Rights vs Responsibilities (Was: To Al Kossow at bitsavers)

Jerome H. Fine jhfinedp3k at compsys.to
Sun Nov 15 13:14:06 CST 2015

Upon reading all the discussion over the past three days, I am
extremely interested in the overall tone of the discourse.  While
there has been rather passionate argument at times, there does
not seem to be any of the caustic comments that we have seen
on occasion in the past.  Congratulations  EVERYONE!!!!!!!

In addition, since I have never been directly involved with extremely
large companies who employ thousands of actual software
developers, my point of view will obviously be less experienced
about some matters than others.  On the other hand, I believe I
have seen enough software practices and development of the past
55 years that I have at least some degree of understanding of
the issues.

However, there has been one aspect that seems to have been
lost amidst all of the legal points vs issues of abandonware.

The points which I will raise are concerned uniquely with the
aspects which relate to IP rights over software vs what seems,
at the moment in all legislation which is relevant, to the total lack
of any responsibilities by the owner of the software.  This list
has members who are in a unique position to understand and
evaluate and perhaps be in a position to formulate changes in
the legal status for the IP in regards to software in order to
bring in some balance between rights and responsibilities.

I realize that the very large companies such as Microsoft and
Apple would probably take immediate exception to having
any responsibilities imposed.  But perhaps it would actually
be in their self-interest.

As just an interesting aspect with respect to copyright and the
IP associated with copyright, it is impossible to be given a
copyright over a book which is to be published without
providing every single character, comma and space that
the book is composed of.  Perhaps all software should be
required to be handled in the same manner.  In return for
having copyright, perhaps all software should be required
to make available and publish the actual source code so
that the responsibilities which I outline below are also
satisfied.  Perhaps in lieu of publishing the source code,
the owner of the copyright and the IP would continue to
hold those rights only as long as the responsibilities were
satisfied.  Just a starting thought for the discussion,  Note
that with all the tools available to convert executable code
back into source code, the owners of the copyright and
the IP would only be making it less difficult to look at the
code when the source code is also available.

So as a start to seeing if the discussion might lead somewhere,
I will start by looking at three important areas in software:

The days when the internet was composed of only individuals
and companies who all knew each other and were not going
to cause harm to any of the members are long gone, if they
were ever truly present.  If the code for all software was
published, then the actual security would consist of the way
in which the passwords were managed.  The days of backdoors
and buffer overflows would rapidly disappear and many more
eyes would be available to evaluate that aspect.  And software
would, of necessity, be required to start with security as a
primary goal rather than being added at the end.

Most large software packages have some software bugs.  If
all of the code had to be published, it would be much easier for
expert individuals to find and fix the bugs.  Note that some bugs
are security risks while others are not.  Intense focus on security
would allow for bugs in that area to be discovered and caught
more quickly.  But other bugs would be much more easily found
and fixed if the source code is available.

To often it takes users to protest for a long time for changes
to be made.  If code was written in a manner which allowed
for the sharing of the revenues, the owner of the copyright
and the IP could have a much more productive relationship
and the end user would have much better software available.
With the availability of the source code, anyone who is expert
enough could enhance code which a short-sighted owner  or
an owner with a lack of resources neglected.  While I don't
think that even DECUS supported the sharing of revenue,
it was certainly a powerful forum for enhancements to be made
to DEC software.

Suggestions are requested from everyone as to how the above
three areas could become responsibilities of the owner of the
copyright and the IP of software.  Neglecting them, and any other
areas, could be cause for requiring the transfer of the copyright
and IP to others who are willing to taking on those responsibilities
and perhaps the transfer price could be based on both a fraction
of past profits and future profits with a scale that provides decreasing
weight the further away in time those past profits and future profits
occur.  That would ensure that owners who are no longer prepared
to support their software allow for an orderly transition.  And when
a given area of software is past its BEST  BEFORE  DATE and
the profits vanish, any hobby users could begin to act without any
legal problems.  If somehow the software became profitable again,
the original owners could still receive a portion of the new revenue
based on how long the original owners had been inactive along
with other factors.

The point I am making is that perhaps instead of just complaining,
a group could be formed which produces actual changes in the
laws which govern software.

Have any of the points I have mentioned been reasonable?  Are
there additional factors which need attention?  If you think my
approach is lacking in objectivity and substance, please advance
you own point of view and suggest alternatives which will make
a difference, not just keep the status quo.  What is needed is
enlightened self-interest on everyone's part as opposed to the
solution which regards over fishing a given portion of the ocean
until all the fish are gone as a satisfactory solution and time to
move to a different location and repeat the same mistakes.

Would it be possible to form a group which produces advice for
changes in the laws that would be beneficial to all parties and
provide owners of copyright and IP over software benefits at the
same time that the users also benefit.  In short a win-win situation
under co-operation rather than the winner takes all approach.

Jerome Fine

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