Re: IP Protection ...

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From: Stephen D. Williams (
Date: Fri May 11 2001 - 17:53:31 PDT

John Hall wrote:
> I liked the response, sdw.

Thanks! I appreciate that.

> [sdw]
> In any case, the benefit of open IP vs. closed IP is completely
> different in both quality and quantity (non-open IP has a much more
> limited lifespan).
> [johnhall]
> But the alternatives being offered are not 'open IP' vs. 'closed IP', it is
> 'open IP' vs. 'open IP PLUS closed IP'.

Sure, as opposed to 'open IP PLUS open IP' or even 'open IP PLUS
partially-open IP', but the closed part still has a more limited
lifespan, along with other limits, that dimish it's impact.

> [sdw]
> And "Open IP Laws" (i.e., GPL, et al) exist to prevent you from
> "stealing" the work you are building on to create your new IP.
> [johnhall]
> And though I wouldn't use them, I have no problem with their existence.

You can't avoid using a huge amount of open IP, although you can still,
avoid direct use of legally protected Open IP. You have little hope of
avoiding indirect benefit of GPL IP.

> I like the ID
> model: give away source to old, played out versions as you build much
> better versions.
> [johnhall]
> Though that is an interesting thought, IMHO it is almost impossible to
> revive a dead product.

Revival isn't the point. It's reuse and broad dessimination of the
embodied IP that becomes possible. Kids can learn and play with a real
live game engine, in this case, that was state of the art just a few
years ago. That's far more relavent than the standard '10 years behind'
that most Universities were always attributed. (And this used to, at
least, be true. It was at least 10 years after I learned to program
with full screen editing before all the punch card machines were gone.)

> In Microsoft's case, a bug on a very old DOS based client came in just
> before the duty of Microsoft to keep supporting it came in. Microsoft
> couldn't even BUILD the darn thing. The tools necessary to do so were lost.
> [sdw]
> You should say that they Believe they will be better off, or believe
> there's a chance they may be better off.
> [johnhall]
> While true, the people directly making the decisions have the most
> information (what they believe will help them) and the best incentives (it
> is their money). They might make a decision that you believe is
> sub-optimal, but that is simply replacing your judgement with theirs -- and
> you are in a far poorer position to judge.

I wasn't talking about making the decision for them or judging their
decision, I was empathizing with the situation where you don't know
during a sale if it's going to pay off like you hope. Optimizing the
sale cycle and prices is in fact predicated on fine tuning the point at
which you are believable enough to make the sale or just satisfying
enough to bring a repeat sale.

> [sdw]
> The ability to partially protect IP has caused this. Complete IP
> control or overly restrictive derivative and fair use work would be a
> disaster if it ever became totally enforcable.
> [johnhall]
> Yep, I can buy that.
> [sdw]
> The point is that anything that is desirable enough by enough people
> will eventually become a commodity. Since commodities, at the limit,
> are not profitable, companies move on to new products or niches. Part
> of the dynamic of GPL is that anything that gets a critical mass of
> interest, relative to the complexity of the problem, will become a
> 'project of the commons'. Companies that don't adapt to the changing
> market are doomed just as companies that ignore any market force.
> [johnhall]
> Time will tell.

Ask Unipress and CCA if there is a business selling Emacs now. They
provided the impetus for the GPL. They took the first C Emacs that
Stallman wrote which was public domain and created competing commercial
versions. That would have been great if they gave back their changes,
but of course they weren't required to do that. Stallman was pissed,
solved the general problem case by creating the GPL and writing the
original version of the current Emacs. He had a similar history with
Lisp Machines, et al. (See the book "Geeks".)

Of course the first part of my description is clearly evident. The
implication that 'Companies' (i.e. MS) are doomed is up in the air. MS
has too much money to be doomed overall unless they screwup their stock
market balancing act too often, but particular strategies or products
are subject to survival.

> > You are free not to buy his software. But agreeing to purchase a license
> > under
> > his conditions, and then violating that license, is theft with a capital
> T.
> Because of monopoly status, and reality, this is not totally true.
> Because of illegal tieing practicies like forced bundling with PCs, this
> wasn't true at all.
> [johnhall]
> I wouldn't count on the government prevailing on the issue of tieing, and
> the monopoly claim depends upon a creative definition of market. Ford is a
> monopoly, too. They are the only ones allowed to make Ford cars.

That's clearly not a good analogy. In fact, for the present case it's
not even important that Linux is gaining ground. MS did have an
effectively total monopoly for a couple years at least during which they
actively killed off any competition in arguably illegal ways.

Let's try a better analogy: Say Sony buys all movie theaters in the US
that are multiple screen, general cinema. The only ones that are left
are art theatres, second runs, etc. They refuse to lease any of their
movies to any non-Sony theatre. Furthermore they require exclusive
contracts with any popcorn supplier that prevents sales to independant
movies. Then they require that directors and studios sign exclusive
contracts. Actors that work for art films are banned from Sony movies.

Then they buy Blockbuster who then switches to only Sony approved
movies. Etc.

Then HBO.

Then they buy one company that makes film stock and stop buying from all
the others.

If Microsoft was not trying to tie their products, they would release
them on Linux. The stark absence of Office or anything else from MS for
Linux is extremely telling, to me anyway.

> Not the same knowledge base. Having the entire Library of Congress on a
> single disk would not impart the important and relavent bits of
> information needed to internalize and act the way we can, having grown
> up in our rich (money, media, skills, examples) environment.
> [johnhall]
> That is a very impressive point to make. Have you ever read Thomas Sowell,
> with his emphasis on unarticulated knowledge? "Knowledge and Decisions".

;-) Thanks. No, never read it. Seems obvious though, especially when
you look at how Russia (et al), Africa, and even Mexico try to duplicate
a US-style commercial market system and don't quite succeed. If 10,000
of US (US citizens) created a town in Russia, even at some critical mass
mix with locals, I have no doubts that, independant of faulty nearby
interaction, a perfectly normal market system would instantly exist and

It's quite apparent with Russia, more than anywhere else I have seen,
that they need to go through some of the stages we have 'needed' to get
us where we are. In particular, they have been deep into gangster
Chicago mode. They'll learn that lesson and move on, assuming they
don't implode or regress strongly.

Conversely, a bunch of educated 60's college kids who idealistically
start a commune will be able to make it work much longer than those who
have grown up scamming the system just to survive. Says more about
internalized social lessons than ideologies to some extent.

> ... unless you illegally tie enough additional applications into it.
> [johnhall]
> I really fail to see the problem with giving the consumer a better deal.

Short term vs. long term. Nuff said. Bill of goods vs. actual benefit
minus lockin, sub-optimal with no competition, etc. More than enough


Stephen D. Williams
43392 Wayside Cir,Ashburn,VA 20147-4622 703-724-0118W 703-995-0407Fax 

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