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Robber Barons

© October 2003 Tony Lawrence

Mon Oct 13 12:48:23 GMT 2003 Robber Barons

Most of us earn our living primarily by actively doing something: we are producers, repairers, designers etc. When our activity stops, our income stops.

Other people earn by control. You write a book, but it isn't the writing that pays you, it's the control of who gets to read it. This form of income depends heavily on laws: copyrights, patents, trespass, etc.

The Robber Barons are almost always in that second group. That's probably part of why we don't like people who don't "play fair" in business: at some level, many of us don't like the very idea of income that isn't related to actual activity. I'm not saying we're communists at heart, but there is a real distinction between active and passive income, and "honest work" has that adjective in there for a reason.

There was at one time debate in the U.S. about whether software should or could be covered by patents. Early on, any patent had to be expressed in a mechanical form, and there is a very interesting story concerning the mechanism that was built to obtain a patent on the Unix set-uid bit. But that all went away, and it now seems like you can patent just about anything.

I'm of the opinion that software shouldn't be patented or copyrighted. That's a bit radical, but I'm not entirely alone in that. The problem as I see it is that there really aren't any new ideas in software: it's all been done before, over and over again.

Microsoft and the other Barons will of course disagree.

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