[License-discuss] Private modification

Russell McOrmond russellmcormond at gmail.com
Fri Aug 9 03:02:27 UTC 2019

On Thu, Aug 8, 2019 at 9:50 PM Moritz Maxeiner <mm at ucw.sh> wrote:

> I'm not sure if it can be considered a good policy argument, but my point
> of
> view is that it's - at the very least - ethically questionable to take
> source
> code that the author clearly intended to be libre, improve upon it, and
> then
> keep the improvements from the rest of the world; or the sinister variant
> of
> it: Make it worse and pretend you didn't. As an example of the latter
> consider
> the following (contrived, but imho not implausible scenario):

Your first example is a question of method of payment, with source code for
undistributed/communicated software being used as a substitute for
copyright royalties.  I still hear arguments from people saying that FLOSS
is a form of dumping which lowers what royalty fees can be charged, and
thus should be declared illegal.  I don't see much of a difference between
the arguments in favour of demanding source code for undistributed software
and a suggestion that royalty-free software be declared anti-competitive.

Disallowing software authors the ability to control private activities has
a public policy benefit to protecting the rights and interests of software
users that goes far beyond the public value of the otherwise private
software modifications.  I suspect our evaluation of the ethics of the two
scenarios are quite opposite, as I consider allowing software authors to
control private activities including private modifications to be unethical.

Whether a company can or cannot monitor the activities of employees using
company equipment is a matter of government regulation of employers, not
something that belongs in a software license.   Once we allow software
licenses to attempt to preempt the public policy process, we are suggesting
that software authors should be writing the laws rather than legislators (
...  http://codev2.cc/ ).  Some of these authors may be ethical, and some
unethical, and both extremes will have access to the same legal tools set
by precedent.

As someone who has spent months as an observer and witness in parliamentary
committees studying bills, and being the only representative of the FLOSS
community attending, I'm always frustrated at how software developers get
so excited about implementing public policy in software license agreements
and yet don't bother participating in the actual legislative process.
Attempting to take shortcuts will always have consequences.
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