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Linux anger

© October 2003 Tony Lawrence

Thu Oct 30 10:41:45 GMT 2003 Linux anger

Link: IP Atty Says SCO Wants Judge to Rule GPL = Public Domain

Some of the folks who have written about the SCO/IBM suit are very, very angry. I can certainly understand that, and I actually share it.

But you have to face reality: Linux, Open Source and the GPL are under attack, and SCO's stupid actions are only a skirmish in that war. There are a lot of very interrelated issues here: the DMCA, copyrights and patents in general, and even the Patriot Act all have a place in this.

Making silly ad hominem posts attacking SCO, etc. doesn't add anything but useless noise to the problem.

Nothing is going to change my opinion that SCO has made a terrible mistake with this suit. But also nothing is going to change the fact that I am completely incapable of judging the actual merits of their case. That's not equivocation or weakness of character, it is simply fact: I do not have the resources or the knowledge to know the validity of the case or the value of the various arguments and counterarguments.

It is amazing to me that certain folks can't distinguish between an opinion about what our social fabric ought to be and arguments about how it might be changed. It's much like saying "I like George Bush for President" vs. being a campaign manager for same. The first is a valid statement for most any person (though notfor me!), but knowing enough about American politics to determine campaign strategy is a job for experts, and frankly I'm uninterested in hearing Joe Blow's opinions on that.

I have real concerns about the influence of corporate power on government, and those concerns include, but go beyond, the attacks on Linux and the GPL. These are important issues, worth talking about, worth writing about. Bleating about conspiracy theories, "scum sucking" invective and the like doesn't help any of that; it's just useless tire spinning, lots of noise with no motion, and nothing that anyone will care about in years to come.

It is also useless for non-lawyers to argue legal strategy. We can argue what we think the law ought to accomplish: it's fine to say (and I do) that the GPL should be valid. But tossing about words like "privity" and "cy pres doctrine" as arguments is pointless: few have the background to do so with authority, and it's plainly obvious that lawyers disagree on these issues themselves. Our wishes do not decide court cases.

Our wishes can influence politicians though. Unfortunately, these are difficult issues, not easily captured in short, easily digestible statements. There is a real risk of saying too much, coming off as yet another nut case. I remember getting engaged with a stranger at a coffee shop a few years ago; he started talking about "what's wrong with America". He didn't actually say anything I strongly disagreed with, but there were so many things; he went on and on and on and although I had no argument with any particular statement, I couldn't deal with it presented as a whole. The guy was a nut, and I got away from him as fast as I could.

So, pick your battles wisely, and don't try to take on everything at once. Recognize the related themes (the DMCA and the GPL are related) and try to focus on what might be able to be influenced.

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