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The Column icon The Column: Issue 12

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The Column is a monthly feature that explores the world of creativity and aesthetics.

The Freedom to Give: Part 1 | Part 2
Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable

Serving Me Serving You

The words you're reading are delivered to you by a server using a UNIX® operating system, and as a user you form an integral part of the story that is unfolding between UNIX® and Linux.

SCO, through a series of mergers and acquisitions, has acquired ownership of the copyrights and core technology associated with the UNIX® system. In the past some of its code was readily available and easily modified by developers.

Linux, the freely distributable operating system originally created by Linus Torvald, allows any programmer free access to its source code. In contrast, UNIX® is a commercial product that is sold under licensed and whose code is now a fiercely guarded secret. Neither system is 'good' or 'bad', nor do they have an ethical component. The principles of ownership over these systems is however a matter of fierce dispute and moral rhetoric.

The Rights of Authors

The court case between UNIX® and Linux lays bare our motivations and drive to create. SCO's position presents a profit driven model, while the Linux position asserts a non-profit model.

The case for the profit driven model was presented by Justice Ginsberg who stated:

'...the economic philosophy behind the Copyright Clause is the conviction that encouragement of individual effort by personal gain is the best way to advance public welfare through the talents of authors and inventors. Accordingly, copyright law celebrates the profit motive, recognizing that the incentive to profit from the exploitation of copyrights will rebound to the public benefit by resulting in the proliferation of knowledge.

The profit motive is the engine that ensures the progress of science. Rewarding authors for their creative labour and promoting progress are thus complementary... copyright law serves public ends by providing individuals with an incentive to pursue private ones...'

Justice Ginsberg

The Free Software Foundation (FSF), Red Hat, and other General Public License (GPL) advocates believe progress is best advanced by eliminating the profit motive from software development by providing free, unrestricted access to software innovations. Justice Breyer summed up this position in the same court room by stating:

'The Clause (relating in the US Constitution to copyright) does not exist to provide a special private benefit, but to stimulate artistic creativity for the general public good. The reward is a means, not an end.'

Justice Breyer

Neither position however is as black and white as the statements above suggest. There are many who work in a commercial context who also contribute their time and energies to 'non-commercial activities, indeed commercial software often significantly benefits non-profit-making organisations. Likewise, a significant motivation that characterises the development of free software is its use as a marketing vehicle for commercial products.

The Freedom to Create

Freedom is not a license to do as you wish. The essential component that any community requires to grow and develop is a constitution, a collection of rules that governs who can be a valid member of the community, and how they must act. Without rules communities perish.

In these early days of the Internet the rule book of terms and conditions will continue to take the place of a more formal constitutional model. I've no doubt the creative communities of the future where technologies have developed which exploit the Internet's full potential, can become places of great learning and opportunity which surpass those in the concrete world, but all depends on the vision and determination of a few people.

It's up to us to nurture creativity by giving freely. You have the skills and the context to make a difference...

The Freedom to Give: Part 1 | Part 2


AbleStable® welcomes feedback on The Column. Go to Feedback, complete the form, and make your views known.

Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author.

If you observe inaccuracies in our in-house contributions or wish to contribute an article or review to be included at AbleStable® visit Feedback.

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