Friday, September 10, 2010


In committing to these daily posts, I was trying to edge out of my comfort zone a little bit, write about some different topics. Today not so much, and I hate to drag you readers back toward anything that remotely resembles a copyright debate. A recent US ruling on software has got me rattled, though. Ars Technica analyses it here, probably better than I will. The short form is: the courts have decided that the bullshit EULA that you never read anyhow is actually enforceable, at least when it comes to resale.

I think this is ridiculous, for a number of reasons. The first and foremost among my objections is that the software industry should never been allowed to sell you a license and not a product in the first place! This kind of example is getting old, but the copyright that protects a book does so even when I own the physical object itself. The copyright doesn't protect paper; it protects IDEAS. When I take my ONE copy of a book and sell the whole thing without retaining any part of it (except, presumably, for memories and any little bits of cover that fell off if I read it excessively)...the ideas contained within are not harmed, modified, plagiarized, or pirated. I had a material possession and I sold it, the end. With digital goods, we think it gets more complicated. But this is buying into a fiction that just because something is "digital", it is not physical. The information stored in your computer is REAL and PHYSICAL. It exists as carefully constructed patterns in actual matter in your hard disk. Yes, digital goods are easily copied blah blah blah. I don't know about the actual legality of this, but if I photocopy the entirety of that book I own and sell that to you - but destroy my original copy - I don't think it's morally any different from selling you the original. I guess the book analogy can get old or preachy or whatever, but I think it's unfair to grant vastly different controls and protections under the SAME laws to different art forms. What the hell is so special about software that the developers get to tell me everything I can and can't do with it. Authors spend a lot of time and effort on their craft, and seem to be happy with less. They're happy with libraries and interpersonal loans, and second-hand book shops (probably? Or if they aren't they're kinda curmudgeonly. And fuck, I even saw a book by AYN RAND that had been donated - DONATED! - by an eponymous foundation to some school or other, in a second hand bookshop yesterday).

I think I might be rambling in all directions a bit here, so I'm going to try and get this in order. I don't like the idea of software as a licensed service unless software companies start acting more like they're selling services, and less like they're selling you products with legalese copouts stapled to them. If software lisencing is going to be upheld by law it needs to be regulated BY LAW, and it should NOT simply be protected by law by virtue of it existing. Just because I own property does not mean that I can do anything I want there. I can't kill people in my house just because it's my house, and software companies should likewise not be able to write all the rules for their software. I think there should be limits on their power. I think that resale should be protected by law. I think that companies should not be able to stipulate what constitutes "acceptable conduct" (some EULAs say that you can't use the product to disparage the creators thereof, etc). I think that companies should not be allowed to terminate or alter these contracts without warning. I think that companies should have a responsibility to all licensees for the complete and total duration of the license. Right now it seems that the software companies have all the leverage over you, the consumer, and that's not really how things should work. Without some rules for consumer protection, the market is going to trend toward restrictive EULAS, which hurts users, hurts the economy, and hurts creativity. Again: copyright should NOT protect anything other than the CONTENT of the book, program, film itself. Filmmakers don't get to tell you what kind of reviews you can write. Authors don't get to tell you that you can't make your own custom cover for their books. Software should be no different!

I may end up rewriting this for clarity and continuity. For now I'm tired, and upset with the courts.



Daydream Believer said...

I love you dearly, and agree with most of what you're saying. But, honey, it's "license" not "lisence". You could also go for "licence" if you prefer (similar to the colour/color debate). That just made me twitch a bit.

Loud said...

That should be all of them fixed now. Sorry :p

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