[Israel.pm] OT: Copying intangible property

Jason Elbaum Jason.Elbaum at motorola.com
Wed Mar 24 09:22:04 PST 2004

Mikhael Goikhman wrote:

 > But I guess, this is totally off topic here. :)

Yes, but the topic seems to have a life of its own for now.

> Consider this case, some monopoly X sells some product charging $1000.
> Another company Y arrives and presents a similar product for $100.
> Your morality says Y is stealing from X.

No it doesn't. Company Y is not using company X's product without 
permission. Company Y is developing and selling its own product. I 
described as stealing "benefiting from [someone else's] labor without 
permission". Clearly that can be refined (what constitutes benefit? what 
constitutes labor? what constitutes permission?), but it certainly 
doesn't cover benefiting from your own labor in a way that harms someone 
else's income.

> Think about customers. It is just unrealistic (and unmoral either) to
> require customers to always pay $1000 on something costing several
> sheckels in mass production.

Software is very expensive to produce. The cost of copying and 
distributing it is a small fraction of the actual cost (and value) of 
the product. There is nothing immoral about requiring customers to pay 
for the cost of development, maintenance, marketing and profits, along 
with the minimal cost of copying and distribution.

Whether it is realistic is up to the market to determine.

Without allowing the producer to control copying and distribution, the 
availability of complex software products will be severely limited.

> I imagine Einstein demanding everyone $1000 to learn his
> physical laws. The knowledge does not work this way. If you believe that
> knowledge should be free (i.e. anyone may transfer his knowledge to
> someone else without paying taxes to the originator of this knowledge),
> then you get very close to expanding knowledge to any other intangible
> property, like information or even software.

Software is not knowledge. It is not intangible. It is a physical 
product, stored and used on physical equipment.

Furthermore, knowledge is not free either. Plenty of people make plenty 
of money collecting and selling knowledge. Some of that knowledge is 
protected by copyright and some of it isn't. But it has value and can be 
bought and sold. This is irrelevant to the question of software rights.

> A lot of people believe this
> is beneficial for the human progress, this is why we have Free Software.

If software should be free and not copyrighted, why does "free" software 
always come with a (usually) complex license agreement, restricting the 
user's rights to use and/or distribute it?

Seems to me that "free" software folks regularly rely on intellectual 
property restrictions to protect the "freedom" of their products.

Besides, most free software wouldn't even exist if it weren't for people 
who do get paid to develop software volunteering their work in their 
spare time.

> Copying proprietary products are illegal in all  cases.

Not sure what you mean by "proprietary products" here.

 > Copying tangible products are unrealistic technologically yet.

The Chinese are doing an impressive job of copying lots of tangible 
products - minus the quality and cost.

> As for proprietary intangible products, many believe these restrict the
> basic user freedoms and thus are unmoral to even bother with. 

I don't see what makes software intangible. Software is not an idea.

> Anyway, if
> a user enters the troubles of spending his valuable time and bandwidth on
> such illegal copying, then there are problems with the product itself.
 > It is likely to be overpriced.

Says who? If someone goes to the trouble of breaking in to a house and 
stealing the refrigerator, does that mean refrigerators are overpriced? 
I don't see the logic here.

> As for proper earning on intangible
> products, the companies should sell services that have the real cost and
> thus will never be easily copied.

Who gets to decide what the real cost of developing software is?

Besides, if I create a product and sell it to people, why does anyone 
have the right to tell me how much to charge for it?

> Of course it is easier to earn for
> monopolies, they should not worry at all about this.

Only in the software industry (okay, and music) do major companies have 
to compete with people giving away similar products for free. It's a bit 
absurd to think that anyone can charge excessive prices in such an 

ObPerl: Isn't Perl protected by copyright and licenses? In what way does 
that restrict my rights?

Jason Elbaum

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