Copyrights, Licenses, and Money

Scott Adams has quickly become one of my favorite bloggers. He recently wrote an article Is Copyright Violation Theft?, which Dare Obasanjo later commented on as well. It’s always interesting to hear this story from the content producer’s perspective. Scott Adams makes quite a bit of money from his work, and I believe that it should be his right to control distribution of his work. He argues that if he did not have the potential to make a good living from his creative work, he would never have been motivated to do the work in the first place. He understands one of the basic tenets (as explained by Greg Mankiw) of economics: People are motivated by incentives. If Scott could not make money off Dilbert, it’s unlikely that Dilbert would have ever been created. If people did not have the right to control their creative work, they would be much less motivated to create.

In my opinion, this view can be equally applied to software. People are motivated to create software through the incentives they get through having control of the intellectual property of the software they create. The incentives are obvious for companies like Google, IBM, and Microsoft. For open source software, however, the incentives are less clear, but are present nonetheless. The Free Software Foundation, for instance, vehemently defends the GPL. For them, the incentives may be less financially driven, but the underlying enabler is the ability they have (through US copyright law) to control the distribution and use of their work. I find it interesting that an organization which so strongly defends its own right to control its work is so vehemently against the rights of musicians and authors from protecting their own work. On their sites badvista.fsf.org and defectivebydesign.org, they explain how DRM is an evil technology that prevents you from using your computer. DRM is a technology which allows content producers to specify how they want their work to be used and distributed (and thus protect their rights under US copyright law).

So this begs the question, is the campaign against DRM a technology issue or an ideological struggle? This is plausibly a technology issue, since DRM technology in its current incarnations pretty much sucks. Then shouldn’t there be a push to do DRM technology in a technologically sound way? With all the smart people out their working on Linux and related technologies, can’t we come up with a way to ensure that copyright holders can maintain control of their work in a technologically sound way? But what if this is an ideological struggle? Then it certainly seems as if the FSF is somewhat hypocritical, since it seems to believe it has the right to control its work, but musicians and artists do not.

My two cents.