Richard Stallman – Freedom Fighter or Pinko Socialist?


In this months Linux User & Developer Magazine (that’s right I read lots of non-Microsoft Technology), there is an article titled “Patents, the commons & and theft of ideas. The article is written with enigmatic comments by Richard Stallman. Stallman, in my opinion, is good at producing words, but far less good at communicating opinion of providing and substantiation for his comments.

 

First, a bit of opinioned frame setting.

 

FIRST, I agree that the patent law system is broken. Anti-Patent activists need to stop shoveling rhetoric and work to FIX the system by WORKING the system.

 

Stallman re-quotes include Sir Isaac Newton & Andy Warhol commenting on the predications of their works. Richard…. Comparative relevance please?  What does the fact that Andy Warhol permitted his assistant (Gerard Malanga) to create paintings that Warhol then signed as his own have to do with the argument that Patent law shouldn’t apply to Software?

 

In fact, doesn’t that make Warhol an admitted thief? And are you contending that because a famous thief purportedly accepted the practice that the rest of us should become thieves?

 

Linux Torvalds (who prefers to sue people for copyright infringement) was quoted in the article as saying “I do not look up any patents on …principal…because (a) it’s a horrible waste of time and (b) I don’t want to know. The fact is technical people are better off not looking at patents. If you don’t know what they cover and where they are, you won’t be knowingly infringing on them. If somebody sues you, you change the algorithm or you just hire a hit-man to whack the stupid git.”

 

So you don’t lookup patents because it’s a waste of time? Well so is speeding, paying taxes, running a stop sign, getting a building permit, and a thousand other things that are also ILLEGAL.

 

I don’t know about your neck of the woods Linus, but here in America, ignorance of the law does not buy you any indemnity.

 

If you don’t like the law – work to change it – but don’t say, I don’t like this law so I’m going to ignore it !!!

 

And buy the way, suborning homicide is probably one of those thing that you never looked up, but if you had, you would have found to be illegal.

 

Stallman is also quoted as saying “There is no doubt that software patents tie us in knots. If there is no clear and vital public need to tie us up in bureaucracy, untie us and let us get back to work.”

 

Richard – relative to your statements I have a few comments / questions.

 

1.)    On what statistical evidence do you predicate you blanket declaration? Point me at the data and let me evaluate it for myself.

2.)    What US are you talking about – it seems to me there has been tons of innovation since US Patent law was activated. Perhaps your “us” is…  you and a few of you pals.

3.)    What makes you feel empowered to declare that the world does not need legal support of intellectual property protection?

 

SECOND – I’m an Open Source fan, but as an OPTION not as an imposition. For all the lip service Stallman et. al, pay to “Freedom” what about MY FREEDOM to share my source or keep my own secrets as I choose?

 

To be clear, while I’m a fan of having the CHOICE to publish as Open Source, I am NOT a fan of the GPL.

 

I think the real issue is whether or not one believes people should have the right to profit from their own inventions.

 

If I invent something new and unique, whether it’s a new mouse trap or a new search algorithm, I believe I have the right to profit from my invention. I believe that the time, money, and energy that I spent to develop MY ideas should not be free for use by others because they were able to steal my idea and use it for their own profit (and to my deficit).

 

This has always been the American way.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I also think the patent system is broken. (I also think the Trademark System and the Copyright systems in the USA are broken.)

 

I think people who know little about technology are deciding what is and what is not a “new and unique” idea and I think that patent arguments have digressed to industry that really only benefit the lawyers (did is say scum sucking lawyers J ).

 

I appreciate the technical work of Linus Torvalds and the idealism of Richard Stallman. I am also grateful that Torvalds  decided to give his work to the world and thereby set a model of sharing, but I’m also grateful to live in a country where the law protects my endeavors to seek economic well being and improve my family’s standard of living by seeking to prevent others from profiting form my labor without my permission.

 

So why to folks like Stallman, the FSF, and GrokLaw feel that they should have the right to take away MY rights and freedoms to NOT share my ideas if I choose not to. Under their instruction, if I have unique intellectual property in for form of software and, even if I publicly declare ownership and use restriction, anyone who reverse engineers my code and steals it should be able to use it without compensating me, any way they want, even to compete with my business.

 

That doesn’t seem right.

 

Now….  Let the flames begin. J

 

Comments (16)

  1. Overall, I disagree with the direction you’re going here. But I’m sure I can’t make the case more eloquently than Stallman, so I won’t try to argue back.

    But a couple of technical points:

    – Look up "treble damages" – willful infringement is a technical legal concept pertaining to patent law. If a plaintiff can show willful infringement in the part of the infringer, some of the damages can be tripled (the license fees, IIRC). Torvalds may not be right (I don’t know, IANAL), but I’ve heard exactly his advice from patent lawyers before.

    – Last I checked, Linus lived in the USA.

  2. JoeStagner says:

    Hi Steve,

    I’m familiar with the concept, but I don’t understand your point.

    Doesn’t this underline that unintentional infringement is still illegal?

    Joe

  3. LarryOsterman says:

    Joe,

     If you KNOWINGLY infringe on a patent, then you’re liable for treble damages.  If you never look up the text of any patent, then by definition, you can’t knowingly infringe (because you didn’t know about the contents of the patent).

     This is exactly why Microsoft technical employees are strictly FORBIDDEN to look at the contents of a patent (the same holds true for most other companies, btw, this isn’t a Microsoft boogey-man thingy).

  4. JoeStagner says:

    Right,

    But that doesn’t mean that if you unknowly violate a patent that you are not liable for ANY damages. Just that your offence is not egregious.

    Joe

  5. On basic values, I want to disagree with everything you said here. But, just on basic values, I can’t help but agree with everything you said here.

    Go figure.

  6. AndrewSeven says:

    My father is an artist, so I grew up with the idea that intelectual property is important.

    I think that there are lots of things wrong with the patent and copyright systems, but I don’t think the the GPL-minded approach is going to fix it. Maybe more effort sould be put into the non-viral lic. models.

    Given a choice between paying money to use your code/libraries and having to give away my work to be able to use your code/libraries,my choice is clear. I will pay because I can add value and sell that added value.

    I guess Worhol was kind of like a corporatation. Doesn’t MS also "sign" works produced by its people?

    INAL, but refusing to look up any patent info as a way to avoid infringement issues might put one back into the "willful infringement" bucket.

  7. elnino says:

    I disagree with the premise here also.  Somehow the system tends to say that whoever files the patent "owns" the idea.  Why?

    So, if I’m in my basement, dutifuly working on some piece of new software or invention that I intend to put to market, somehow I’m at risk because someone else may have thought of the same thing obscure thing, thousands of miles away?  Why does that person now "own" the idea?  I did not steal it from him/her?

    You are not "stealing" an idea if you came up with it by yourself or with colleagues and friends–but somehow, you can still be violating someone’s patent?  Utterly ubsurd!!

    Look at Blackberry and what they are going through because some one person company likes to file dozens of patents on things they have no intention to put to market..

    Don’t get me started on patents on business processes like Amazon’s one-click.  There is no logical reason why Barnes and Noble should not be able to offer the same conveniences to their customers..  Imagine if the first store that used escalators decided to patent that "convenience".

  8. Sam Gentile says:

    <p>My apologies to my readers and my CodeBetter colleagues on one more link posting without original material. I have had an intense couple of weeks and the For Sale sign went up on my NH house today as we get ready to move states. I still promise

  9. Joe:  I believe what is being said about not looking up patents is that if you are not willfully infringing, then you just change your algorithm (or agree to some licensing fees).  If you willfully infringe, then there are some additional penalties you can be hit with.

    It’s the whole "it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission" premise.

    Now, is it the best approach?  I am not sure.  I too have heard this advice from patent attorneys.

    Now, since I do not have access to the article you read, I cannot be sure…but I think you have stepped on the "jump to conclusions" mat, and are mischaracterizing what the Stallman, the FSF, and GrokLaw are stating.

  10. AndrewSeven said:

    "INAL, but refusing to look up any patent info as a way to avoid infringement issues might put one back into the ‘willful infringement’ bucket."

    You didn’t say what kind of artist your father was/is, but let’s assume its painter.

    Imagine if, prior to painting something, your father would have to look through a massive catalog of other paintings, to make sure that what he wanted to paint had not been painted already.

    If I code something, from scratch, how can I POSSIBLY be willfully infringing on something someone else coded up?

  11. Damien Guard says:

    "So you don’t lookup patents because it’s a waste of time? Well so is speeding, paying taxes, running a stop sign, getting a building permit, and a thousand other things that are also ILLEGAL."

    Writing even 100 lines of code then comparing it against every software patent would take countless years.  It’s not a case of we won’t do it because we’re lazy – it’s totally unfeasible.

    "If I invent something new and unique, whether it’s a new mouse trap or a new search algorithm, I believe I have the right to profit from my invention. I believe that the time, money, and energy that I spent to develop MY ideas should not be free for use by others because they were able to steal my idea and use it for their own profit (and to my deficit)."

    It’s an idea and you may have indeed discovered it first but does that mean that anyone else who independently came up with the idea shouldn’t be able to use it?  What about their time and effort developing it too – just because it’s the same doesn’t mean they "stole" your idea.

    The basic problem with most patents is that they simply combine two or more existing ideas and developments together in a trivial way and attempt to protect that.

    Rather than work hard to develop a product or

    service on "their" idea they wait for somebody else to build a business around it.  Then they threaten and sue the company with their patent.

    Sounds like the only people doing hard work their are the lawyers on both sides.

    [)amien

  12. Eric Wise says:

    Private property rights are the foundation of a free market.  Period.  We must have protections in order for businesses to invest in software development.

    As for the comment about the blackberry etc that is a major part of the patent system that is broken:  You should not be granted a patent without an intention to USE it.  Whether this is a time limit (say 5 years to get a proof of concept) or that you require to have the invention built before the patent is up for grabs, but making a business out of filing patents with the intent to sue is bullshit.

    However it does show one thing about mankind.  If you impose artificial protections on anything, people will find a way to game the system, be it patents, welfare, price fixing, etc.

  13. SBC says:

    Did Mr. Linus "peek" into Unix/Xinu? Did Bell Labs have quite a few patents on Unix-based technologies?

    "and there’s Linux which is a ripped-off version of Unix/Xinu that was freely available in educational institutions back in the 70s and 80s"

    above is from a posting I made about a year ago..

    http://weblogs.asp.net/sbchatterjee/archive/2005/02/02/365951.aspx

  14. Sam Gentile says:

    My apologies to my readers and my CodeBetter colleagues on one more link posting without original material