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Intellectual Property

© September 2003 Tony Lawrence

You see that "Intellectual Property" phrase a lot now, and I think you'll be seeing a lot more of it. If this were the 50's and Joe McCarthy was still hunting communists, he'd be jumping on this too, because that's really what's going on right now: concentrated wealth fighting the very socialistic onslaught of Linux.

Geeky types tend to focus on the first word of the phrase and forget the power of the second. We're talking PROPERTY here, and that is the word your eyes and mind should lock on to. Let's take a look at some recent Microsoft FUD:

(from Interview: Linux usage raises big legal concerns (link dead, sorry) ):

The third issue is licensing. Linux people don't believe in Intellectual Property Rights. This is the biggest problem in the Linux world. How can one be sure that the code of software that has been contributed by programmers across the world to create this Linux software is unique and is not lifted from somewhere else? This is a big legal concern.

Not so bad so far. Typical blah, blah, same stuff Darl McBride is pitching. But it gets worse:

But this is not all about it. Let's look at the impact on the economy. How do you expect local software companies in the Middle East to innovate and create a healthy software industry that exports world-class software abroad and get a return on their investment, when Intellectual Property Rights are not protected? Why would they employ people and do R&D in the first place if they can't get commercial returns?

Now Open Source is detrimental to the economy. That's McBride's gripe too, though he whined more about losing eggs from his own nest than the larger economic view. There's a nasty little phrase up there: Linux people don't believe in Intellectual Property Rights. That isn't true at all: the GPL attaches very strong restrictions to the intellectual property it covers. It's just not locking up the property in the way that Microsoft and SCO do. The property is, in fact, protected: it is protected from being hidden away. Nothing says you can't get commercial returns from it. Nothing stops Microsoft or Darl from using Open Source to their own advantage, and in fact SCO does exactly that (quite hypocritically, some think).

Brian Proffitt of Linux today thinks Darl is preaching to a different choir than the "Open Source Community" his open letter was supposedly addressed to. That's usually the case with open letters, and I think he's quite right:

(from Editor's Note: An Open Source Letter to Who, SCO?)

Because I don't think this letter was meant for the open source community at all. After re-reading the missive from Monday, I have arrived at another conclusion. The messages in this open letter were not meant for the community: they were meant for the potential licensees for SCO's new Linux license.

But it's more than that. It's also for everyone else with intellectual property to protect. Like the Microsoft FUD above, it raises the spectre of bearded revolutionaries stealing your property. I think we're lucky Joe McCarthy isn't still around: a lot of Open Source folk would be being hauled into Senate sub-committees for sure. I'm not kidding about that at all: although it's subtle so far, this is being nudged towards a capitalism vs. communism issue.

Of course it's nonsense. Is RedHat a capitalistic company? I think that's pretty obvious, and their latest support pricing shows the economic model that Open Source uses: support and service. The fact that you are reading this without having paid for it is another example of "free" economies, and so are all the non HBO/Cinemax TV channels and the radio stations you listen to. Open Source is no more a threat to economic success than I am a threat to the New York Times or TNT movies are a threat to HBO. It does mean that HBO needs incredibly good content and so does your favorite newspaper, but all that is for the good.

The "communists" giving away the precious intellectual property that SCO and Microsoft clutch so tightly to their breasts are simply following a different model - a model very similar to that of the fashion industry, another business genre that manages to survive without the patents, copyrights and trade secrets that Darl and Bill see as critical to Life, Liberty, and the American way, not to mention the economic viability of the Middle East.

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