Clarification on Distributed Copyright

Clark Evans clark.evans at
Fri May 21 16:57:42 UTC 1999

Sorry to spam you one last time.

For those of you who I believe have mis-understood
what I was getting at, here is an attempt to clarify.
Please respond to discuss at
(and perhaps subscribe if you are interested), please
do not respond to the others who are cc'd. Thanks

Distributed copyright is an attempt to balance 
the developer's needs (proprietary software) with
the user community's needs (open-source software).

How is DC different from Proprietary:

1. In DC the developer must publish their source 
   code so that others may compete for the change
   in the software product.  Thus, there is
   no upgrade monopoly.  Instead we have 
   delta competition, competition for the 
   change in the software product.

2. The developer must limit your return.  There 
   seem    to be two primary ways, a total community 
   price, or a time limit.  Alternatives include
   a mix of the two, stair stepped price/time, etc.
   Thus, competition occurs not only for the
   individual price, but how the developer 
   agrees to limit their long-range return.
   This is consistent with the US Constitution's
   requirement on a "limit" on copyright, in DC,
   we would like market competition for this limit.

3. You may not discriminate pricing in private,
   the price structure for each class of licenses
   (non-profit,government,commercial,etc.) must be
   published before the first unit is sold.  Thus,
   the entire contract to the user community is
   specified up-front, there is no individual 

How is DC different from Open Source:

1. The developer may charge for use of the software,
   however, this charge is limited (see 2 above)

2. You may build upon someone else's software, however,
   your price structure must contain the price structure
   of the products from which you derive from. 

How DC is different from both Proprietary and Open Source:

1. The original developer may not retain the trademark 
   for the product.  The trademark/domain name is sold
   to the community of users (with some legal form), 
   and then leased back.   The original developer then
   becomes a "steward" for the software product, and is
   able to use the trademark/domain.

2. Any one may challenge the right of the current trademark
   leasee, and ask to become the new steward for the 
   software product (aka, to be able to name your upgrade
   with the trademark).   This is done through a democratic
   process where the user community decides if the challenger
   should supersede the current steward.  

   This difference is needed for "delta competition", 
   competition for the change in the software product.

   Note: the developer _does_ maintain their development
   organizations' trademark since this is used for quality
   recognition.  The product's trademark is used to mark
   a standard, and this is why it must be open as well.

Why not Proprietary?

   For many domains, it causes monopolies, and many
   other problems.  After competition for the first
   version of the product, the game is over, a cyclic
   feedback between the user community and the complementary
   market effectively lock each individual user into
   staying with the product, despite better, cheaper
   alternatives.  This happens because the purchase 
   decision is based more on the availability of complementary
   goods and services, rather than on the product itself.
   New-comers lack this large complementary market, 
   thus even though their product may have a cheaper
   licensing fee, the total price is substantially
   higher because the complementary market is less 

Why not Open Source?

   Even though Open Source is very successful in many 
   domains, it does not seem to be grabbing hold in 
   other domains.  This has caused an emergence of
   "dual" licenses, where the product is released
   under GPL or other open source license, and a 
   proprietary version (with added value) is sold
   to cover the cost of the open source base.

   Examples include Transvirtual's Kaffee, Cygnus's
   Source Browser & Debugger GUI, Netscape's NPL, 
   and Zope's "above-the-line" code that is used
   for competitive advantage.

   Although it is nice that they are using open source,
   the use of proprietary techniques leads to the
   same problems open source is trying to solve, thus
   the developer appears to be 'contradicting' themselves.
   This dual licensing causes: (a) composite problems
   as donated changes to the free code base must be
   re-written or some how turned into proprietary code,
   (b) conflict of interest, as donations to the free code
   base that are in competition with the 'added value' in
   the proprietary code, (c) proliferation of more
   incompatible licenses that all try and solve the same
   problem. (d) a few others?

How compatible is DC with Open Source?

   I believe it is very compatible with BSD style licenses.

   It is not compatible with GPL.

   It is even less compatible with Artistic license, since
   they both address the same type issue, who has the right
   to decide the future direction of the software product.
   Artistic license reserves that right for the original
   developer, DC, like GPL and BSD, says that this is a
   right that everyone should have.
How set is it?

   It's not set at all.  Sorry to give any impression that
   it is.  This is why I'd love your feedback.  I don't think
   one person holds all of the answers, especially not me.

I hope this clarifies my idea of what DC should be. For those 
who have been helping/critically commenting, does this match your
understanding?  If not, what is your idea?  



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