help the Disney corporation maintain control over their aging creation. I don't believe copyright is the right tool after this length of time.

Re:Why abolish copyright? (1)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014743)

Mickey Mouse copyrights no longer support Walt, they support a business. That is not what they were meant to do. When Walt died, copyrights are gone, end of story. business interests should not be able to inherit the rights of individuals. If Walt sold the copyrights to his company, they should still fall to public domain when he dies, no arguing. If you want to argue that he should be able to bequeath such benefits to his children, I might compromise at 5 years past death, but at that point they fall to public domain. Copyright is to protect the content creator in order to allow them to profit from their art, not a business, not their heirs, not some person who has never even met the artist. In my view, business owned copyrights should be pushed to public domain after a maximum of 10 years, or revert to the original artist(s) if they are still alive.

Re:Why abolish copyright? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19014737)

How about a clause that says if one uses it to make money then it's a breach. But non-profit use is okay. Would screw the music industry, but these days who cares. Would at least save the general public a lot of trouble, and maybe let aid organisations copy patented drugs in a non-profit fashion for the third world without problems.

Re:Why abolish copyright? (1)

noigmn (929935) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014811)

In this sense businesses are still enforced to pay for software and everything also, because they are using it toward making money. I'm sure when they put the law there they didn't want it to be a means for large companies to make mass attacks on the general public. More a means for companies to protect their product from competitors. I might be wrong though...the current use of it just doesn't seem in the spirit of things.

Err... (1)

Mukunda_NZ (1078231) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014357)

In a society without copyright, what is the incentive to hoard away your source code apart form just being greedy and not wanting to share?

Re:Err... (1)

DogDude (805747) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014625)

In a society without copyright, what's the incentive to create anything?

Re:Err... (1)

plierhead (570797) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014669)

In a society without copyright, what is the incentive to hoard away your source code apart form just being greedy and not wanting to share?

If you're happy with the idea of other people having it for free then sure, there's no incentive - but if you have some idea about (god forbid!!) maybe selling the proceeds of your intellectual effort, because (god forbid again!) you need to feed your family, then theres a strong incentive to keep it triply encrypted and locked away, because now you have no other form of protection.

If I work all day chopping wood, then maybe I want to keep the proceeds of my work and sell it to other people who want their wood chopped for them. Software's the same, theres just more choice. I can make money by:

  1. selling the source code
  2. giving the source code away and making money from consulting
  3. my personal favourite - seemingly giving the source code away (under GPL), waiting until a big community has built up, then selling commercial licenses under BSD to those who need to redistribute

Essay? (1)

solevita (967690) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014359)

Wow, I've never seen a blog post described as an "essay" before. If only my old university markers were as generous as Slashdot editors!

I don't even want to get started on the content of this so-called essay, let's just say that I thought there were some holes in it; but considering content or not, this was one of the worst "essays" I've ever read. I doubt it will become the victim of copyright infringement...

Wrong, wrong, wrong... (2, Insightful)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014369)

We only need GPL because of copyright. When it's all gone, all will be well. Trust me on this one. The only thing to be concerned about is plagiarism. Everything else is fluff. No matter who "takes" the code, they can't stop you from using it also. And without copyright restrictions you are free to build on the works of others and everybody will be given the opportunity to do just that. There is so much superior tech(Alpha chip!) being locked down and kept off the streets because of copyright. This must end now. Jeeze, this is so redundant. I've said this so many times, and many others have also, with much more eloquence than I can muster with my seventh grade writing skills.

Re:Wrong, wrong, wrong... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19014639)

And without copyright restrictions you are free to build on the works of others and everybody will be given the opportunity to do just that.

Where will I get access to these works to build on them?

Copyright (3, Interesting)

nlitement (1098451) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014377)

Copyright is fine as long as it doesn't go to idiotic extremities such as DMCA, causing obscure censoring like that recently on Digg or Wikipedia. Everything's good in moderation.

Another sophomoric Sunday blog post. (5, Insightful)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014383)

It's Sunday again, and there's another out-of-left-field editorial about Open Source just like last week. I wonder if Slashdot editors have a "flame schedule" to amp up the readership during what would otherwise be slow periods.

His argument is putting up a straw man that doesn't really represent what RMS and FSF think, and then knocking it down.

The FSF stance is that good software comes with source code and with a particular set of rights which should be yours regardless of whether copyright can be used to enforce those rights or not. Perhaps it would be some other sort of law, or perhaps an ethical norm.

But IMO it would make about 100 times more sense to argue about software patents at the moment, because they are by far the worse evil.

Bruce

Re:Another sophomoric Sunday blog post. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19014599)

Not all of us can make a living being open source gasbags, you know. If it weren't for software patents, I would be a poor man.

Re:Another sophomoric Sunday blog post. (4, Informative)

Bruce Perens (3872) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014689)

Not all of us can make a living being open source gasbags, you know. If it weren't for software patents, I would be a poor man.
Prove it. I looked, and could not find any patents issued to "Anonymous Coward". :-)

And by the way, my employer makes Open Source software for Wall Street investment banking firms. I am, however, also paid by customers (usually also Wall Street investment banks, but sometimes other entities) who want me to teach or lecture.

Bruce

Duh! (4, Insightful)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014391)

That's the whole point of the GPL. It's there to simulate the "no copyright" world within the existing copyright system. Go read some Stallman.

Re:Duh! (0)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014541)

I think you need to go back and read the GPL again. The GPL does not exist to 'simulate the no copyright world' in any way shape or form. It exists to guarantee that free software (licensed under it) remains free and available. More specifically, it exists to guarantee that anyone who benefits from software X, AND improves software X, shares those improvements with everyone else, including the original author.

The Public Domain is the closest simulation of 'the no copyright world' that we have. BSD and MIT licenses are close, and GPL is way later in the line.

The blogger is entirely correct that the GPL's (and other non-Public Domain licenses') teeth are copyright law. It is not a contract, and it relies on no other laws.

As others have pointed out, the blogger runs afoul trying to make the 'anti-copyright crowd' and the 'GPL crowd' be the same crowd. People who use the GPL (without having picked it blindly) know exactly what rights of their own they want to protect and how copyright law helps that.

Would we be better off without copyrights? I doubt it. Plagiarism would run rampant for at least a while, and create utter chaos. Even once it settled down, it'd still be a horrible world for inventors. Reform is definitely necessary, but outright abolition is craziness. I've said before that 5 years is about right. If you can't make your money back in 5 years, the idea is so complex that nobody can COPY your idea in that time, either. That still gives you the lead on them.

Re:Duh! (2, Insightful)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014803)

I think you can't see the forest for the trees. Of course the GPL is a technical document which exists within the conceptual framework of the copyright laws. But it's not there to enforce copyright, it's actually there to create a downstream channel where copyright is effectively nullified in practice. As long as you stay within the GPL channel, none of the copyright restrictions which always exist otherwise apply to the channel (if you try to leave the channel you run into difficulties however).

The Public Domain is the closest simulation of 'the no copyright world' that we have. BSD and MIT licenses are close, and GPL is way later in the line.
No it's not, because the public domain doesn't nullify the effect of copyright within the channel. With the BSD or MIT licenses, anybody can create their own copyright from existing code simply by saying so. I can take a BSD piece of code, slap my own copyright license on top of it (keeping theirs), and presto now the downstream channel has any copyright restrictions I care to put in.

Would we be better off without copyrights? I doubt it. Plagiarism would run rampant for at least a while, and create utter chaos. Even once it settled down, it'd still be a horrible world for inventors. Reform is definitely necessary, but outright abolition is craziness. I've said before that 5 years is about right. If you can't make your money back in 5 years, the idea is so complex that nobody can COPY your idea in that time, either. That still gives you the lead on them.
That's all political ranting. Some people like control, others believe that it's better to not have control. Copyrights were invented in Europe as a form of censorship, to protect the monarchies and the professional guilds. It was never intended to promote progress as such. Also, I think you're confusing copyright and patents in your last remark. Patents are intended to protect commercial investment, copyrights were intended to prevent people from copying documents so that 1) they had to buy material from the printers guilds instead of making their own and 2) the government could stop people from distributing controversial writings.

Wait (3, Informative)

The Bungi (221687) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014395)

I thought the author was going to make the mistake of saying that without copyright the GPL would be useless, but he actually makes a good point. I think the problem with licenses like the GPL and the Creative Commons are all about sticking it to The Man and a sort of social statement to the effect that IP ownership laws are broken, but they rely on an imagined legal and social framework that simply does not exist yet - and probably never will, though that's just my opinion. The efectiveness of these licenses (which overwhelmingly deal with distribution rather than use) wobbles on top of the very foundation they are trying to destroy. And none of them have addressed just what exactly is going to happen after they manage to topple it down.

I'm not a big fan of the GPL, but I don't think public domain or a BSD-type deal is going to work either. But for everything I've ever read from Stallman and friends, I don't really think they have it down, either. It's as if they are sitting there hoping something will happen that will validate their position and everything will be kumbaya and honky dory. What that is they have no idea.

Stallman can rewrite his license until the cows come home, but without some real change in the legal area it won't really make much difference. And piling restrictions up on top of the GPL can only go so far. Not his fault - that's just reality.

And that's just for software... wait 'til you get into music and images and whatnot. The Creative Commons are in the same bind.

Re:Wait (1)

chromatic (9471) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014557)

The efectiveness of these licenses (which overwhelmingly deal with distribution rather than use) wobbles on top of the very foundation they are trying to destroy.

Setting aside the postulate that the FSF is trying to destroy copyright (which I don't believe to be true), the word "copyleft" demonstrates that the use of copyright to achieve software freedom is deliberate irony. It's no accident. It's intentional.

Re:Wait (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014665)

The GPL isn't about the future. It's about making choices in the context of the current legal framework. RMS thinks that people should only use software that they have source code for, and that they should share the source code for the software that they create; this is well reflected in the GPL(and the idea of making choices is even better represented in CC, as they go so far as to offer more than 2 licenses).

GPL Usage Restrictions (1)

randomc0de (928231) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014397)

It's a license and it does impose some restrictions on or conditions for use of the work.
Sigh... I stopped reading here. Please show me where the GPL imposes any restrictions on use of the work. It doesn't. RTF license. DISTRIBUTION requires allowing redistribution. Usage requires nothing. To imply otherwise ruins any credibility you might have.

Re:GPL Usage Restrictions (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19014845)

Sigh... I stopped reading here. Please show me where the GPL imposes any restrictions on use of the work. It doesn't. RTF license. DISTRIBUTION requires allowing redistribution. Usage requires nothing. To imply otherwise ruins any credibility you might have.

So you agree that the music industry is not unfairly restricting your freedom when it asserts that fair use of their recordings does not allow you to distribute digital copies to others without permission?

Length of term of copyright (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19014415)

With regards to open-source, what is an appropriate length of term of copyright?

Is it really necessary to enforce copyright on source code for seventy-plus years?

What would be the shortest term of copyright that still allowed open source to flourish?

What about limited copyright? (3, Insightful)

Antony-Kyre (807195) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014421)

For the purpose of software only, what about limiting copyright for a period of no more than seven years? Allow a company to milk the product for all it is worth, then allow the intellectual property to be public domain. Maybe seven years is too short. Perhaps ten years is better.

How many of us use Windows 98 anymore still? How many think it should become public domain next year?

Re:What about limited copyright? (1)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014539)

That's absurd. Look at software we're still using from the 70s. Compilers, TeX, windowing libraries, custom software [chip design for instance], etc, etc. Just because something is old doesn't mean it's not of value. If I spend time/money making a software library that I can use in products for years to come, doesn't mean I should public domain it just because it's not new anymore.

The real issue is the openness of the software. vendor lockin is a very real problem that people seem to skim over. Which is what the FSF and groups like it try to address.

Tom

Re:What about limited copyright? (1)

Antony-Kyre (807195) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014601)

Let me change my idea.

What about letting copyrights expire on software that is no longer being sold? I don't know if abandonware is the correct term.

Re:What about limited copyright? (1)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014637)

It can. The owners have to decide to give it out as public domain. It's *their* choice.

Otherwise, this would just give companies motive to put other companies under and then steal their wares.

Tom

Re:What about limited copyright? (1)

bloobloo (957543) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014839)

TeX is public domain and always has been

Copyright has one purpose (3, Insightful)

mangu (126918) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014427)

Copyright was meant to give an incentive to creators while guaranteeing the creation would become public domain at some date.


Because of that, pure binary data that has no meaning for a human being should have no copyright protection, only creations that a human can understand. No copyrights for binary executable files or data that has been copy protected or encrypted in any form, only for source code or data such as video or music that is published in a format that is open and unencumbered by any form of copy protection or secrecy.


Otherwise, how can the creation ever come into the public domain? How will one be able to read those DVDs when (and if!!!) their copyright ever expires? What's the point of granting a copyright for something that has never been published, such as the source code of commercial software?


If you use copy protection in any form, either by encryption or by a trade secret, then you are able to protect your own intellectual property, you don't need the protection that the state grants you in the form of patents and copyrights.

Re:Copyright has one purpose (2, Insightful)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014619)

Mmm so many naive questions and ideas.

Of course binaries should be copyrighted. I mean we were copyrighting movies long before computers existed and they're not written text. Binaries are of value to customers and therefore should be protected from rampant copying without rights. Otherwise, what's the incentive to write software? Sure you can switch the business model around, but how many people would honestly pre-order software which they've never seen before? Video games being the exception. I know I wouldn't spend $10K on a Synopsis license without first knowing they have a product that's been tested and used in the field.

All copyrighted things eventually become public domain. I disagree with the studios trying to extend the time of copyrights since many historical recordings should be freely viewed for educational purposes.

As for the source code of commercial software, the copyright is owned by the company, not the employees. So that gives companies legal recourse against employees who steal code. Often, customers are privy to portions of the software too [especially when you develop end user libraries], etc, etc.

As for the DRM comment. I think DRM should be illegal as it violates fair use. I think they're two separate issues. Sure they should have copyright protection, but they should also adhere to the fair use doctrines.

Tom

If copyright lasted a week... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19014445)

...or some such short time, GPL would not be needed (to 0th approximation) because nobody could take away your right to copy or use software. GPL is needed in places because people had been adding trivial mods to software and restricting access to it. If there were no access restriction in law, GPL would not have become desirable.
    Remember that in the ancient world there was no copyright. However the practice of stealing someone's ideas without attribution was frowned on, regarded as a dishonest practice. (Plato was accused of this by the Pythagoreans (who saw the Timaeus as a bollixed and partial theft of this sort) but the punishment tended to be in the marketplace. Copyright is not needed in order to have creative output. It was enacted in order to encourage publication of items that might otherwise have remained trade secrets. (Patents were for the same purpose.)
    Bottom line is you can oppose copyright and support GPL with complete consistency. If copyright did not exist (and some other abuses) GPL would not be necessary.

copyright (1)

shwayn (1040018) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014451)

the only reason that gpl and other open source copyrights are required is to ensure that the openess doesn't get exploited, and keeps other people from attempting to revers its status as public domain, the only real reason that they are actually needed is in order to protect their work from copyright not in anyway supporting it

Re:copyright (1)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014489)

Nothing with a copyright is public domain. Don't confuse free and libre, with public domain. Public domain software is *truly* free, just not always in the best of state since it can be exploited by naysayers by turning it proprietary.

Tom

balance (1)

Remi0o (1081389) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014455)

It seems to me that everything is about finding a balance...

No duh (2, Insightful)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014459)

The FSF and OSS movements were NEVER about abolishing copyright. They were about abolishing vendor-lockin and proprietary messes [re: file formats for instance].

GPL was always a copyright license, in fact, ALL licenses are copyright driven. The only terms which are not is the public domain which cannot, by definition, have a copyright applied to it.

Anyone who thinks OSS is about abolishing copyright doesn't know what they are talking about.

Tom

Right.... (3, Informative)

bky1701 (979071) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014473)

This is kind of like saying that if you are against socialism you should be against unions, or if you are for the death penalties for murder you should be for it for assault as well.

Just because you support the GPL as a good fix in the current climate does not mean you approve of the current climate. BSD fails for many projects because a company will walk in, grab the code, edit it a little to add proprietary components, sell it and hurt the development of the free project. See wine.

While the GPL isn't ideal, it defeats the "I am going to take your code, make a small change and call it mine" that wouldn't exist if no copyright existed in the first place. If copyright didn't exist, decompiling and DRM cracks would quickly negate any attempts to restrict use of code/programs.

Take music for example. Some guy makes a background track under the GPL; people use it in their GPL songs or pay (for the development of more free background tracks) to use it in non-free songs. Then take one who puts it under something BSD-ish. The RIAA comes in, sticks Brittney Spears on top of it, makes millions of $$$ and goes around suing people that didn't pay them for what they only edited.

Not to say that's likely, but it's a good example. If all open projects used the BSD, it's more likely than not MS/Apple would have just taken the best, stuck it in a proprietary package and sold it, making it so open projects could never get ahead or even catch up. Hell Apple already did this, with BSD itself none the less. How many times do people on slashdot alone say that they used to use Linux/BSD until OS X came around that had all the best of open software, except the fact that it was truly open?

So far as I care, the only reason I use the GPL and not BSD is because I don't want someone else having a full copyright on something using what I created. That's not why I created it.

Wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19014719)

While the GPL isn't ideal, it defeats the "I am going to take your code, make a small change and call it mine"

Nope. Only a willingness to go to court will 'stop' what you seek to stop. See Virgin and the Virgin Web thingie as an example of violation, and an unwillingness to go to court.

Hopefully for all your talk, you are willing to go to court when needed.

Can we please ban the posting of blogs... (0, Flamebait)

MLS100 (1073958) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014479)

Pretty please? I'm sorry but a blog rant is not news.

/MLS

The problem with copyright... (5, Insightful)

mehgul (654410) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014481)

is that I can't buy a certain book published in 1900, because nobody's printing it anymore. But I can't legally copy it from the library or download it from Google books, because the author died in 1956, and therefore it won't fall into the public domain before 2026. That's the problem with copyright, not its existence.

Re:The problem with copyright... (2, Interesting)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014511)

The owner of the rights could have released it under a free license, or gave it to the public domain.

Get angry at the authors/publishers for abusing copyright terms. Not the law.

Tom

Re:The problem with copyright... (3, Insightful)

frogstar_robot (926792) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014645)

The law continually gets more and more unreasonable and is pretty much abuse-by-default at this point. Mickey Mouse Preservation Act anyone? But you are right. Getting angry at the law is stupid but getting VERY angry at the tools that were greased into passing laws written for them by some lobbyist isn't.

Re:The problem with copyright... (1)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014701)

Well yeah. But my point is as a copyright owner you have the right to declare your creation as public domain. Disney could, for example, make steamboat willy public domain if they wanted. They choose not to, and moreso, to fight the terms by "Greasing the politicians."

Tom

Re:The problem with copyright... (1)

mehgul (654410) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014805)

Tell me about it... If you're a scientific author, in most scientific fields (not everybody can publish in PLoS Biology, for example if you're a physicist that woulnd't be so useful), you are pretty much required to relinquish you rights for publication to companies like Elsevier if you want to be published. Those companies then sell the publications for insane amounts of money, and will keep the selling rights weel into the 21st century, when we have flying cars and AI.
Of course you have the right to shut up (declaring your publication as public domain and not getting it disseminated), but that's not really the original idea behind copyright.

Re:The problem with copyright... (1)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014835)

Depends on the text I guess. My first book was public domain originally. I decided to get it published and it only sold a couple thousand copies. Definitely not worth it.

If you think your text or results should be freely available, just forgo a publication and just distribute it yourself.

Getting your name on the cover of a printed book isn't the be-all of existence.

Tom

Re:The problem with copyright... (1)

SethHoyt (1024709) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014699)

The authors/publishers have no incentive to release the out-of-print works under the current system. That is why the blame rests with the system itself. Copyrights are designed to provide sufficient incentive for the creation of works that are useful to the public. In order to achieve this goal, the works must be released to the public while they remain useful. The limited-time monopoly rights need not last any longer than is necessary to encourage the initial creation of the works.

Re:The problem with copyright... (1)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014727)

Again, nothing stops the owners from doing it themselves. These are in fact two separate issues. One is how politicians are lobbied to do the bidding of greedy corporations, the other is of owners not releasing their creations under useful license terms.

Tom

Re:The problem with copyright... (1)

chromatic (9471) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014827)

Again, nothing stops the owners from doing it themselves.

Some owners are long gone.

Re:The problem with copyright... (1)

mehgul (654410) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014713)

The author: - was an archeologist who was publishing for the dissemination of knowledge and academic credit. He probably didn't put much into thinking about copyright, especially since it was in 1900. - the author/publishers were not the ones who voted an extension of copyright from 50 years to 70 years post-mortem. I have nothing against reasonable laws. That's when they become unreasonable that one can get 'angry' (it's more like I'm annoyed, and it's not like I didn't already illegally copy the book).

Re:The problem with copyright... (5, Informative)

Dirtside (91468) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014809)

In this case you're wrong; anything published before 1923 is now in the public domain, regardless of when the author died. Source: Cornell [cornell.edu]

Then open source will have to go too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19014505)

It is a well known fact that the abolition of copyright is one of the most important steps that could be taken to better the lives of people everywhere. The millions of lives ruined by the scheming of the RIAA and MPAA should be evidence enough of that fact.

In this day and age of digital reproduction, giving anyone a monopoly on the reproduction and distribution of creative works is tantamount to denying the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to any but a handful of wealthy corporations. Humans naturally share and seek out information, and the stranglehold of the RIAA, MPAA and others have on vital resources of the mind is unacceptable.

Copyright is theft. If the freeing of humankind from the shackles of copyright will involve the elimination of that quaint twentieth-century artifact, "open source", then that is a small price to be paid.

Fallacy of the excluded middle (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19014549)

The article claims you can either support both copyright law freedoms and GPL provided freedoms, or support neither. This is incorrect and many GPL advocates such as RMS do not like all of the freedoms that copyright law affords its users. For example, RMS claims on his site that the author's freedom to prevent others from sharing the author's work is unethical.

In other words: (2, Interesting)

cgenman (325138) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014571)

If you're a libertarian, you can't be for government reform.
If you're a green-peace activist, you can't drive to rallys.
If you're a vegetarian, you can't eat yogurt.

Now to be fair, the article has points that aren't drowned in sensationalism. Like, for example, how non-copyrighted works could be taken away and used by corporations. Which, in a copyright-free environment, would be perfectly OK.

The opening "joke" is key to understanding the logic. Either you'd sleep with someone for money OR you wouldn't, price is irrelevant to whether you're a whore or not. Similarly, either you'd never use copyright for anything OR you would, context be damned. So Open Source advocates who see OS as the only way to make something work under the current system are tarred with the same impractical black-and-white brush as a woman who would sleep with someone for enough money to guarantee a college education and financial security for her children.

Utter lack of taste or tact aside, this is just one philosopher shouting that a different philosopher should change their symbols, with no grounding in utility or practicality.

Without copyright, the GPL would not be needed! (1, Insightful)

rollingcalf (605357) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014579)

The GPL is in place because without it, somebody would take some open source code, make a derivative work of it, copyright the derivative work, and charging for it or place other tight restrictions of it. For example, look what Apple did with BSD.

Without copyright, somebody could make and distribute derivative works of open source code, but they wouldn't be able to copyright the derivative work or impose restrictions on its distribution or modification.

I won't bother reading TFA... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19014605)

Firstly, really now, how many people here have advocated or even simply personally believe that copyright should be abolished? How many people that you know do?

Straw man FTW!

Secondly, the writer suffers from a classic confusion of ideologies: GPL == Open Source.

Bzzzt! Sorry, try again next week.

Abolishing copyright would not be some terrible bane to Open Source. While there are any of dozens of copyright licenses in use by open source, the common theme is, share the source code. Removing copyright does remove the licensing requirement to do so, it would change little. Those who would share. Those who would not, still would not. Open source would not falter for that change.

Free* Software, on the other hand, would suffer the loss of it's pride and joy, the GPL. But then, to hear a FS advocate call for the abolishment of copyright is an even more absurd straw man.

* Free as in software freedom, not human freedom. Because software wants to be free... right?

Re:I won't bother reading TFA... (1)

Pantero Blanco (792776) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014723)

Firstly, really now, how many people here have advocated or even simply personally believe that copyright should be abolished? How many people that you know do?


Honestly? Quite a few. Not the huge number that some people seem to think, but they're definitely around. I wouldn't consider them a niche group online.

This is just typical FUD BS (2, Informative)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014659)

at least in my opinion. Remember, my opinion is worth what you paid for it.

Nobody is against copyright per se. What people are against is how copyright is used to damage the principle for which it was founded. Artists should have copyright to their work. Distribution companies should not. If you write some really nifty software you should have copyrights to it, not a patent unless it seems to revolutionize the software industry or some part of it.

What people (/. in general) are against is using that copyright authority to run roughshod over the public with it. Nobody really wants musicians to give their art away for free. What we see today is a backlash on the business model of the RIAA and their member companies. I don't think that there are many people that aren't willing to pay a modest/reasonable price for a CD. They do however want to be able to use that CD and its content where ever they want to, including loaning it to a friend, reselling it, or making backup copies so they don't have to purchase it multiple times. These issues have nothing to do with copyright and everything to do with how the **AA (and consequently the government) abuse copyright law to line their own pockets.

The people who write OSS software deserve the copyrights to that, and I often contribute to those projects that I feel I use and enjoy. Hell, I even once bought a copy of winzip. As far as patents go, even the USPTO/courts are starting to realize that the patent situation is totally out of control, and harming business interests as well as damaging the public good that it was meant to foster. Notice that recent rulings may invalidate the patents that Verizon holds that were used to nearly drive Vonage out of business. That is exactly the opposite of what they were meant to do.

To say that the F/OSS community in general doesn't like copyright or patents is absurd. What they don't like (and I'm taking liberties in speaking for them) is how they are used to drive unjust revenues at the expense of the public and the original content producers. iTMS is evidence that people will pay for content if it is usable, though I have some questions about how ultimately useful iTunes DRM'ed music actually is.

If patents and copyrights were applied in a logical and fair manner, producing the productivity and benefits they are supposed to, nobody on /. would have much of a problem. This truly is a case of the people speaking with one mind, even if there are people who can't figure out what is being said.

In a perfect world ... (1)

vandan (151516) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014671)

The point that the author is missing is that the GPL is not written by people who have any love for copyright - far from it - this is why they call it copyleft. One of the ideals behind open source is that knowledge is not a private possession, but a public possession. The GPL is a very elegant way of achieving this goal inside current copyright law.

Sure, it would be a great achievement to abolish copyright on knowledge ( intellectual copyright ) completely. But in the current climate, that's not going to fly. Therefore I think it's completely consistent to be anti-copyright and pro-GPL. The only inconsistency is in people's minds who can't appreciate what the GPL is trying to achieve.

The Author Doesn't Understand Politics. (1)

Pantero Blanco (792776) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014683)

I'm surprised this argument is still around considering how many times it's been shot down in flames. It looks like the author has no idea how politics works.

A person who aims at an extreme will first support more moderate positions that have a greater chance of being accepted. Imagine that there is a nation that contains monarchists, republicans, and anarchists. If the monarchists are in power, the republicans and the anarchists will likely ally to bring them down. If a state of anarchy exists, the republicans and the monarchists will likely work together.

Right now, copyright law is incredibly strong, so people who want to completely abolish it are supporting the people who want to reform it. Of course, it's not black and white, there are different groups who want to reform it in different ways, but this is a rough description of what's happening.

When copyright abolitionists seem to be righteously indignant about GPL violations, what they're doing is trying to protect a valuable weapon from being damaged or rendered irrelevant. A similar principle exists for people who support strong copyright law. They don't (normally) genuinely think they hold the moral high ground against the other two; it's just another weapon that they want kept sharp so that they can protect their interests.

-1 flamebait for the submission (4, Insightful)

Vasco Bardo (931460) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014789)

As everybody has already commented, this article is based on fundamentally flawed logic on so many levels that it is difficult to enumerate, so I'll stick to some important points.
1) You can oppose copyright and support open-source at the same time. In fact, if you do oppose copyright, you're only viable strategy IS to support open-source, while copyright is THE LAW and stuff.
2) You can also support a concept while knowing that it is unimplementable. You can find several examples in History books.
3) "members of the anti-copyright crowd cite the GPL (GNU Public License) as an alternative to copyright" is not an example of irony but of a practical stop-gap solution.
4) The "look at what happens if the GPL is unenforceable." is a bizarre glimpse into a strange world that conveniently ignores a bunch of nasty truths, all in all pretty well debunked on other comments, although I find it most revealing that the "world without GPL", does have DRM! The "dreamworld" turns out to be more like a "strawworld" [wikipedia.org] .
My personal opinion is that copyright has a place, and therefore should not be abolished, in a *perfect world*. However, due to the fact that the world is what it is, I would be perfectly happy with that bloated-and-abused-out-of-proportion-sorry-excuse- for-a copyright law getting abolished. So you see, I actually support and not support the same thing at the same time, and I have not disappeared in a puff of logic.

*puff*

Copyright isn't the problem (1)

wiredlogic (135348) | more than 7 years ago | (#19014819)

Copyright isn't a problem. For the most part it works as intended. The screwed up patent system is by far the most problematic member of the IP triumverate (copyright, patents, and trademarks). The only problems crop up when copyright is misapplied to support monopolistic practices like the production of proprietary printer cartridges.
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