Chad Perrin: SOB

2 August 2009

can’t see the parse tree for the leaves

Filed under: Geek,Liberty,Writing — apotheon @ 12:20

Erik Naggum, Lisper and member of the comp.lang.lisp newsgroup, had some ideas to share about the economic character of “code sharing” in 2001. In summary, he said:

All of this “code sharing” is an economic surplus phenomenon.

To wrap up his assertion that, in essence, open source software is (solely) an “economic surplus phenomenon”, he said:

As for giving away things for free, if you cannot make it yourself, just buy it from someone else and give it away. If someone has something you want to be free, the problem is no harder than to cough up the money to make them want to do it, too. If this is not palatable to those who want things others have made for free, they demonstrate that somebody else somehow should accept the cost of this operation without compensation. Since I have not heard about any organization working to buy software from those who “hoard” it, quite unlike those organization that buy up tropical forest land and promise never to sell it or develop it, I tend to believe the whole “free software” thing is really a way of tricking immature people to give away their work. (I was one of those people.)

That’s a remarkably narrow view. Why does he think that the only reason to contribute code is for altruistic, generous reasons? I share code and English-language writing (i.e., attach a copyfree license to it) for two reasons:

  1. I believe it’s the right thing to do — not out of generosity, but rather out of a belief in the unethicality of enforcing monopoly power through government interference in market forces.

  2. It helps me.

I don’t share code so that others can enjoy it and I can live in a world of fairies and rainbows and teddy bears. I’m not doing it to power up my Care Bear Stare. I “share” code because I fundamentally disagree with the notion that it’s acceptable to assert a government grant of monopoly over the infinitely renewable resource of copies of an idea (especially to “encourage” the arts and sciences, having seen the strong discouragement it actually creates), and because I actually get something out of it — something far more concrete than a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Clearly, someone (not naming any names like Erik Naggum, for instance) hasn’t thought about the fact that in the long run, where DRM is ultimately self-defeating and compiled software will be increasingly susceptible to decompilation and reverse engineering, business models predicated upon an assumption that “the enemy knows the system” (thanks Claude Shannon) will prove superior to those that require revenue stream security through code obscurity.

Hearkening back to 2001 as this newsgroup posting does, it’s possible he has changed his mind since then. If so, his words may haunt him now. If not, I think he needs to take another look at the matter.


  1. Unfortunately, you’re about two weeks to late to get him to reconsider that opinion. Erik Naggum (June 13, 1965–June 17, 2009) –

    Comment by Steve Downey — 3 August 2009 @ 10:12


    Comment by Anonymous — 3 August 2009 @ 10:50

  3. Woah — sad news, and unfortunate timing. Thanks for the information, Steve.

    Comment by apotheon — 3 August 2009 @ 10:51

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