Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Why free software exists: Part 5

Intellectual property

In law, intellectual property (IP) is an umbrella term for various legal entitlements which attach to certain names, written and recorded media, and inventions. The holders of these legal entitlements are generally entitled to exercise various exclusive rights in relation to the subject matter of the IP. The term intellectual property reflects the idea that this subject matter is the product of the mind or the intellect, though the term is a matter of some controversy.

See Wikipedia, Intellectual property, (optional description here) (as of Apr. 11, 2007, 08:33 GMT).

The subject matter of IP is really vast; it includes copyrights, patents, trademarks, etc. In short IP refers to creations of the 'human' 'mind'. You have to treat human and mind separately, and together. The word human refers to a human being who has an identity. And the word mind refers to his or her creation that is actually a result of intellectual processing; meaning some thought has gone into whatever that person has created. And the phrase 'human mind' has both the meanings attached to it. [Did you noticed the way I treated the phrase 'human mind'? In reality most IP documents have to be interpreted in a similar manner; it actually creates a hell lot of problems!]

The source code you write is special; it is just like a song you write. It is your product. Everyone wants whatever they created to become known to other people. Actually this emotion is a part of us trying to be social. We all expect to be rewarded in some way, or at least get recognized. If you would have kept the song (or source code) to your self then this emotion will never be satisfied. Hence your motivation to create another similar piece of work will be lower than the previous one you had.

You would find it exhilarating if someone (or a few people) heard your song and said it was good. You would also appreciate the fact that they know you made the song; hence in the future they'd ask you about your future songs. But if its software you make, and it turns out to be successful, people will ask you to add more features to it! They don't look at you and say, 'Wow! Whats the next application you are going to make?'. They would be interested in the next version, rather than your next application. This is how software wins.

But lets say that you have incorporated some truly genius idea into your application, that actually helps people at what they had expected the software to do. You are happy about the work you did, but do people know that this is what you did? Your marketing manager is only interested in selling this product. Do you think you are able to convince him or her that the idea that you have used in the program deserves recognition? Well, if your idea came out from a research lab, then probably your manager would understand. Because if he did not grant you the publicity you deserve he knows that you won't work for his research anymore. Who knows, that could be the fall of his career?

But lets be practical. Ideas don't come out of labs only. Ideas come out of your head. It is a special lab if you want to think of it that way! Sometimes you need to make your ideas open to all. If the idea is flawless or perfect, then you will be recognized for it. All of this would morally point to or suggest that we have to make the source code free to be scrutinized. Only then people will know, 'Yeah, so this is what he actually did! Its amazing.'

This is what Stallman means when he says, that free software is what scientists would generally accept.

But instead if you were to work the other, truly evil, way, then everything you do would still sound fair. What would your incentive to create be? Profit? Money? I forget which. In modern society this is a serious issue we all need an awareness of. A lot of Indian companies can still learn from this...if it is not too late. Learn what? All of that is deferred to the next post in this series.