I recently read this article URL=http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/shouldbefree.html]this article by Richard Stallman on “Why Software should be Free”.
In it, he says that the concept of software having ownership is unproductive in many ways. First off, it makes software less useful because it cannot be readily modified for personal use. It inhibits innovation because a programmer cannot base her work off of the work of other programmers- every program must start back at square on. For this reason, it also makes programming less efficient. People are having to write code that has already been written, but is unavailible. Finally, and most obviously, it makes it so that less people can use the program. This makes the program less useful as a whole.
Stallman proposes various alternatives to the “intellectual property” approuch to software. He claims that before big profits came in to the picture, programming was a labor of love. People were glad to program just for the heck of it. I can attest to this. I have friends who spend many hours of their lives writing programs for things just to see if it can be done. He claims that programming is like art and music- plenty of people do it regardless of personal profits. If we can pay them a living, all the better. But we don’t have to offer huge riches to get all the programmers that we need.
He says that they slack produced by having a few less programmers will be picked up by the fact that they will be able to do their work more efficiently.
Stallman claims that programming should be treated as an academic field. Universities, public institutions and individual programmers could easily provide for our programming needs. Additionally, companies that thrive off of software (like hardware developers and support companies) will want to produce software to boost their own business. An intellectual programming community will thrive in the place of the current secretive world of programming.
It seems that Stallman has a very good point. Copyright, especially when it comes to software, is an artificial construction and has been distorted to the point that it severely infringes on the public good, and indirectly hurts individuals. There is nothing natural or obvious about it. If we rethought our ideas about software ownership, the world would not end. In fact, it would get better as we saw more and more innovative and creative code that is better suited to our needs.
The success and utility of current open source software seems to back up those claims, as does the proliferation of illegal software designed to crack games (those cracks don’t program themselves, and it is unlikely for anyone ever to get rich off of a crack). We’ve seen a huge amount of innovation coming from free software, and if less programmers were lured in to situations where their code remains secret (like most corporations) it seems that we would only see more.
I know that this posistion rubs some dopers the wrong way. I’m interested in what people have to say on the subject.