Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
"Your criticisms are completely wrong": Stallman on software patents (arstechnica.com)
274 points by markshepard on Nov 21, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 198 comments

Richard stallman has always been eccentric and unwavering in his stand on politics around software.

Somehow, people find this odd, wrong, and or bad, and I dont understand it. On basically all political issues, unwavering is a good attribute. Even being an eccentric is better than not caring for the issue. eccentricness is often a key aspect before a change reach a critical mass.

Take a random politician opinion about abortion or nuclear power or any other common political subject. Say his/her opinion is "well, some should be able to do it, but then again there are problems so maybe not, and the issue is not one that need to be address today, and the system today do continue to work, and well, legal greyness is not that big of an issue, only for those in the courts...".

Clear, direct, and consistent opinion is a good thing. Diplomacy and "meeting half-way" has it places, but in politics, there is also times when it should be clearly avoided. In software politics, there are plenty of people working the diplomatic route. There is no shortage of diplomats, and a few eccentric and unwavering voices is then much more useful to maintain the goals of where we want to actually go without moving the goal in favor of diplomacy.

> On basically all political issues, unwavering is a good attribute.

Only in the movies. In real life, this trait can be disastrous towards making any progress for the betterment of society.

Ironic that the parent split the rest of this conversation thread into two unwavering camps about whether "unwavering" is a good attribute or not.

If you see Stallman's role as the personification of an ideal, you probably laud his "unwavering" position. If you see his role as that of a pragmatic politician, who should try and find small wins when large wins are out of reach, you see probably find his "unwavering" as impractical.

> Only in the movies.

You mean the movies made about people who were unwavering in real life? Gandhi, MLK, Lincoln are a few high-profile figures that spring to mind, but there are countless throughout history who have made a difference by standing up for what they believe in.

I understand your point, that romanticized notions rarely have a place in reality. But I think Stallman, even with all of his eccentricities, is the perfect figurehead for these ideologies. He is a believer, and that gives others permission to believe themselves. It's a very powerful thing.

I think we can safely remove Lincoln from this discussion...in any case, all of the above made compromises in their stances and approaches. Not because they were weak-willed, but because they were wrong and were wise enough to change tack.

MLK Jr's early campaign to desegregate the city of Albany, Ga., for example, is usually considered to have been a failure (in terms of return on investment) because the political dream of desegregating the entire city was seen as too big to effectively organize a campaign for:


> “The mistake I made there was to protest against segregation generally rather than against a single and distinct facet of it. Our protest was so vague that we got nothing, and the people were left very depressed and in despair” (“Martin Luther King: A Candid Conversation”).


What followed, of course, were the Birmingham bus boycotts and other campaigns with a much more limited scope. To me, this represents a "waver." In retrospect, we can say that MLK was just changing tactics and he never wavered in his belief against segregation...but is that something you would've guessed if you were one of his contemporaries? Or would you have thought, like many of his anti-segregationist rivals, that MLK was being an "Uncle Tom" and deliberately aiming for small-victories as to not upset the white status quo? It's easy to say "Well, MLK was unwavering all along" 50 years later...but had his smaller campaigns not gone so well (and he was most definitely not the only person making inroads in the civil rights movement) and resulted in only localized successes, then we would be viewing MLK as a man of compromise today.

The larger point is that effective revolutions encompass a large degree of compromises. Sometimes a leader will give on something to reduce the number of opponents he/she has to face.

So to the original commenter's point, it is not admirable in politics (art and martyrdom is a different thing) to be unwavering, at least by those who practice it and want a real degree of success.

Well articulated, but super thin. MLK changing tactics after failure is not evidence of wavering resolve or belief, only a recognition that those tactics were not effective. This is a straw man.

And with respect to "art and martyrdom" - These figures, all of them, had a very real degree of success affecting political change. The fact that they are martyrs is secondary and the argument could be made that they were martyred because of their political success. In fact, these 3 sprang instantly to mind when I wrote my original comment specifically because I think it's possible (not necessarily probable) that RMS could join them in both regards. Successfully banning patents on software could potentially effect a lot of people's wallets and history has shown this to be a good motivator for creating martyrs.

It's not a straw man. MLK realized after the fact, that if he had started with a smaller, more specific political goal in mind, he might have succeeded. That doesn't mean that he abandoned his values.

No one should suggest that Stallman should have to change his beliefs. Instead, he should realize that his goal is pretty much impossible to accomplish in the current political climate. Because it is impossible, he should seek to achieve the smaller goal of successfully reforming patent law, because a small win is better than a big loss. It doesn't mean that you have given up, it just means that you realize that you aren't going to win the war in a single day.

I think the point that they were trying to make was that accepting reality and compromising ones beliefs are two different things. It's unrealistic to act as if you can enter a conflict with a party that thinks you are 100 percent wrong, and successfully negotiate an agreement that gets you 100 percent of what you wanted. But minds can be changed over time. If we can place limits on software patents, and the changes prove themselves to be conducive to a healthy economy, then we will have an easier time convincing people that the copyright system is causing more harm than good.

> That doesn't mean that he abandoned his values.

This was exactly my point. The parent was suggesting that MLK compromised on his stance but presented only evidence of a change in tactics.

I agree completely with your other assertions.

I think it would help to distinguish that there are really 2 arguments happening here, muddying the waters: Unwavering belief and unwavering actions.

I personally think that unwavering belief in something is commendable and this is where my comments have come from. I think this is necessary in order to effect any real change as the process is usually long and arduous.

Unwavering commitment to a losing tactic, as danso points out, is stubborn and foolish. A person who is unable to adapt when facing challenges does no favors for their cause.

> There are really 2 arguments...Unwavering belief and unwavering actions.

This is what I was trying to get across, but you expressed it much more concisely than I.

> But minds can be changed over time.

This would seem to require -some- people to be unwavering.

I think we're not going to agree on what constitutes a change in principles by the time this thread leaves the homepage, so I've tried to narrow the scenario, which I guess leaves it open to being seen as a strawman.

But consider the gist of MLK's situation:

1) His primary goal was to create equality among whites and minorities. I'll agree that he never wavered from that. In the same way, every major figure on either side of the abortion debate, at every point in the continuum, will argue that they've never wavered for their respect for human life. The problem is getting to that big goal, and that path almost always requires wavering.

2) In support of my point, the idea of desegregation was so big that organizing a campaign against it devolved into a messy unorganized effort (current-day example: Occupy Wall street). When he tried to campaign against ending desegregation in Albany, he had very little success. He underestimated the widespread opposition to such a sea change.

3) In Birmingham, he changed his strategy to attack obvious injustices that moderately conservative whites could back. Yes, changing the bus-seating policy is a form of desegregation, but it was possible to change that policy and still have Jim Crow laws still be the law of the land.

So if you were an observer of the civil rights movement at that time, yet outside of King's inner circle, what could you possibly conclude except that from Albany to Birmingham, MLK has moderated his stance against desegregation? Certainly, as the audience that MLK wanted to reach -- the white status quo -- you could get on board with treating blacks more decently, as long as they didn't go to the same schools your kids do.

It's only after the successes of these limited campaigns that King himself could be seen as a successful leader of the movement. His strategy to fight small battles as to be more palatable to segregation-supporting whites was critical...and it was politics. Politics is about compromise and choosing battles wisely. The problem with your argument is that you don't see that one man's "choosing battles and running away to fight another day" is another man's "spineless flip-flopping appeasement", which MLK certainly was accused of being. It's only through the passage of time, when all those events are compressed into a convenient explanatory narrative, that you can think of it as MLK Jr. being a constant, unwavering political force.

I think our argument is over 2 separate issues (see below) which is causing confusion. I agree with you that approach and tactics should be malleable. But I maintain that commitment to core beliefs needs to be strong and unwavering.

I'm also impressed by your knowledge of the Civil Rights movement. I'm not sure that it sheds a lot of light on the current argument, but your comments are definitely a good read.

RMS hasn't changed tactics after failure despite being told -- and shown -- that his tactics are ineffective by fellow traveler Eric Raymond.

That's where Stallman's stubbornness bites him in the ass.

Bah, for ten thousand Raymonds you get one Stallman.

Both approaches are needed. Diplomacy will get you further short term, but unwavering commitment will be able to change things in a more sustainable way, longer term.

In your second paragraph, you have affect in the first sentence, and effect in the last. They should be reversed.

I think we Indians will spend a lifetime correcting "Ghandi" as "Gandhi". :-)

EDIT: To add to the discussion - not many people are aware but MK Gandhi was indeed very thorough in his use of Non-Violence and other means of protest. On few occasions when a protest became violent he was the first to call off the protest. When most of India & Pakistan were celebrating their independence he was busy caring to people affected by Hindi/Muslim riots. Having unwavering attitude is not just stuff of movies.

From Gandhi himself:

> There is no such thing as "Gandhism," and I do not want to leave any sect after me. I do not claim to have originated any new principle or doctrine. I have simply tried in my own way to apply the eternal truths to our daily life and problems... >> The opinions I have formed and the conclusions I have arrived at are not final. I may change them tomorrow. << I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills.[120]

(emphasis mine)


Haha, I knew it as soon as I hit reply. My apologies, corrected. :)

If you take "Gandhi" I'll take "they're, there, and their"

I'll take "it's" and "its".

You have those the wrong way around.

The idea that Lincoln was some kind of ideological purist is utter nonsense.

True. I almost didn't include Lincoln because of this. But even if Lincoln hated black people outright (highly unlikely), history remembers him (somewhat incorrectly) as a believer in human rights. In reality he was probably just trying to hold the U.S. together and prevent the South's succession.

But if this is the case, then it was his belief in his country that motivated him and that qualifies Lincoln as a believer. In my mind that was enough to not delete his name after typing it. :)

I used to think this until I read book The Long Pursuit. It's highly likely that Lincoln thought slavery was intrinsically bad.

It's a thin-ish book and I highly recommend it.


> You mean the movies made about people who were unwavering in real life? Gandhi, MLK, Lincoln are a few high-profile figures that spring to mind, [...]

Gandhi actually has some interesting quotes on this topic, e.g. http://www.mkgandhi.org/momgandhi/chap07.htm

Some picks:

"I have sacrificed no principle to gain a political advantage."

"All my life through, the very insistence on truth has taught me to appreciate the beauty of compromise. I saw in later life that this spirit was an essential part of satyagraha. It has often meant endangering my life and incurring the displeasure of friends. But truth is hard as adamant and tender as a blossom."

"Human life is a series of compromises, and it is not always easy to achieve in practice what one has found to be true in theory."

"My aim is not to be consistent with my previous statements on a given question, but to be consistent with truth as it may present itself to me at a given moment. The result has been that I have grown from truth to truth."

I read him as saying that you can be uncompromising on your core principles while still being neither uncompromising nor adamant in your opinion. In particular, I think that "On basically all political issues, unwavering is a good attribute" is a common and dangerous perception, in that it denies you the opportunity of admitting that you were wrong. If you change your stance after learning more, or even after the underlying situation has changed, you will be accused of flip-flopping and inconsistency.

> You mean the movies made about people who were unwavering in real life? .. Lincoln

I haven't seen the movie, so I don't know how he is being portrayed in current pop-culture, but the only thing Lincoln was unwavering in his support of was keeping the Union intact. That is generally not the issue that he was considered 'unwavering' on, but it is.

Anyway, kind of OT.

Name me 10 hackers who have had a bigger impact on society than Stallman and the GNU Public License. We live in a world with so much free and open source software all around us, it's easy to forget the role Stallman's unwavering advocacy has played in creating this reality.

It seems hard to quantify. If everybody were using the BSD or Apache license instead of the GPL, would society be substantially different? My guess leans toward "A little different, but maybe not that much." Would BSD and Apache have caught on if Stallman hadn't been there? I don't know, but BSD at least predates GNU. Any answer would have to delve into the realm of historical fiction.

> Would BSD and Apache have caught on if Stallman hadn't been there? I don't know, but BSD at least predates GNU.

Would _open source_ have caught on if Stallman (and GNU) hadn't been there? That's an interesting question.

Of course it would have. It was pretty much inevitable once Internet access became wide-spread.

me thinks that is taking both the internet and open source for granted.

Well, Ubuntu's unwavering pragmatism in getting GNU/Linux on the desk- and laptops of reasonably regular people has had a big impact.

But being right (even very right) in the 80s and 90s doesn't make you automatically right forever after; I found his assertion that you should starve rather than write or run a single line of unfree code[1] to be wrong and very counterproductive to spreading free and open source software.

1: http://lunduke.com/?p=2273

You've lobbied? I have. With some minor successes. Being unwavering in your principles is a critical success factor.

Yes, but we're not talking about lobbying and success from a lobbyist's point of view. We're talking about the principle of unwavering consistency as it applies to politics. And as a lobbyist, I'm sure you've commended a politician for coming around to seeing things the way you see them.

As a lobbyist, I seek politicians that share my values (e.g. protect voter privacy).

The biggest challenge with lobbying is education. That whole reality-based thing. I've only lobbied on issues that nearly everyone is in complete agreement over (e.g. fair and accurate vote count), but the details were in dispute (e.g. touch screens are secure, reliable vs all forms of electronic voting are bad).

In the case of patents, the original US law states their purpose is to foster innovation.

The current game winner's defend the status quo making the argument that the patent system is working. Stallman and other advocates are arguing that patents hurt innovation.

Same values. Different policies.

At least they appeal to the same values in their rhetoric.

Given the fact that this has been going on for a couple of decades now, do you think that it has been disastrous?

Personally, I think that it has had the opposite effect. OSS (both the software and the ideology behind it) has changed the world. Almost all computing appliances run OSS code or interface with other machines which do. People without much money can use state of the art software for free, leaving them more to spend on the basics. All of this has been due to an unwavering political attitude.

Perhaps it is not whether an attitude is unwavering which influences the net effect but the content itself. A good idea is a good idea whether you firmly believe in it or not. Firmly believing in a good idea has a positive impact whereas the same belief in a bad idea will have negative consequences.

I would say that progress comes about when unwavering advocates win over the pragmatic people with the power to make change.

Both types are needed. Because Stallman is uncompromising, he'll never be in a position to make change. But he can pressure and try to convince those who are.

I think being unwavering in ideology is bad, but being unwavering for a policy is good - i.e., 13th amendment, civil rights act, etc.

Stallman is an ultimatist. Just like the NRA, ACLU, NARAL, BBV, etc.

His role is to yank the Overton Window back towards rationality. Meaning his job is to create the space for a more constructive policy debate.

Stallman is not a politician or a diplomat. Nor should he be. Trading horses and compromise is someone else's problem.

Agree. I used politician to mean a person with views and driving force around political issues, and not specifically a career negotiator. Ultimatist is a good technical term for the role he commonly occupies.

Quite frankly that is the worst possible thing. For some bizarre reason we expect politicians to have an opinion, never change it and be right. I'd much rather a politician update their opinions based on new information, evidence and research that comes in. Slavishly sticking to something despite changes in information, evidence and research is really stupid.

Unwavering means not constantly changing the weight you give to specific pros and cons which ultimately results in changing your mind about the main issue in question. It is the opposite of indecisive.

You are confusing unwavering with stubborn. A stubborn person would not react to new evidence that invalidates their beliefs. An unwavering person would.

This sounds good at first, but I don't know how to apply it since I do not have access to information about the "weighting" a political figure assigns to particular values.

The only information I have relates to the outcomes of their decision process: speechs they give, statements they make to media (or reported by media), bills they sponsor, their voting record, etc.

Because this is all political theater, I don't even really know what they are actually trying to do by making these statements, these votes, etc. So there are at least two layers of obfuscation between the ideas a person holds sacred and my ability to measure those things. The result, is that when we say a political figure is unwavering, we really just mean that these little plays they act out for us always have the same theme. Even if their beliefs change they cannot afford to rewrite their own character in the middle of the scene. That would just be confusing. Better to bring in a new character entirely.

I weirdly agree and disagree with you :)

Stallman's ethical and philosophical approach is awesome, and his unwavering stand behind those things is also. I don't agree with everything the man says, but I agree with a lot of it and it's clear he's thought it all through.

I really, really, really hate this when applied to politicians though, because they ought to change their positions based on evidence. When they're crowing about how unwavering they are it's usually because they're flying in the face of common sense and raw, obvious fact.

This comes down to what the basis for beliefs are - as the quote goes you're entitled to your own opinion, you're not entitled to your own facts.

Politicians are an odd breed though. By the time you've made it to elected office you've almost certainly had your beliefs and how (or even whether) you can express them so warped that I almost think it's unfair to hold what they say against them. They're the product of a screwed up system - most of them are (or were) smart principled individuals until they got too close to government.

I think Stallman’s moral worldview is wrong and misguided. That’s why I disagree with him. I also think that unwavering stubbornness is a negative trait, not a positive one, but that is rather secondary.

>On basically all political issues, unwavering is a good attribute.

The complete inability to compromise is the defining point of the republican party. I don't consider this to be a good attribute at all.

RMS is an activist, not a party. If you were to hand him control of the house of representatives, indeed, he's be pretty damaging. That doesn't mean his ideas are wrong.

I spent years in the "the FSF are unrealistic nuts standing in the way of open source" camp too. The problem, looking back on those years, is that RMS was right about pretty much everything that mattered. I give him a lot of slack these days in my personal judgements, and the occasional shouting match with a law professor seems like a small price to pay.

I have had a similar journey. Over the last decade, I've moved from a "MIT License" stance to a "AGPL3 License" stance. Stallman has been too right about too much for me not to change.

I want to hear more about that. I think the Apache license has been incredibly successful. Sure certain companies have taken httpd or other products and rebranded and tried to sell them but they never approach the popularity of the community supported branch - at least not for any product I can think of. I also agree the GPL has been very successful and neither provide a counter-example that disproves the benefits offered by both models.

It's nearly impossible to imagine there would be any reprogrammable SoC-based consumer devices had the Linux kernel not been GPL. It's not a pretty world as-is, but at least vendors have an imperative to dump "source" out there somewhere There's a built-in "shame" mechanism there where vendors want to at least look like they're doing the right thing by upstreaming their drivers.

An Apache-licensed kernel would appear in phones as a useless blob.

It is not nearly as pervasive but there are BSDs used in embedded devices (or more commonly, IT "appliances"). Neither of you have offered an actual counter example - such as a BSD/Apache/MIT licensed software that was ruthlessly exploited or that died off because no one would share their code. In fact my experience has been that communities using those licenses are also very open to sharing and they are thriving in that environment.

Good grief. Which have not been exploited? All unix derivatives came from the same set of (originally open) base code, they shared nothing. They all died (to first approximation). All TCP implementations in the early days were copies of the BSD code. They shared nothing. Does Apple contribute back to Mach or BSD the stuff they do with Darwin for iOS? Does Microsoft publish their modifications to their BSD-derived networking stack?

Can I get a buildable kernel tree for my Android phone? Yup.

The simple answer is that software has social value, and that it ethically ought be modifiable by its users.

Two key things have driven my desires for a GPL world. (1) Reading about historical software now unavailable and (2) working in the corporate world as a tools developer.

The question is pretty much, are you weighing the distributor's freedom more than the user's freedom? When you want someone to be able to use your program and not publish their fixes, MIT-style licenses become more your style. This is preferred by corporations, AFAICT. However, when you want the end user to be able to modify software and to be able to trust the software, you start wanting the GPL world. Of course, the idea of a typical non-technical user doing technical work is illogical. But with the GPL, they have the freedom to hire people to do technical work. That can be really important for things like crypto!

Another way to consider the situation is that the GPL enables viral transmission, and more broadly, forcibly enables a survival of the fittest. If software is really good and GPL, it'll get used, and the users must publish to their users, and so forth. So good software can now survive longer, perhaps after its starting point's death. This in particular struck home with me when I was reading of the software systems from the '50s and '60s. They were doing things then that were not to be done for decades. As a social value, some of those old software systems would have been tremendous. I'd like to build on old & reliable stuff, not reinvent the wheel!

A concrete way to approach this idea is to consider infrastructure tooling. I write that, every day. It's my job. Sometimes I ask myself: Don't a hundred other companies already do this? What if software licenses were so written as to require these tools to also be published? We've been able to publish one Mercurial extension, and it has been a great experience. But what if we did that with everything? I wish all the companies that developed infrastructure opened their source and worked with each other to build a common world of amazing. The GPL style license is key, because it requires this republishing thing. Under the GPL, sharing becomes required. And then someone else can build on that, and they must also share their additions.

That's the kind of world I want to live in. Not a world where we guard our little towers replicating each other's work time after time. We can go do different things, safe in the knowledge that in the common areas, improvements will be published and worked on by all.

edit: With respect to RMS-

In particular, his short story Right to Read really hit home with me when I read it in 2008 or so. I have read one or two other things by him from the... 90s I think... that really indicated he understands the logical outworkings of certain processes, as his predictions came to pass in the late '00s. I figure if you're going to agree with someone, you had best agree with someone who seems to be proven right. :-)

I'm familiar with the ideology, I was hoping for some relevant counter-examples related to "less free" licenses and issues that has caused.

This doesn't qualify as issues caused by less free licenses, but because of strong copy-left (GPL in this case), I have access to the source code for devices such as my television. The point in a GPL heavy world would be that it is cheaper for companies to release their software under GPL because of the network of other GPL software they can then use. This likely won't help (much) with software companies, but for many companies the software is just a component to make their product work.

Unwavering philosophy, in the face of shifts in opinion: good, provided the philosophy was something we approve of in the first place.

Unwavering opinions, in the face of shifts in the situation: bad.

Sometimes, it's hard to distinguish the two.

There's a separate, important question of how much to prioritize strategy versus tactics. Probably, we need some people to keep an eye on each, but unfortunately infighting can get bitter.

If Stallman took a compromised path then his organization would fill with people who agreed with this compromised path. They would mouth Stallman's Free Software position knowing in action the agenda is different. People would claim to support Stallman but would have the agenda of keeping software patents but maybe controlling unhealthy patent trolls. Then Stallman would have to have purges to get rid of these people who have this alternate agenda.

My post was not a criticism of rms.

The situation doesn't seem to have changed, other than the SaaS loophole which was accounted for in GPLv3.

The SaaS "loophole" which I assume you are referring to (i.e. accessing software through Web APIs) was covered by the Affero GPL (AGPL) but not the plain vanilla GPLv3. Personally, I consider the fact that the GPLv3 didn't try to forestall this type of usage without invoking copyleft provisions a positive. But I realize not everyone agrees.

Your comment doesn't seem grounded in reality. The situation has changed tremendously since rms started the GNU project. I own my own computer, and so does (literally?) every single person I know. The internet makes sharing with these people (and with people they know, and with strangers) trivial. At the outset, rms made money selling copies of GPL software for $150 each! The situation has changed!

Now, whether it has changed in a way that makes the positions held by rms less relevant or appropriate is quite another question. It sounds to me like you read my comment as some kind of attack on rms: it was not intended to be anything of the kind; I very much value the man's input to our collective discourse, and tend to agree with him more than not.

>whether it has changed in a way that makes the positions held by rms less relevant or appropriate is quite another question

It's the only relevant question in this thread. I'm sure that there's been some global temperature change since the GPL was come up with, but I'd like to hear a case about why it matters.

So, let's address it explicitly: predominately, I would say that these changes have made his positions more relevant, but I am not confident that I'm not missing things. A lot has changed in highly pertinent areas.

  > On basically all political issues, unwavering is a good
  > attribute
If nothing changes, then yes. If situation changes and your stance does not, it may indicate less desirable things.

I'd understand Stallman's position in the world few decades ago, when almost all software was by developers for developers. In todays world it is bordering on absurd (imho).

Why, exactly? If you buy a piece of software and uncover a bug, why shouldn't you be able to pay someone to fix it? As a consumer, why wouldn't you demand this?

I, for one, still oppose putting these "horseless carriages" on our roadways! The dangers of these contraptions are far from understood!

> Richard stallman has always been eccentric and unwavering in his stand on politics around software. Somehow, people find this odd, wrong, and or bad, and I dont understand it.

"Eccentric" is synonymous with "odd". It would be irrational if people somehow found him eccentric and not odd.

"Unwavering" is a good prefix for a lot of things. "Unwavering advocate for software freedom" is good. "Unwavering support for free software projects" is another. "Unwavering asshole" is the part that causes problems.

Actually, I don't know about his stance being 'unwavering'. The iconic story of why he got into the whole free software things to start with was because he wanted to modify the source code of a laser printer, which is surely not a general purpose computing device. He appears to have stepped away from arguing that he should have access to firmware... Either that or he thinks that firmware should be patentable, but that you should be allowed to freely modify and distribute it anyway, which kind of defeats the purpose of patenting it.

We simply dislike the GPL (for our projects) because we want to use more permissive licenses.

He wants everyone to only use the GPL and ignore everything that's not GPL, he even dislikes the term 'Open Source' and the rest of the Libre licenses.

That's a clash of interests and the reason for our dislike.

Mr. Stallman's proposed solution is both simple and elegant: take all software that runs on a general purpose machine and legislate a "safe harbor" from patent claims for software falling in that category. This essentially would return the state of the law to what it was through the early 1990s, recognizing that software patents are fine when tied to specialized hardware or when they pertain to a special-purpose machine but not otherwise. Such a proposal is "radical" in dealing with the problem once and for all but is also remarkably conservative in only singling out for elimination the one category of patents most vulnerable to the potent objection that its retention does little or nothing to further the progress of science and hence doesn't warrant the monopoly protections afforded by the patent laws. The logic here should enable Congress to support it if it chose to reexamine the issues purely from a social and legal perspective.

Still, the practical issues remain daunting. What becomes of existing software patents, for example? Purists may say these are not "property" but massive dollars have been paid for the rights to own them and there will be huge resistance, not to mention constitutional objections, over any idea that these suddenly should be rendered worthless by legislative action. If these stay intact for the next 20+ years, what good does a safe harbor do in applying only prospectively? More important, those with a stake in the game - even relatively benign players such as Google - want to hedge and trim on the issues in order to protect their investments, and this means that inordinate pressure will be put on Congress not to single out software patents for elimination, emphasizing instead more limited measures to help fight trolls and so on.

With so much resistance, and with an apathetic public, how to build sufficient momentum to push Congress toward a true solution? Developers might lead this charge but I wonder. Founders are mostly not directly affected by software patents and neither are employees at bigger companies who are conscripted to keep churning them out. And those most directly hit in the patent wars resist reform to protect their own investments.

So Mr. Stallman finds himself alone in his position at this conference: not because his solution is bad but because of inordinately difficult practical barriers. At least we see in this conference that persons of influence in this area are finally willing to begin seeking incremental reform. If the worst of the abuses can be fixed (e.g., the troll issue), that at least is a start. And, who knows, maybe radical changes can occur after initial progress is made. Time will tell.

>What becomes of existing software patents, for example? Purists may say these are not "property" but massive dollars have been paid for the rights to own them and there will be huge resistance, not to mention constitutional objections, over any idea that these suddenly should be rendered worthless by legislative action.

It is the same problem you have with an transistion. This was studied a lot in economics, specially around the socialist transistion.

One view is this, pay out the benefiters of the old system just so you can get the institutional change. Pull the benefiters to your side.

This could be hard with software patent but it is one way to get to institutional change.

Stallman doesn't simply talk about a solution to a problem.

He talks about what the optimal Software Patents situation is, and why.

We are in dire straits because we ignored him 20 years ago.

It's our problem to either get to the optimal situation, or to try and fail.

Maybe someone could patent this optimal Software Patents situation? Let's call it a design patent.

For completeness, let's patent the process of getting to this optimal Software Patent situation as well just for good measure.

Or lets the courts do it via CLS vs Alice: http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20121013192858600#c...

I read most of the transcripts of the Oracle v Google trial. This was a case where both sides had highly paid expert legal teams staffed with the best lawyers in the country that spent an enormous amount of time preparing to argue a case about patents and copyright in software.

What jumped out at me, and I imagine anyone else on HN who read these transcripts, was that despite what was a set of the optimum circumstances for lawyers dealing with software issues, none of them had the slightest idea what they were talking about. They were way off the mark. "What is an API?" - a central issue to the case. The lawyers from neither side understood the answer. "How do people use a programming language?" Again, both sides were desperately clueless (although Oracle's Boies was obviously more so, sometimes hilariously.)

So often in reading those transcripts I wanted to grab one of the lawyers and scream in his face, "you idiot!! What the hell is wrong with you?!? Are you stupid????"

The situation with software patents is the same - the same clueless legal people are having the same clueless legal discussion about it. They don't understand how software works, they don't understand what software patents really mean, they don't understand the marketplace, and they certainly don't understand programming. Unlike me, who just sits back and screams in my own head at the clueless people who are the self-appointed architects of the legal world in which software developers and entrepreneurs will live and work, Richard Stallman is standing up and screaming in their faces about it. It must feel satisfying to do that. Someone needs to.

Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn't help to try to set legal precedents that extend todays extreme intellectual property obligations in software to legal documents.

When you come to think of it. A contract is very similar to a piece of code. The main difference is that it is to be executed by humans instead of machines and enforced by a legal system instead of a machine's design.

Contracts have been deemed non patentable and a high bar has been set for copyrightability compared to other text because of the requirement that contract language be well defined with particular sentences having an agreed upon interpretation based on court precedents.

This means lawyers writing contracts don't have to worry, for each sentence that they write, that it may be infringing on someone else having written a similar one. They also don't have to worry that a combination of clauses have been patented and they can't use it in their contract.

Programmers on the other hand worry about it for every new piece of code they write. The bar is so low for patentability and copyrightability that we pretty much know someone somewhere has patented a large part of the code we write. We just hope nobody with the patent is interested in going after us because we aren't worth the trouble. But there is always that feeling that if ever we become commercially successful, the trolls and wolves will be waiting to try to get a slice of our profits. This is quite an annoying disincentive to write new code or 'innovate' which in this case means just plain doing our job.

I was pondering this further and it would actually be conceivable with a bit of natural language processing and machine learning to build a 'verdict machine', maybe a Watson type of thing.

You would input legal documents, contracts and laws to 'program' the machine, It would read these legal documents and compile them into legal tests that depend on case facts.

Then when you needed to judge a case, you would enter the facts or fact probabilities about the case in the machine. It would then generate a verdict and tell you which legal tests passed or failed to arrive at the verdict.

Even it it was just used as support to help courts untangle cases or for law student as an educational tool, it could be a useful machine.

Here is the kicker: All contracts and laws are actually software code for this machine.

You've certainly got lots of data to train it with. And you can test it by simply testing its predictive power. But instead of selling it to the court system I'd sell it as a service to law firms and/or use it in prediction markets. This would ensure that it would be funded and refined until everyone simply accepted its outcomes as a foregone conclusion.

The fault of most modern politics is that politicians are taking action on issues they have no idea about, and the only words they hear about such problems are those paid for with the largest pocketbooks.

I think the fault runs even deeper than that. The idea that "if lots of ignorant people work together and find common ground to agree on, something intelligent will pop out" seems to be a cornerstone that we have built our society upon. Two ignorant legal teams duking it out is not the recipe for a sensible outcome; the only thing that happens when one of them wins is that they can convince themselves that the victory must mean something profound.

The only hope for the system that I have seen so far is surprisingly intelligent and sensible judges injecting sanity into the system.. but that is hardly something to rely upon.

I don't think anyone ever planned in the long term for the system to evolve into ignorance. I don't remember any hard evidence, but I would figure earlier on in Americas history congressmen might consult intellectuals and experts on issues they were debating in congress, or maybe a judge might pull in an expert. I think practices like that fell out when law became such a profound convoluted discipline unto itself that anyone without a law degree was disqualified from engaging a court at an intellectual level.

From my perspective, the fact that the US constitution was given an initial set of amendments, as well as making amendments unusually difficult for the 'will of the people' to change (and as well as all the other safeguards put in place) suggests that the drafters/signers of the original document were placing more trust in themselves than in the democratic process which would follow. The safeguards I think were viewed as necessary because 'the will of the people' wasn't viewed as something that would, by definition, be good. Basically I don't think they really trusted democracy.

That's just my, probably controversial, take on it though.

They just didn't want controversial ideas to make it into the constitution since they would be so hard to overturn, so they made the amendment process insanely complex.

The track record on that isn't too stellar though, considering prohibition and what not.

I remember quotes about Jefferson thinking the constitution should be rewritten every generation. Not sure about the accuracy there, but I like the idea.

> So often in reading those transcripts I wanted to grab one of the lawyers and scream in his face, "you idiot!! What the hell is wrong with you?!? Are you stupid????"

I can think of a couple of reasons that don't involve lawyers being stupid:

1. If the truth is against a client's interest, a lawyer is probably going to try to confuse the issue as much as possible (unless it seems tactically unwise for other reasons, of course).

2. IIRC, they were stuck with some bad precedent to work with (especially with respect to APIs). That meant they were often arguing issues in a broken frame, rather than from first principles. My understanding is they can't effectively make the first-principles argument until the appeals get to the court that created the precedent in the first place (or higher).

So to be fair here, there were two issues at play:

1. Oracle's patents that Google supposedly violated. (And thank God most of those stupid patents were actually invalidated)

2. Oracle's copyright on its APIs that Google also supposedly violated. The API discussion involved the copyright part of the case, and here the question "What is an API" does become central, especially considering that the judge decided in the end that APIs are not copyrightable - when such a decision is made it'd better be crystal clear what is meant by an "API"

Admittedly, the API example was not totally on point since it was dealing with copyright. However it illuminated the problem with lawyers even under the best of circumstances not understanding software and programming.

I agree that the question of "What is an API" was quite important for good reasons in that case. What was gravely concerning to me was that the lawyers from neither side had a clear idea of the answer, despite the fact that had the best possible set of circumstances for lawyers to get that kind of understanding. Specifically, their clients gave them access to some of the smartest people in the world, they had virtually unlimited time and money, and the lawyers themselves are some of the best in the country and were experienced in complex litigation with technical companies. Extend this kind of conceptual ignorance to the lawyers who are arguing about and making policy on software patents, and it's both terrifying and infuriating.

Stallman's position on software patents is clear. It's the response from the rest of the world which is strange. There is one, simple statement that no one attempts to make and defend: "Stallman is wrong." I suspect it's because we all know that Stallman is right, many of us find it socially uncomfortable, and so there are all kinds of attempts to distance the ideas.

Personally I regard Stallman as one of the few moderate voices in software. Most discussion today is at an extreme best described as fascism: all privileges of decision and control reserved to a single person. Stallman is the moderate voice calling for a individual self-determination. He hasn't demanded any kind of social protections. Take a few minutes and imagine what the philosophy underlying the social democracies of Scandanavia would look like when applied to software.

I don't view Stallman as moderate at all and there are a large number of ideas he has that I disagree with, but I do agree with him on software patents.

As usually RMS is spot on. "Can a person program a new solution to a problem?" Any answer involving "no" seems a bit like insanity.

Duffy on the other hand misses the point (IMHO): "The question is, will you get very serious research that is patent-motivated?"

There is no "serious [software] research" that actually costs money. I have yet to be shown a single software patent that is the result of research and not just a spark on insight. Sparks of insights are great. The point to note, though, is that they would have happened anyway, they do not cost anything. Granting a legal monopoly on them does not benefit society as a whole.

I have no illusion that anything will change. Big companies (with the notable exception of Google) love software patents to keep the competition (especially new players) at bay. Patent trolls love patents, which they can exploit with extortion schemes. Last not least lawyers love software patents; not a single patent case is won or lost without the involved lawyers being rewarded handsomely.

I have yet to be shown a single software patent that is the result of research and not just a spark on insight.

You could argue that every patent is just a spark of insight. However, how many sparks could be made if not for all the research that came before them?

Google's driverless car comes to mind as a well-known present-day software research project. When you boil down their achievements, they are all just small sparks of insight. But without all that funding and time put into the overall research, would those sparks have ever materialized? There is little reason for one of the algorithms they have developed to just pop into someone's head otherwise.

I agree. It is not always clear cut.

I would stand by initial statement, though, that patents on software do not serve society as a whole.

> I have yet to be shown a single software patent that is the result of research and not just a spark on insight.

For example, the MP3 and SIFT patents are based on research. Most programmers even today could not recreate these technologies starting from scratch.

> Speech recognition, for example, is very patent-intensive.

Speech recognition is patent-encumbered, not patent-intensive. Anyone who has done any research into the field would know that.

Serious question: What is the difference between patent-intensive and patent-encumbered?

Patent-encumbered industries are industries where innovation is not occurring due to patent strangulation. Patent-intensive industries are those which require patent protection to protect the R&D investments of corporations and ensure innovation.

Patent-encumbered: mobile phones

Patent-intensive: artificial joints

Encumbered is a pejorative.

Ah, I see what it is now. Thanks :)

I would compare it to the idea of international travel as "passport intensive" or of the recording industry as "lawsuit intensive".

It's all well and good that we are attempting to address the software patent system but the myth of beneficial medical patents still prevails. If you are of the opinion that medical patents are necessary, please read through this document - http://levine.sscnet.ucla.edu/general/intellectual/against.h... - in particular, chapter 9. Just like software patents, medical patents have a long and rich history of stifling innovation. Don't buy the lies wholesale - look at the evidence and make your own decision.

Medical patents are only necessary to preserve inflated pricing models intended to support the owner's (and/or licensee's) advertising campaigns.

Which means they are necessary to preserve status-quo profit margins. And the people with the microphone who control the hand of law are those who really like their status-quo.

The thing is I would actually favor software patents if it required the patent applicant to submit all related source code to the public domain. Software is the only medium of creation that is essentially a double-monopoly with copyright and patent protection.

"Software patents" aren't implementation specific. I can get a "software patent" on my business model, written entirely in the English language.

Literal software patents don't exist in the US system. You don't patent code, you patent what code does, so if you had to submit code, that would put an undue burden on an inventor - now I have to write code to implement my new method of delivering coffee to your house? But I don't even use any code!

You've hit on one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to software patents: by the time you've described the "invention" at a low-enough level to actually allow replication by future patent readers, the resulting patent would be nigh-indistinguishable from actual code.

And/or would be math.

So suppose I want to make a novel device, part of its functionality is software. I can't patent the software only the hardware. It's a mass market device, so I have an incentive to make the software a trade secret. I don't want people to conveniently reverse engineer my software so I design a custom CPU and store the code in encrypted form. That's a whole bunch of overhead that has been created by abolishing software patents.

Not only will this kind of thing happen, but it will become commonplace and convenient (e.g. there will be off the shelf CPU designs that support obfuscation). Imagine the digital world returning to the guild system — and the beauty of digital technology is that this could happen ridiculously fast.

Now, yes, trivial algorithms would not be worth protecting this way, and that's a Good Thing. But consider the inefficiencies and stupidity that will be created by abolishing software patents altogether. Oh and the DMCA will make any efforts to penetrate obfuscated software illegal in perpetuity.

That's fine. Trade secrets are already how most things work in software and it's a much better model. I don't want their dumb ideas; I don't want their bad code; and I don't care about not being able to repurpose subsidized hardware.

All I care about is removing the veto power the patent system gives random strangers have over my ability to develop things they have nothing to do with.

Trade secrets are what patents were designed to protect against. So that current knowledge can be made available to future generations, at the cost of a short term of exclusivity to the one who holds the secret.

I feel the problem is that you can recreate many of the patents being granted today just by taking a quick glance at the implementation. What do future generations have to gain by knowing that one click can finalize a purchase on a website? Knowing what precise measurements of compounds when combined together can cure a disease has a little more merit.

Isn't it funny how most software patents can't be protected by trade secrets?

How many patents were infringed (1) by mistake, or (2) by somebody trying to emulate some behavior or (3) by somebody reading a patent description?

Personaly I've never seen (3) happening. It may sometimes happen when it comes to video codecs or AI, but funny how those domains are strongly linked to math ;)

This is a random veto power with a fixed lifespan in exchange ofr which the design is published. Trade secrets were an ongoing disaster. We're still trying to figure out how Stradivarius made violins, for example.

Yes, stupid things get patented. Yes, the system is corrupt. But don't assume some other "simple" system or non system will have no downside.

Having tried to read patents to gain insight into how something worked, I'm confident that if Stradivarius had written valid patents for his methods we still wouldn't be able to reproduce it.

> We're still trying to figure out how Stradivarius made violins, for example.

We're actually not trying to figure out how to make violins that sound just as good: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Stradivarius&o...

Also, Stallman is specifically talking about software, not manufacturing specialized devices.

A typical specialized device today is largely driven by software. To contribute to this debate you need to understand this.

For example: most musical instruments today are electronic. If I build a guitar amplifier out of vacuum tubes, Stallman will let me patent it, but if I build a high tech amplifier with digital preprocessing to simulate the behavior of any one of a large number of old vacuum tube amplifiers etc. then no patents for me.

The trouble is, it's not the same: Software Patents protect the design of the idea not the implementation. Even after the patent has expired, you still don't get to see how the product actually works. Also, the implementation is protected by copyright -- it seems unfair to give software double-protection.

RMS has a clear definition. Software that runs on a general purpose computer should not be patentable.

Why don't the anti-patent people use the simpler rule "Software cannot violate a patent".

So if someone makes a physical invention that does something they can patent it but if it's something a general purpose computer can be programmed to do, writing that program does not cause the computer to violate the patent.

This is actually what Stallman is advocating! In his own words: http://www.wired.com/opinion/2012/11/richard-stallman-softwa...

> My suggestion is to change the effect of patents. We should legislate that developing, distributing, or running a program on generally used computing hardware does not constitute patent infringement.

Thanks, I don't know how I missed that, I blame RMS's hair.

I guess the phrase "Software Patents" and the strange rules about software patentability in Europe gave me the impression that they wanted to take the non-patentable route instead of the non-infringing one.

It seems it is less of a problem to patent something physical (like an engine). In modern times there are few physical things that do not involve some kind of software, so it makes sense (although I'd still prefer not to have this at all) to patent the thing as a whole.

I've missed the party on this discussion, but I'm always fascinated when people make the argument you just made. Why should software be treated differently from hardware? Take the example of an old car engine. The spark plugs are fired by a rotating commutator switch in the distributor cap. The design of the commutator is patentable. But if I was going to implement that system today, I'd simply program a simple microcontroller to fire the spark plugs in sequence. The physical system has been replaced directly by a software system, but one is patentable, and the other isn't?

In short, I would answer your question with a question. Why can hardware violate a patent and software not?

Well obviously software can violate a patent I just think it's bad policy and the law should be changed. I'm not making a philosophical distinction or saying software patents are inherently unjust. Policy by nature makes an arbitrary distinction and says one thing has good effects and the other bad, so what follows is a policy argument as to why the arbitrary legal distinction should be made.

Going from your example, in the absence of cheap programmable computers the problem of coordinating spark timing with the engine is a real engineering problem that probably required nontrivial R&D resources to get right. To the extent that distributors remained useful to the world, those sunk costs should be protected. If you didn't, there'd be a toxic second-mover advantage to just copying the other guy's R&D work.

Software just doesn't have those kind of sunk-cost discovery problem, at least not at anything like the scale other disciplines do. The fixed costs in software are different. They're almost all about execution, education, coordination, and marketing.

Imagine a software R&D guy, who discovers a new thing you can do with software. Assume the idea works, and is profitable: He's still spent a tiny fraction of bringing a product to market, even a product that is just an implementation of his invention. Patents won't fix the second-mover advantage, if any, because the first-mover costs aren't from software research.

The mismatch actually starts to matter when non-practicing inventors come into play. In the old world of industry, these guys were at least providing a public service by creating inventions nobody else bothered to fund, so it was reasonable that companies that found their inventions useful should pay for them. But in software the non-practicing inventor hasn't paid the cost. There is still the first-mover disadvantage out there of building the market, educating your users, etc. on top of the cost of turning the invention into a shipable product that everyone in the market has to pay.

So instead of getting economies of scale with general purpose computers we'll create a huge incentive to create special purpose silicon running obfuscated code. Perfect.

> Not only will this kind of thing happen, but it will become commonplace and convenient...That's a whole bunch of overhead that has been created by abolishing software patents.

Which is it? Convenient or a whole bunch of overhead?

But then again, who cares? When is the last time anyone implemented a patented idea by looking at old patents? The idea is old by the time it is patented.

> Oh and the DMCA will make any efforts to penetrate obfuscated software illegal in perpetuity.

And that is worse than patent law? How would anyone know that obfuscated software was penetrated? That only comes into play when people uses snippets of firmware anyway. They already use DMCA like this, so it doesn't really matter.

The biggest problem is the John Carmack problem of sitting down to do a week of work in a domain, and creating something that you find out is already patented.

"Not only will this kind of thing happen, but it will become commonplace and convenient (e.g. there will be off the shelf CPU designs that support obfuscation). Imagine the digital world returning to the guild system — and the beauty of digital technology is that this could happen ridiculously fast."

Almost every embedded processor supports this kind of functionality (firmware in embedded flash can not be dumped). Encryption is also common place, as is code signing. I can't see you have much of a argument here, this stuff is already common place and used in addition (and sometimes in place of because it's actually a lot cheaper) software patents.

> Speech recognition, for example, is very patent-intensive."

The nytimes article with the guy who DID spend lots of time trying to innovate in speech recognition, recognized as a genius in the field, who was driven out by someone elses patent.


Stallman was the only speaker that day who wasn't streamed.

>"Streaming online would require use of [the] Microsoft Silverlight plug-in, which would pressure people to use proprietary software. Dr. Stallman considers it wrong to pressure people to do that."

Why is Silverlight necessary? http://blog.webmproject.org/2010/12/live-streaming-webm-with...

He was likely talking about the situation in that particular conference, which was using Silverlight for its streaming.

I didn't realize Stallman was licensed under the GPL!

I'm glad to see that RMS is using his trademark good manners to reach out to the undecided middle.

If you want reform, be polite. If you want revolution, don't bother.

Revolutions are won by winning over the masses. So this is not an either-or dichotomy.

This can't be overstated. The primary goal of all revolutionary groups that I've studied has been gaining the support of 'the common man.' Inside the revolutionary group itself, things are different and a unified front is pursued to the point of coercion. However, the goal of this front has usually been to gain the public's favor, and then once the public is stands with the group official social change becomes a realistic goal.

Winning over the masses doesn't necessarily benefit from politeness or moderation, however, depending on the circumstances. Take the example of the French Revolution. The moderates had very little appeal among the masses, but instead appealed mainly to the liberal portion of the educated classes, and some of the very left portion of the aristocracy. This was important, because those classes had money and had some power, but it was hardly mass appeal.

The most popular group among the masses was the most extreme and uncouth, the sans-culotte faction that appealed to the poor working classes who wanted to guillotine the king and all the aristocrats and expropriate their estates. Hence the popularity with the masses of the Hébertist magazine Père Duchesne, which was distinguished mainly by its extremely angry tone, radical demands, and for being the first widely printed publication to use something roughly translating to "fuck" in almost every article. A vaguely representative article, entitled "Fuck the Pope": http://www.marxists.org/history/france/revolution/hebert/179...

Now that strategy might not work in all countries and eras, and in this case there doesn't seem to be public anger about patents ready to boil to the surface that anyone could tap into. But I'm not sure there's any inherent link between appeal to the masses and polite centrism.

If he's not interested in converting these people then can I suggest going to a conference full of them might be a waste of his and everyone else's time?

We're debating his ideas. In the off moments we're not arguing about his fashion choices and lack of social decorum.

Who else do you know is so singularly identified with such a well defined principled point of view (whether you agree or disagree)? Paul Grugman, Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, George Carlin?

So I'd say Stallman's doing a fantastic job.

Being associated with an idea doesn't mean that you're doing anything for adoption of the idea.

In the UK David Ike is strongly associated with believing the royal family are lizard people but it's doing nothing to get his views any real traction.

I'd almost argue the opposite. By being so intransigent and operating outside many social norms, I think you could make a case that Stallman damages how his views are percieved.

Who is Paul Grugman? Did you mean Krugman?

Yes, but by being himself he makes Google seem much less extreme and more centrist.

See http://lesswrong.com/lw/m9/aschs_conformity_experiment/

I kind of like the image of Stallman standing up and blasting away at these legal people offering half-baked ideas for a problem they only barely understand at the 10,000-foot level.

It certainly isn't trademarked. :)

To be fair, the article doesn't relate what the "insults" (Stallman's words) were that provoked his reaction.

> Pinned to his chest was a large white button: "Pay Cash—Don't Be Tracked."

Looking at the photo, it looks like it actually says "Don't Be Tracked—Pay Cash."

How long until its "Don't Be Tracked-Pay Bitcoin." :)

Every single transaction in Bitcoin is tracked and published. Why do people think this is even remotely close to anonymous?

I thinks its because the addresses are only able to link to your real self once you make a link. (buy something and have it shipped to your address, deposit real money with a exchange that requires your identity, etc..)

however you could always make a new account on mtgox, send the coins to the exchange and send them out to another address you made, and I think, unless the exchange gives that transaction (That is internal to their network) to the authorities, you can begin to remove your-self from being traced.

The way I see it is this, you can determine how traceable you are in Bitcoins, you can't determine easily how traceable you are with native transactions (USD, AUD, EURO, etc...) This may help you hide better

Law enforcement agencies routinely unravel money laundering schemes that are much more sophisticated than this. You really think this'll stop them if they have a reason to investigate your funds?

Your right, I heard that sending coins through a several eWallet services, back and fourth then to a brand new address would require a massive operation to track you down. Could this easily be circumvented?

You mean a massive operation similar to the scale of the federal government?

Probably because BTC are (sometimes) used in illegal transactions. It's an easy jump to assume that BTC are anonymous if the person doesn't fully understand the way the currency works.

My question is this: When hackers steal 400k BTC how do they get that money out of the 'bank'?

The last major theft resulted in the money being parked into some accounts as if the thieves need some time for this to either cool down, avoiding closer scrutiny, or to come up with a strategy to launder it.

Those funds are obviously hot at the moment to anyone who can navigate the transaction graph.

Thanks for the info, you confirmed my suspicions. I wonder what they'll come up with, it's an interesting problem.

Because not enough people understand "pseudonymous". Why do we call it all "the cloud"?

because there is no PII attached.

Until you buy something with it.

This is definitely an issue to be tackled. After working in a large software company I can attest to the fact that ridiculous stuff that are patented just to increase the portfolio.

Those include creating key components of the free software system that he calls GNU/Linux (and many others call simply Linux)

I've always savored the irony of Stallman's fight to have content creators relinquish control of their creations while steadfastly refusing to let people just call Linux by the name they choose... while also attempting to steal top billing.

I don't see the irony.

"The right to copy" exists only in so far as external forces limit inherent behavior. One could copy all day (as our brains do unbidden) without anyone but the copier being the wiser or needing to care.

The credit for one's labor, on the other hand, is an inherently rivalrous "good". Terms like "steal" have a place here, as it takes away from the measurable "social capital" earned by another's labor.

It's the difference between re-printing "Alice in Wonderland" and re-printing "Alice in Wonderland, Written by <Not Lewis Carroll>".

The credit for one's labor

I guess if you get to define the value and credit of one's labor, you can still maintain that there is a difference where one doesn't really exist.

The credit for one's labor, on the other hand, is an inherently rivalrous "good".

But encouraging content creators with financial incentives for creating things that consumers desire is not an inherently rivalrous good?

It's the difference between re-printing "Alice in Wonderland" and reprinting "Alice in Wonderland, Written by <Not Lewis Carroll>".

So you're okay with taking all financial rewards from the creators of content, but leave them the scraps of naming credit as though your framework is logical?

Meh... if you're going to steal from people, you might as go all the way.

Stallman is a hypocrite for demanding control of anything he creates while seeking to "free" everything everyone else creates.

I guess if you get to define the value and credit of one's labor, you can still maintain that there is a difference where one doesn't really exist.

"Value" distinguishes between "Someone dug a hole where I needed it" and "Someone dug a hole and filled it back up".

"Credit" distinguishes between "I dug that hole" and "She dug that hole".

If we're having trouble distinguishing between "value" and "credit", even before addressing principles of valuation, then I can no longer concern myself with this discussion.

What we're missing is a fiscal disincentive, a cost of acquiring bad patents and suing others for violating them. Currently the equation is unbalanced, it's too cheap to harass others with patent litigation. The harmful effect of bad patents isn't factored in into the complete patenting scheme, thus the bad outcome. It's like spam.

Not that I support (software and any other) patents at all. I deliberately don't want my name on any patent. I might work on something that my employer wants to patent for they do pay for my time and creativity but I don't want my own name involved outside of that. This isn't just a principle; it has happened in reality. I wish Stallman was heard and patents were banished completely.

Anyone who doubts the validity of getting rid of software patents need look no further than the fashion industry. Fashion cannot be patented, and there seems to be plenty of innovation and a flourishing business in that sector. The only thing that is appropriate in fashion is trademarks. It is just a bad idea to allow anyone to tax or monopolize ideas.

"They cover common practices on the Internet, like showing an ad before a piece of content."

Why do patents like that get granted? And once they are, why aren't they extremely easy to invalidate after the fact? There is a non-trivial aspect to a patent that is supposed to be passed. It seems to me that at least enforcing that would be a nice step.

"Streaming online would require use of [the] Microsoft Silverlight plug-in, which would pressure people to use proprietary software," explained Andrew Chin

just for the record, that statement is absolutely incorrect. you can offer streams and watch streams just fine with free and open-source software. for example with ogg theora or webm.

Guessing they meant the conference only uses Silverlight for streaming.

I guess so too but phrases like that are going against free software/content/everything. It gives the reader the impression of requirement of cost and proprietary technology.

Do you really think he implied that SL is the only possible way to stream? He was talking about the immediate situation.

I am sure he was and that it was obvious in the context of the conversation. In the article however it is not.

"The crowd was told a recording would be made available later in OGG or WebM format."

Two lines down. I guess that line could have been added later..

That line is about recordings for download, not streaming.

Well, sad he act in such a fool'ish way here, raging are often resulting in that people rather trust the counter-arguments. I would acted just like that myself though, and I agree that some of the counter arguments was wrong. I highly wish RMS and the whole FSF community was more respected.

The fashion industry does just fine without patents. Plenty of innovation and investment and profits going on there. Fashion relies on trademarks, not patents. Huge difference. We all lose when ideas/knowledge is monopolized or taxed by the few.

As much as I dislike his GPL licences and prefer the MIT licenses because I find the GPL too limiting, I can't help but to be totally in agreement with him regarding Software Patents.

The best we can do is to abolish them.

Reduce the problem by reducing the software patent's lifespan, say to 7 years? That would force innovation to be more business-efficient and greatly reduce the number of patent trolls.

But then when I come up with a good idea that I want to use in FOSS, I still have to keep it secret for days/weeks until it gets though a "patent-mining process" at whatever company I happen to be working for at the time.

There are a lot of costs associated with just having software patents at all, no matter what the duration. Can you demonstrate why we need patents in software so much that it justifies these costs, despite the fact that in practice, we did fine without them for 20 years?

Software idea patents are bad for everyone, except patent lawyers.



"while Google abhors them, its arch-rival Microsoft is increasingly enthusiastic about them."

Wait, what? Google abhors patents? So all the patents they've been buying up is because they abhor them so much?

Isn't Google one of the few corporations that hasn't started using patents offensively? Assuming that's the case, I think it would be reasonable to stockpile patents defensively, even if they abhor patents.

It's just a terrible situation, the only way for google (or any other software company) to protects themselves from certain death is to build up a defensive barrier of patents. And I think this is a great argument for abolishing software patents entirely.

I think they've used their patents to go on the offensive at least once (post Motorola acquisition), and indirectly by transferring patents to HTC. So, that kind of makes me puzzled by the whole 'they find them abhorrent' aspect. If they did, they wouldn't be using any of their patents like that.

Google's use of patents with motorola was defensive, going after those who are suing android. Google never used patents offensively in the whole company history.

It's only an offensive move if you consider battle 'N + 1 == N'. Google didn't start this war.

They could abhor patents, and still recognize that the only way to stay competitive is to play by the rules, which include patents for now.

Do you think they enjoy wasting $6b of development money to avoid being sued?

They can't find them that abhorrent if they're willing to be involved in the arms race at all.

There are some arms races you can't help being involved in, if you want to survive. The best you can do in such cases is build the arms but not use them (unless fired upon).

Yes, it would be much better for them to lie down and martyr themselves for the cause.

I don't have a dog in this race, but the statement was that Google abhors patent trolls, not patents. If they're buying up patents with the intent to use them to build something rather than flip them, that is not inconsistent.

So if Google abhors patent trolls, why would Microsoft be enthusiastic about patent trolls? The statement would be nuts.

Not necessarily.

Patents and patent trolls affect different-sized companies differently and can be competitive advantages for large and incumbent companies as barriers to entry for new companies. Bill Gates knew his competition would come from two guys in a garage (or graduate school) more than another big company, so his company would be enthusiastic about such barriers.

Here's how the barrier works against potential new entrants.

Large companies with large patent portfolios mutually license portfolios in exchange for not suing each other, giving them competitive advantages over small and new companies. A new company with one legally defensible patent can't use it to compete with Microsoft, who will claim the new company is infringing on several of Microsoft's thousands, or the mutually licensed ones with other companies. Any non-trivial code can reasonably be claimed to infringe on some patents. Even if it isn't, no small or new company will beat Microsoft.

What about trolls who don't intend to bring a product to market and just want money?

Large companies with large legal departments can defeat most patent trolls with experience and having large budgets. Paying all the lawyers may cost them money and they'll lose some, but money and experience will win most of the time. The point is it creates another barrier to entry to small companies with fewer resources to fight back. They either have to give up or pay the troll, losing profitability and ability to compete.

So patent trolls still create a competitive advantage for Microsoft. Microsoft's legal costs may decrease its margins, but they remain better entrenched, improving stability and profitability overall.

Why wouldn't Google like patent trolls?

Google's profitability doesn't depend on selling software nearly as much as Microsoft. It profits from advertising. Software patents give them advantages over small and new companies, but not as much as for Microsoft. Take away software patents (how else to get rid of trolls?) and Microsoft will be reverse engineered away. Google will continue.

The statement isn't nuts if Microsoft intends to play patent troll themselves, which they have done against Android. They have at various times gotten a fraction of smartphone sales running certain versions of Androids because they hold the patents on various trivial design decisions and algorithms.

> "Maybe it wouldn't be quite as good, but we would all be okay. None of us would be shafted."

So rather than reward the talented and ignore the ungifted, he'd rather punish the talented and ignore the ungifted?

stallman would be far more convincing if he would stop eating stuff from his feet (and drinking pepsi).

You're saying arguments are more convincing if it wasn't for ad hominem x? Says more about you tbh.

it was more tongue-in-cheek, but whatever...

Sorry, didn't get it.

Applications are open for YC Winter 2020

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact