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Linux links of the week

BustPatents.com is a central information point for those trying to deal with the patent problem. It includes a great deal of information on how the patent process works, as well as information which can be used to fight inappropriate patents.

WhatWeNeed is a site trying to put together a list of desired enhancements to Linux; readers can then vote on what they would most like to see. Of course, it has some ground to cover still, given that "add bluescreens" is currently the most popular idea...

Section Editor: Jon Corbet

April 13, 2000



Letters to the editor

Letters to the editor should be sent to letters@lwn.net. Preference will be given to letters which are short, to the point, and well written. If you want your email address "anti-spammed" in some way please be sure to let us know. We do not have a policy against anonymous letters, but we will be reluctant to include them.
Date: Thu, 6 Apr 2000 11:15:01 -0400
From: "John F. Gibson" <gibson@mae.cornell.edu>
To: letters@lwn.net
Subject: Re: LWN's position on DOJ vs MS

>From http://lwn.net/2000/0406/

>In the end, it is not at all clear that free software will benefit
>from government action against Microsoft. Free software is on the
>rise because it is better economically - freedom almost always is. 
>A large, distributed network of free software developers are doing 
>far more to change the way we deal with software than the U.S. 
>government will. 

This is a common opinion in the software world, but it's
fundamentally misguided. There would be no competitive economic
environment without the regulation of law specifically crafted 
to promote and sustain it! Lawrence Lessig makes a similar point 
in a recent issue of the American Prospect, pointing out that,
at its root, the GPL is a copyright agreement, relying on the
regulation of copyright law for its effectiveness. 

Crafting the correct laws to support specific goals is a long, 
detailed process that relies on the court system and lawsuits
for exploration and feedback. The DoJ vs. Microsoft suit is a 
necessary step for exploring the application of anti-trust law
to monopolistic practices in the field of software. It needs to 
happen, so that the emerging body of software law moves towards
openness and competitiveness.

Another example is the recent finding that computer programs are
protected by the First Amendment. This is good news, right?
Or does anyone think we'd be better off without the regulation
implied by First Amendment protection?


John F. Gibson     gibson@mae.cornell.edu     (grad student + sysadmin)/2   
Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Computational Fluid Dynamics Lab
288 Upson Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 14853-7501
Tel:    (607) 255 0360        Fax:    (607) 255 1222

Date: Thu, 06 Apr 2000 16:39:51 -0500
From: Dub Dublin <dub.dublin@tivoli.com>
To: letters@lwn.net
Subject: de Icaza Speaking Ad?

Now, folks, I admire Miguel de Icaza and what he has done, and having
met him, know that it's impossible to stay low-key in any conversation
with him, but really folks, I don't think a puff-piece press release
from his booking agent qualifies in any way as news worthy of inclusion
in LWN.

Journalistic integrity should trump the cult of personality.  Along the
same lines, I've noticed a disturbing trend in the past several months
to take strong advocacy positions on issues even when there is
legitimate dissension on the "other" side.  (For instance, there are
many of us who think that a) resolving silly patent claims is a job for
the courts, not advocacy (that *is* what the law says), and b) weakening
the patent system by eliminating software patents, etc. will in the long
run only strengthen the grip that very large companies have on
technology.  I personally feel that in the oh-so-PC rush to villify
Amazon et al, we ultimately run the risk of squashing garage shop
inventors by eliminating their ability to protect and therefore profit
from their inventions.)  You'd do your readers a better service if you
backed off on the opinion (or moved it to a separate section) and
concentrated on the detailed "just the facts" approach that made you
successful and useful.

I'm not proposing that you drop opinion or advocacy altogether, but
rather to put it in it's proper place, which is NOT infused in


Date: Tue, 11 Apr 2000 12:30:55 -0500
From: Bob Kopp <r-kopp@uchicago.edu>
To: letters@lwn.net
Subject: UCITA Coverage

Dear Editor:

In Linux Daily News brief this week, you write:

> UCITA has gotten past another state legislature: this time it's Maryland. In
> case anybody wonders whether further education on this bill is necessary,
> consider this coverage in the Baltimore Sun: "Maryland lawmakers stepped
> bravely into the digital age yesterday, adopting pioneering legislation that
> will govern the sales and licensing of computer software in stores and over
> the Internet." (Thanks to Bob Kopp). 

While I agree that the Baltimore Sun is guilty of hyperbole, your brief
makes it seem as though the bill the Maryland legislature approved is the
same as the horrid bill that was originally opposed.  Nothing is further
from the truth, as any one who reads the amendments at the General Assembly
web page (http://mlis.state.md.us/2000rs/billfile/hb0019.htm) can see.
Maryland's version of UCITA may still have some flaws; but it is grossly
unfair to the members of the committees that spent two months revising the
bill to suggest that its passage is a product of the legislators' ignorance.

Nobody defends this bill better than Del. Kumar Barve, chairman of the House
committee that examined it:

> As I am sure you know, the House of Delegates approved a heavily amended
> UCITA bill.  There seems to be a great deal of confusion regarding this
> amended version.
> The House Subcommittee on Science and Technology held ten open public work
> session attended by both opponents and proponents of the bill.  Many
> suggestions which came from these work sessions were incorporated into our
> final version.
> Currently, there is no current federal or Maryland statute that specifically
> applies to computer software licensing.  However, twelve court cases have
> upheld shrinkwrap licenses and there have been no court cases to the contrary
> since 1993.  By passing UCITA, consumers will now be allowed to get their
> money back if the product does not work as advertised or was purchased in
> error even after having loaded on their computer.  Our amended version of
> UCITA also makes it clear that Maryland consumer laws apply to consumer
> computer transactions.  Specifically, the Maryland version of UCITA prohibits
> software licensors from modifying or disclaiming implied warranties of
> merchantability.
> Current law allows a company to disable software in home or business
> computers.  Under UCITA, this practice is outlawed on home computers by our
> consumer protection laws and is heavily restricted in the commercial market.
> Many of those concerned about the bill believe it gives software vendors
> control over your files and data.  Under our version of UCITA, your data is
> your property.
> The provisions do not change the law with respect to copyrighting and reverse
> engineering.  UCITA explicitly states that all aspects of federal copyright
> law govern computer information transactions.  The legislation also makes it
> clear that state trade secret laws and unfair competition laws are in full
> force and not overridden by UCITA.

It is likely that many states will examine some form of UCITA over the next
several years.  Rather than blindingly opposing the bill, it makes more
sense for free software advocates to spend their time ensuring the
legislators examine UCITA in the calm and careful manner of their Maryland
counterparts rather than hastily approving such significant legislation, as
Virginia did.


Bob Kopp
Bob Kopp <r-kopp@uchicago.edu>
Date: Fri, 7 Apr 2000 21:06:22 -0700
From: Seth David Schoen <schoen@loyalty.org>
To: letters@lwn.net
Cc: ralsina@unl.edu.ar, cp-legal@lists.lemuria.org
Subject: Re: Selling rights

In the current issue of LWN, Roberto Alsina writes:

> In both cases, signing copyright to the FSF makes no sense. Why should I
> trust the GPL more than I trust myself? That's nonsense.

In the Cyber Patrol case, which is the context of the article in which
Professor Moglen urged software authors to assign copyright to the FSF,
Mattel sued the authors of some controversial software.

As part of their settlement in that case, the defendants assigned the
copyright in their software to Mattel.

Not all of the software was meants to be under the GPL in the first place;
however, retaining copyright in the controversial software turned out to be
a bad idea, from the point of view of the goal of achieving wide
distribution.  (Maybe it was a good idea, from the point of view of having
something to bargain with in order to settle the anticipated lawsuit.)

Why?  Because, now that Mattel owns the copyright, it can claim that the
previous permission to distribute and mirror the software was a non-binding
"gratuitous promise", without exchange of consideration, and that it, as
the new copyright holder, is entitled to revoke that permission and halt
distribution of the software.

The legal issues here are many and thorny, but obviously Mattel's position
would be weaker if the copyright had already been abandoned or else
assigned to some other entity.  Instead, because it was retained by the
authors, Mattel was able to acquire it, which may make life harder for
anybody else who hopes to distribute the software.

If the FSF (or SPI, or other organization) accepts a copyright assignment
for some controversial software, it can try to use its resources (money,
legal counsel, supporters, communications channels) to protect the public's
ability to redistribute the software if it comes under legal attack.  If
there is, for instance, some question of the validity of the GPL, the
FSF might be able to do a better job of litigating the issue than you or I
could.  And, in that case, it might have more incentive to fight in court.

This is not a general rule -- it's just a particular circumstance in which
the FSF is a more "reliable" copyright holder than you or I.  That is, if
you trust in its ability to handle lawsuits effectively, something which
has also never been tested.

Seth David Schoen <schoen@loyalty.org>  | And do not say, I will study when I
Temp.  http://www.loyalty.org/~schoen/  | have leisure; for perhaps you will
down:  http://www.loyalty.org/   (CAF)  | not have leisure.  -- Pirke Avot 2:5
Date: Thu, 06 Apr 2000 15:01:02 +0530
From: Anand Srivastava <anand@aplion.stpn.soft.net>
To: ralsina@unl.edu.ar, letters@lwn.net
Subject: Re: Selling Rights

In response to Mr Roberto Alsina's question, why should FSF be trusted
any more to keep a GPL software GPLed.

Hi Roberto,

I agree with you that you should only trust in yourself. But free
software projects tend to be co-operative in nature. People who are
co-operating with you on the project may not feel to trust you in the
same way you don't trust the FSF. Also like in the current Mattel case,
the project might infringe on somebody's Patents. In which case you may
not have any option but to handover the license, due to lack of money,
time, etc. While the FSF may be able to fight in case.




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