"rights" and "freedoms"

Justin Wells jread at semiotek.com
Fri Oct 15 17:54:31 UTC 1999

On Fri, Oct 15, 1999 at 06:34:22AM -0700, L. Peter Deutsch wrote:

> >> Also, hardly any programmers have any right to receive royalties derived
> >> from the works they create. It's very rare. The vast majority of programmers
> >> exchange a programming service for a regular paycheque, and grant all rights
> >> to their work to the company that pays them.
> This doesn't defuse my comment, it just pushes it back one level: they are
> being paid by the *company's* ability to charge per-unit fees for the
> software.  (This is for externally sold software: see below regarding
> internal software.)

You're not getting my point. There would be no such thing as externally
sold software, and it wouldn't matter to programmers. It would only matter
to the managers of programmers who are collecting royalties. Programmers
themselves have no reason to care. 

Right now programmers working at shrinkwrap software houses do not collect
any royalties on their work, so that in and of itself offers them no 
incentive. They only get paid for the actual services they provide. 

Under a free software model the shrinkwrap company would not exist, but 
the programmers would still exist, and they would still get paid: by 
providing services directly to the end-user of the software. They don't
collect any royalties in this case either. Royalties are irrelevant to
the programmer in both cases. 

It's just a matter of whether you get paid for your services by a 
middleman (essentially a speculator hoping to resell your work to 
someone else for more money) or by the consumer (a company trying to 
use some software, looking for some help).

The free software model changes who signs the cheque made out to the 
programmer, but it doesn't change that in either case they are getting
paid for providing services. It's just structured differently. 

I used to work at a shrinkwrap software company, and users of my work 
paid the company, which in turn paid me for the service of creating 
the work. Now I develop free software, and users of my work pay me 
to help them integrate it into their business. The initial investment 
I put into developing my software has generated a nice consulting 
business for me.

Another viable business model is that a programmer works directly for 
the end-user, developing software needed in that business. They release 
their work to the public since it helps a lot to have additional eyes 
and hands improving and fixing the product. Once again royalties are 
irrelevant, and the programmer gets paid for services rendered.

You made a big deal out of royalties, claiming that they are really 
important and programmers wouldn't get paid without them. Closer 
inspection reveals that programmers rarely have anything to do with 
royalties--only software speculators care about that, and they tend
not to be programmers.

> You can't get something for nothing.  A FS/OSS distribution company like Red
> Hat can't hike the prices for its value added high enough to employ a large
> development staff.  If they do, they'll eventually be undercut by someone
> who doesn't.  Paying a premium for the brand name only stretches so far.

That's not clear. RedHat is positioning itself to be the highest profile 
Linux company there is--that should translate into a lot of contracts 
supporting and installing Linux. Systems integration is a very profitable
business, don't underestimate the size of the development team that 
can maintain.

> > More than that.  Something like 90% of programmers are working on software
> > for internal company use only.  How is free software going to take away
> > these jobs?
> By reducing the amount of effort required to work around the problems of the
> black-box environments in which those programmers are having to solve their
> problems today, by reducing the number of those problems in the first place,
> and eventually by producing better environments.  It won't take away all of
> them, but it will take away some of them.  Also, as FS/OSS catches on, some
> of that software that would be useful to others will become openly
> available, reducing the "reinventing the wheel" that goes on now and further
> reducing the need for programmers.

You are imagining that there is some limit on human imagination. So long as 
there is a disparity between the software that people can imagine they 
would like to have, and the capability of programmers to produce it, there
will not be a shortage of demand.

I promise you, as soon as you deliver some software to a company, they 
dream up something new they'd like to have. People dream things up these
new things a lot faster than programmers can create them.

If that ever changes programmers will take a pay cut, and they will take 
that pay cut whether or not they work for a shrinkwrap software company 
or as free software system integrators.

> It still floors me that the FS movement effectively values the activities of
> distributors (who are entitled to be paid by the unit for providing FS) more
> highly than those of programmers (who aren't).  But maybe that is an
> accurate reflection of the value perceived by the user.

I think you just haven't looked closely enough at where money changes 
hands. You see that people aren't selling any software, and think that 
they aren't getting any money. If you develop an important free software
program, you will find no shortage of paid work, helping end users 
integrate and use it in their business.


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