Solana Larsen: Do you think technology is replacing legal copyright restrictions?
Eric Raymond: Indeed, what we are seeing is more and more an attempt to use various security and rights management technologies to extend or replace things that were previously legal protections. Increasingly, instead of relying on courts to prevent you from getting at proprietary content, entertainment and software companies are putting things under technological lock and key, and only using the courts as a backstop.
In general, this is positive. When you take things out of the hands of the law, people usually benefit. Who was the famous English lawyer that pointed out that the law tends to be an arse? This is nowhere more true than in fast moving areas like software and even entertainment technology.
But I am not a fan of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). I think if entertainment companies want to protect their content, they shouldnt rely on the courts to backstop them. They shouldnt be using coercive power. Instead they actually ought to come up with technology that is really good and really sound, and accomplishes what they want. Apparently however, theyre incapable of doing that.
ER: Because some of the problems they want to solve are impossible. Ultimately digital rights management doesnt work if people have access to general-purpose computers. The thing is; whatever software security measures you create, if people have access to general-purpose computers, they can emulate an environment that looks to the software as though theyre authorised to do whatever they want.
SL: Is that fair?
ER: Well that depends. I would say that if you were talking about making personal copies onto different mediums for backup purposes thats definitely fair.
Theres a sort of market equilibrium in these things. If content creators dont cede the reader enough rights, then readers will stop buying their product, or seek ways to circumvent the protections that have been put in place. On the other hand, if proprietors dont have enough rights so that they get rewarded for generating content, then content doesnt get generated. So theres a market balance in these things. As there is in most other things.
SL: Is this different for software?
One thing that is unusual about software relative to other kinds of intellectual property is that there are fairly high and stringent requirements for continual intellectual input into the product. Software needs bug fixes. It needs service. Theres a sort of natural after-market. Because thats the case, Open Source software is economically viable.
As Ive pointed out in some of my papers the software industry really has the economic structure of a service industry rather than a product industry. Most other kinds of intellectual property dont have that kind of natural after-market. They reach a final form, which is essentially static, and therefore Im not sure that an equivalent of Open Source is viable elsewhere. Certainly, I dont see any obvious way in which its viable for music or literary works.
SL: How is your work different from that of Richard Stallman?
ER: For him, what he calls Free Software is very much a moral crusade. It almost has the character of a religion. Hes passionately involved in all kinds of arguments about the nature and appropriate scope of intellectual property. I care much less about that. To me, Open Source is not particularly a moral or a legal issue. Its an engineering issue. I advocate Open Source, because very pragmatically, I think it leads to better engineering results and better economic results. I want programmers to be able to do good work within the system, instead of being constantly frustrated. I want consumers to get software thats reliable and stable, and feature-full and transparent for their inspection. Thats a goal of a somewhat different order than Richards. And yes, we argue about it sometimes
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