[Fsfe-ie] Re: ethical interpretations of FS

Fergal Daly fergal at esatclear.ie
Thu Feb 5 12:10:05 CET 2004

I've asnwered your last bit first because it's the key point. The other
stuff is just justifying previous arguments.

On Wed, Feb 04, 2004 at 08:28:00PM +0000, Ian Clarke wrote:
> WHY would it be a good idea to make a law that says any user of program 
> X is entitled to the source code for program X?
> My argument is that any answer you give to this question, according to 
> your, sorry, the FSF's definition of "using", would apply equally to all 
> information, and would therefore be silly.

Because then the user would not be dependent on the author of X for all
fixes and improvements.

This reason cannot be applied to passwords.

The important part is not software being freely available, it's the user
being free from restrictions once they have the software.

In fact most passwords already have this freedom, you the user are free to
change your password and improve it without permission from the "author" of
your password.

The Free in FSF is about far more than freely available. In fact the FSF say
freely available source is no good on it's own. The Freedom they are
concerned with is the Freedom to modify, use and redistribute modified
versions without any control from the original author.

The cost of the software is not the issue. In fact if there was a law that
said all software can be sold at whatever price you like, for which you also
get the source code and the right to run not just the original but your own
and other people's modified copies. Then that would be a far Freer (as in
FSF) world than if software all software was given away but you still don't
get the source or you can't change the source.

> To win the argument all you have to do is answer this question and 
> explain what makes your answer advocates the non-secrecy of software 
> without advocating the non-secrecy of all information.

I think we were arguing with 2 differrent definitions of free.

More stuff below if that wasn't enough.

> >No, to show 2 things are not isomorphic all I have to do is find a single
> >thing that's true for one of them and false for the other. Here's the
> >simplest difference I can think of "all passwords available to everyone"
> >implies no password protected bank accounts. Whereas "all source code
> >available to users" does not imply no password protected bank accounts (or
> >at least I cannot see why it would).
> Well, we are going off on a logical tangent here - but... the FSFs 
> argument is that a certain thing, lets call them S, should not be kept 
> secret.  Presumably they have a justification as to why all S should not 
> be kept secret.  S is a subset of Y.  If the FSF can't explain why their 
> justification should apply to all S but not all Y, and if it is 
> obviously silly to say that all Y should not be kept secret, then their 
> justification is clearly flawed.

But they can justify it.

Nobody would benefit if all passwords were public and huge amounts of people
in all walks of life would suffer. So no matter what way you cut it nobody
is better off with public passwords.

If you apply the same cost-benefit analysis to software in an FSF world you
get a different result. You get benefit for users at the expense of the
developers. How big each side of the balance is is open to debate but there
definitely are large numbers of people who would benefit from an FSF world.

The FSF would argue that in fact the benefits to the users are so great (and
the current negatives are so bad) that they outweigh the negatives to the

They would also argue that the ability of developers to get users hooked and
then extract a massive tax from them justifies the loss of what many people
see as "natural property rights", they believe this especially as this form
of property is no exclusive. Unlike physical property, my owning a copy does
not effect the original developer's ability use of the software. So it does
not take anything from the developers except some possible earnings. This
might discourage investment in software as a commercial product but the FSF
think that software doesn't need that such investment, that it can and will
be developed as a necessity.

Beyond the superficial idea of freeing what is currently private, there is
absolutely no connection between "all passwords must be public" and "all
users can get the source of the programs they use", arguments applied to one
of them do not apply to the other.

Apples and bananas are fruit but the only one which goes well with pork is

Software and passwords are types of information but the only one which can
be usefully freed is software.

> Your observation above is simply that "passwords", an elemnt of Y but 
> not S, should not be kept secret.  In saying that you are simply 
> agreeing with me that it is silly to say that all Y should not be kept 
> secret.  It doesn't affect the validity of my argument one way or the other.

I'm absolutely not saying that passwords should not be kept secret. I am
examining the conseuqences of not keeping them secret. My conclusion is that
there are no advantages and many disadvantages.

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