In Defense of Copyleft.
February 7, 2001 10:40 AM   Subscribe

In Defense of Copyleft.
"...during a legal seminar Tuesday in Dublin on 'Copyleft and Open Source Software: History, Applications and Legal Issues,' Free Software Foundation founder and principle GNU developer Richard Stallman argued that the concept of copyright is inappropriate to the digital age and restricts freedom and innovation."

I'm interested to see what people think about the issue of Copyleft, especially as it applies to web technologies and software.
posted by Hackworth (13 comments total)
I've always thought that development would be helped by groups and that companies witholding information on some technologies just held said tech back. Is that just a idealist's stance that would hurt tech oriented businesses or is it a viable way for technologies to grow?
posted by Hackworth at 10:40 AM on February 7, 2001

I always thought Copyleft had some really nifty stuff, what's the big deal?
posted by jdiaz at 10:55 AM on February 7, 2001

no no, not that...this.
posted by Hackworth at 11:07 AM on February 7, 2001

i've found that a lot of web designers/developers are HUGE fans of open source and non-copyright when it comes to products that aren't theirs. too many times i've read people that praise napster (even with the lame, and unprovable, rationale "i'll buy the stuff I like" ) and yet then become absolutely furious if someone "steals" the design of their personal site, or a site that they were associated with. why one form of creativity is open market and another is private property is beyond me.
posted by bliss322 at 11:13 AM on February 7, 2001

Well, that's kind of the difference between aquiring something without paying for it and passing something off as your own and aquiring something without paying for it and just listening to it.

I personally think that napster was kinda shady because it was a program made by a company, and they were out to make money, as a company must to survive. But I don't wanna get too far off topic...
posted by Hackworth at 11:33 AM on February 7, 2001

Out of curiosity, how does RMS support himself? Does he do professional coding? Is he supported by a university? It would seem that his socialistic view on software would be hampered if he had developed technology which is highly in demand. (Yes, I know about emacs and the like, but how many of you would actually go out and BUY it if it weren't free, especially considering the alternatives that are/would be available)
posted by milnak at 11:35 AM on February 7, 2001

RMS works at MIT. And who knows, he may still have some of that MacArthur genius grant left...
posted by snarkout at 11:48 AM on February 7, 2001

RMS has also likely got a decent side-income from various speaking gigs.


There's a mild distinction that you may not be getting. I also may not be able to explain it properly, so please bear with me. :-)

When you apply Copyleft to a work, you're saying, in essence "Here you go, go ahead and use this, but be sure that I still get credit." You're essentially copyrighting it, but saying in the copyright that anyone can use it in whole or derive stuff from it, as long as they acknowledge what they took.

Many of the web design theft issues that have been raised here on MeFi are thefts of design that have Copyright information posted which is then violated. Also, those thefts rarely if ever credit the original author of the works.

In essence, the thief is stealing credit, using someone else's work to forward their own nefarious goals.

In regards to Napster and like services, the argument is (in part, there are many aspects to this argument but this is one of the fundamentals of Free Information) that the original authors still get credit for their works. No one is putting a Brittany Spears (the Official MetaFilter Napster Artist Example :-) mp3 in their shared drive and saying "Hey, look at what I've done! I sing so good!"

posted by cCranium at 12:51 PM on February 7, 2001

cCranium - i understand copyleft and the distinction made with that. i'm a proponent of open source; i think it's the one way to insure the small business owner has a chance in the future of the net. i also understand the argument behind stealing credit; but i think that argument has been extended to explain away a lot of digital theft. if i start stealing designs and making my sites from them; but still credit the original designer (hey everyone! this design ripped right from the pages of - go give him/her a big congratulations on a great design! again, i'd like to point out that none of the design on this website was created by me; but, rather, by ) does that somehow make it okay? cause i can think of a few web designers that wouldn't think so. in fact, they just might say I've ripped off their intellectual property.
posted by bliss322 at 1:10 PM on February 7, 2001

and just something else to say too: maybe i'm focusing too much of napster here (probably) as my only example. i guess my final point is this: i agree with open source (voluntary open source) and, through open source, copyleft. i don't, however, agree with outright digital theft when that is not the intent of the creator - whether that be images, design, music, or software.
posted by bliss322 at 1:16 PM on February 7, 2001

Well, by giving credit, you would be admitting to the ripoff, which may not bode well for your reputation. I'm not sure of the legal implications there, but it maybe just be seen as cheap rather than something to sue about.

"OK" in that case kinda depends on the original designer's opinion about it, I would think. If you ripped off my design (I don;t know why you would) and told everyone you did, I might be more confused than angry and I wouldn't see it as something to flame you about. Nor would I see it as being detrimental to my design or my design skills, I would be more worried about yours and why you might think stealing a design lends anything to your site (unless its a parody). But that's only my opinion.
posted by Hackworth at 1:26 PM on February 7, 2001

So the creator should have absolute control over who sees, trades, his creations?
When I buy a book, I can loan it to my friends.
I can tape my rare CDs and give them to my friends.
A creator should be compensated for their efforts. But it is no longer feasible to enforce this.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:28 PM on February 7, 2001

: i agree with open source (voluntary open source) and, through open source, copyleft. i don't, however, agree with outright digital theft

Neither do I, actually. I despise Napster, for many reasons which are mostly irrelevant to this thread.

I was explaining the belief you described in your first post (designers loving open source, hating design theft) in terms of Copyleft. The designers (and programmers and other people who create stuff) I know who are fans of OSS generally do Copyleft their work, and in such cases are more than happy to see people who've taken their designs.

Many don't actually officially Copyleft their information, either, they just say "Here, go ahead, use this, learn from it, and create something of your own from it.

Bliss, I've pretty much stopped talking directly to you at this point, and am more in mild rant mode. :-)

See, the whole thing about Copyleft and OSS that never seems to get raised as an issue is that the whole process is about sharing to improve a situation. By sharing code amongst many people, it gets better (bug fixes, faster algorithms, say) but so do the people who take a look at it.

It's a fundamental of programming, and probably many other crafts, that you can't learn it by reading. Sure, you can learn syntax and structure, but I'd love to meet someone who can read MS's visual c++ certification manual cover to cover, sit down and code an application. Even a pretty minimal application, like a text editor. Most of the functionality of a bare bones text editor (add text, remove text, save and open files) is built for you by Visual C++, but if you've never worked with code, seen what works, what doesn't and understood why, you will not be able to write a succesful program.

That's the real strength of OSS and Copyleft, use the knowledge that's out there as a seed for your own, and share your knowledge as a seed for others. Everyone grows, everyone gets better, and Good Things result.
posted by cCranium at 3:12 PM on February 7, 2001

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