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TAP Controversy: Eric S. Raymond, Round One
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*Eric S. Raymond
"Mr. Lessig's accusations are patent nonsense. We hackers are not hermits or madmen but rather (for all our eccentricities) productive and, on the whole, comparatively well-adjusted members of law-abiding societies. I'm sure we commit much less actual crime and craziness as a class than (say) politicians." [read more]

* Lawrence Lessig
"Government has a role in enabling the conditions for innovation. It has a role in ensuring those conditions survive. 'We' should start thinking critically about that vital role. Or before we know it, despite the best efforts of the open-source movement to 'crush' others, others will have co-opted government to a very different end." [read more]

* Nathan Newman
"Raymond is wrong to argue that only those who code themselves have the right to have an opinion on its social use, but even among that techno-elite, both in voices from the past and those looking to the future, dissent against the hegemonic libertarian myth is growing." [read more]

*Jeff A. Taylor
"As recently as 1997 or so, I thought the tech community had to bridge the gap with the regulators and get in the political ballgame -- make contributions, hire lobbyists, the whole deal. Now I've come to believe this is pointless. The forces arrayed against pure tech players -- Hollywood and the content dons, the RBOCs, state and local government -- are just too powerful." [read more]

* Jonathan Band
"Government has the ability to help or hinder the open-source movement. If the open-source community ignores the government, the forces that oppose openness will take advantage of this absence and will turn the power of the government against openness." [read more]

*Eric S. Raymond
"We trust the invisible hand of the market partly because we are the invisible hand. And most (though not all) of us believe we can punish Microsoft's misbehavior and hubris more effectively and more ethically than could be done through government action." [read more]

* Lawrence Lessig (New Particpant)
"I want to ask: Come on, Eric -- do you really think 'free market' is self-defining or self-generating? Do strong patent rights, for example, exist in your 'free market'? Are those 20 year monopolies granted by a government bureaucrat 'property' or 'regulation'?" [read more]

* Nathan Newman
"We need new paradigms for compensating artists, writers and programmers. For a radical suggestion, I would note the model of British libraries where authors are paid a sum by the government every time a book is borrowed from a library. This could be extended to the Net with a payment-per-download system from government funds." [read more]

*Jeff A. Taylor
"It seems to me that with UCITA, big software makers are more worried about having to support funked up code than taking every bit twiddler to court." [read more]

* Jonathan Band
"The open-source community, however, will be making a terrible mistake if it believes that the government has no relevance to its activities. If it assumes this posture, the proprietary interests will succeed in convincing Congress to overprotect intellectual property." [read more]

*Eric S. Raymond
"We experience Microsoft's attempts to monopolize and the government's attempts to regulate as equally threatening, equally disruptive, equally evil." [read more]

* Nathan Newman
"There is an almost charming Gatsbyesque quality to the techno- libertarian denial of the past in plotting the brave new unregulated future of cyberspace. Less charming to many is the fact that so much commercial money has promoted this ideological denial, with many high-tech leaders seemingly buying their own myth." [read more]

*Jeff A. Taylor
"As with every other kind of government action, I think the first rule has to be: Do no harm. And I think it is likely that the more government tries to support open source, the more it will end up harming it." [read more]

* Jonathan Band
"A remedy requiring Microsoft to publish the Windows source code would obviously help the open-source movement. Requiring Microsoft to abide by the open-source license principles going forward would be even better." [read more]


Controversy organized by Ed Cohn and Nicholas Confessore.

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Tux, the Linux mascot, with his copy of The American Prospect. Controversy:
Should Public Policy Support Open-Source Software?
A roundtable discussion in response to the technology issue of The American Prospect.

Eric S. Raymond -- Round One

If Larry Lessig really believes that anti-regulation, pro-free-market sentiment is confined to naive Internet kids, he is dead wrong. His argument for regulation is equally fallacious.

I have been an Internet user since ARPANET [Advanced Research Projects Agency Network] days, in 1976. Today I am one of the senior technical cadre that makes the Internet work, and a core Linux and open-source developer. I have closely studied the history of the Internet technical culture. It is therefore rather doubtful that I can be said to suffer from Mr. Lessig's imputed "extraordinary ignorance about the history of the Internet." ["Innovation, Regulation, and The Internet," TAP Vol. 11 Issue 10]

Further: while politicians talked about public access, I acted -- in 1993, I built a free volunteer-run ISP [Internet service provider] to serve minorities and the poor and senior citizens in Chester County, PA. Chester County InterLink is still running today.

Speaking both in my own person and as an ambassador from the people who built and run the Internet, I say Mr. Lessig's pro-regulation argument is confused and mistaken. First, he waves around a historical theory that without it AT&T; would never have permitted the Internet to happen. Then he confuses "regulation" by voluntary mutual contract with regulation by government force.

The obvious counter to the first argument is that AT&T; was itself a creature of regulation, and that two public-policy wrongs of this kind very seldom make a right. Mr. Lessig, apparently realizing the weakness of his position, stops short of actually trying to use the history to justify regulation. Instead, executing a deft rhetorical backflip, he tries to equate the voluntary social contract of the open-source community with government fiats.

I didn't invent the open-source community's social contract, but I analyzed it and gave it a name and told its story in my book, "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" -- and I must say I find Mr. Lessig's equation both morally and pragmatically bogus on multiple grounds.

Morally, there is a chasm between mutual voluntary cooperation and the involuntary, one-size-fits-all pseudo-cooperation enforced at the point of government guns. We in the open-source community are clear about this, even if Mr. Lessig is not. More power for politicians, bureaucrats and regulators will only hinder our work as it has in the past, and is no part of our design.

Pragmatically, Mr. Lessig ignores the inconvenient fact that three of the classic four model open-source licenses (including the one attached to most of the Internet's core code) do not in fact require people to keep derived works of code open. The one that does so require (the GPL [General Public License]) offers only a contract between equals which nobody is compelled to enter, not the disempowering and coercive "thou shalt" of regulation. And the GPL has never been tested in court.

Thus, the open-source community (like the Internet standards Mr. Lessig poses as a model of virtue) is sustained not by government regulation, or even by contract law, but by essentially voluntary norms founded in enlightened self-interest. And that's the way we in that community want to keep it. We experience Microsoft's attempts to monopolize and the government's attempts to regulate as equally threatening, equally disruptive, equally evil.

Nathan Newman's recapitulation of Internet history is less actively erroneous in its facts, but still seems curiously disconnected from the reality I have experienced over a quarter-century of using and building the Internet. He attributes much more consciousness, intention, and coherence to the government's actions than they seemed to have at the time.

By doing this, Mr. Newman is able to construct a narrative in which the benign hand of government gave us the edenic ARPANET, and its removal has cast us into the outer darkness to await the salvation of more government action. This narrative almost reverses the actual case, and would be met with disbelieving laughter by most of my peers.

In fact, most Internet policy has been made by default, often by individuals within the government against the government's stated intentions. For example, when Mr. Newman praises the inclusive growth process that led to an ever-larger community of users and technologists working with the Internet, he ignores the way that actually happened. A few far-sighted individuals at the DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] deliberately flouted the ARPANET's charter, which restricted access to those directly working on research and government contracts. These renegades encouraged the growth of early online communities like the SF-LOVERS list that had nothing to do with the official objectives of the program -- and then effectively lied to a Congressional oversight committee to cover up what they were doing.

Before the 1994-1995 privatization of the Internet that Mr. Newman so regrets, I would not have been able to build Chester County Interlink. I wanted to -- I'd wanted to for years -- but the government's Appropriate Use Policy prevented it!

Indeed, when the government has officially and consciously set out to make Internet policy, the results have been almost uniformly disastrous. Consider as another example the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which would have sunk my little free-access ISP under its conformance overhead.

But the policy recommendations at the end are so diffuse that it seems almost beside the point to argue with Mr. Newman. I could certainly applaud an explicit call for the government to stop purchasing closed-source software; that would issue Microsoft a well-deserved check without entailing any coercion at all. But Mr. Newman never quite gets that far, issuing instead only a vague call for the government to "consolidate resources in support of open-source solutions."

We, the people who built the Internet and are making today's open-source revolution, have received a comprehensive education over the last twenty-five years in the results of government "help." It has taught us to trust technology and free markets and our own competence, not the well- (or ill-) intentioned interventions of politicians and pundits.

The best advice on Internet policy remains "Laissez faire, laissez passer."

Eric S. Raymond is an Internet developer and writer living in Malvern, PA.

Eric S. Raymond
Rounds: One | Two | Three
Lawrence Lessig
Rounds: Two | Three
Nathan Newman
Rounds: One | Two | Three
Jeff Taylor
Rounds: One | Two | Three
Jonathan Band
Rounds: One | Two | Three

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