[Upd-discuss] Paper:"Digital property" By Sabine Nuss, NY, NY, April 12-14, 2002

Richard M. Stallman rms@gnu.org
Sat, 06 Aug 2005 14:36:31 -0400


Here are some comments on the substance of that paper.  Zapopan,
please forward this too to the other lists, if you see fit.

    Considering that the Madonna song is now available free and everywhere on
    the net, that it is thus not subject to the owner’s discretionary and
    exclusive power of disposition, its value cannot (or only with
    considerable effort) be realized.

To speak of "realizing the value" assumes that the only value of a work
consists of the money that could be made from it.

There is more than one conceptual way to value a work.  One value is
_what you get in exchange for it_, and the other is _what it
contributes to society_.  For material commodities in a competitive
market, the former tends to follow the latter (but watch out for
externalities, such as pollution that neither the producer nor the
consumer pays for).  But that conclusion is not universally
applicable.  In cases where it is not applicable, the two kinds of
"value" have to be distinguished.

    The internet freedom fighters explicitly separate cyberspace from the real
    world (other rules etc.). This is false, both analytically and in reality.

Here the article argues against a straw man.  Of course software is a
part of the real world--what else could it be, a fantasy?  The use and
development of software are part of the real world, too.

What we say is that what can be done with software (and other
information) in the real world is different from what can be done with
physical objects--and this has consequences.

    The critics of private property relations on the net refer only to the
    level of commodity circulation. They don’t take into account the sphere of
    capitalist production.

We are more concerned with the use of software than with its
development for a specific practical reason: the use of software (the
word "commodity" is inappropriate) affects our freedom, where as its
development does not.  Therefore, the details of the social system of
use of software are directly important to us, in way that the system
of development isn't.

The word "commodity" is part of the Marxist mind-set that thinks in
terms of economic value only.

    As we know, the consequence is what Marx labels the transition of
    the laws of appropriation. Capitalist property is not based on the
    appropriation of one’s own work but rather on the appropriation
    of other people’s work.

This is often true in the case proprietary software--when it is
developed by employees or contractors.  But it is not true in the case
of free software, because free software becomes part of society's
commons.  It is not appropriated by anyone--neither the persons that
develop it, nor some employer of theirs.

    If you take this perspective, naturally the question does not arise why a
    principle like the exclusive power of disposition exists in the first
    place and where it comes from. Rather, the only question that comes up is
    how to change and adapt this principle considering the special quality of
    digital goods. 

Not just "how", but "whether"!

    In this, they resonate with the promoters of modern management
    models for the internet economy, where similar models are
    discussed but in a different terminology and with the aim of
    avoiding the difficulties for establishing restrictive property
    rights on the net, and not in order to keep information
    free”. Ultimately, these models result in digital goods being
    part of a whole product, as described earlier.

The earlier example cites Acrobat Reader.  It is a valid example
precisely because Acrobat Reader is _not_ free software.  This
conclusion is invalid when applied to nontrivial free software,
because the ability to make programs that work with it is, in general,
not limited to any specific developer.

						   These digital goods
    appear to be ”free”, but that is an illusion, because as
    part of a whole product they would still be subordinated to
    commercial pressures and only stay accessible as long as they were
    profitable as part of this product.

This conclusion is inaccurate too, because it is based on the previous
one.


 

[Upd-discuss] Response from Sabine Nuss to Stallman Re: Paper:"Digital property" By Sabine Nuss, NY, NY, April 12-14, 2002

Zapopan Martin Muela-Meza zapopanmuela@yahoo.com
Wed, 7 Sep 2005 04:27:25 -0700 (PDT)


Please include Sabine's email when responding. Cheers Zapopan
-------------------------------------------------------------
To:	"Zapopan Martin Muela-Meza" <zapopanmuela@yahoo.com>
From:	"Sabine Nuss" <sabine.nuss@prokla.de>  
Subject:	udp-list
Date:	Fri, 2 Sep 2005 15:54:40 +0200

Dear Zapopan,

somebody gave me a hint to the discussion in the upd-discuss  
Mailinglist, where Stallman and others gave some comments on my  
paper, which you distributed. Since you have access to this list, I  
would appreciate it if you could post my answer in this list. That  
would be great!

here are my comments to stallman's comments:

A few days ago I got the mails from the upd-discuss-mailinglist,  
where Stallman criticized my paper about digital property. I’m really  
glad, that my arguments are discussed. I would like to answer to  
Stallman’s critic, because there were some interesting points in his  
reaction, but also some misunderstandings.

One of the main critic of Stallman was the use of the term copyleft,  
from which he said that it was used in a false way. I think there is  
a reason for this misunderstanding in my text: I took the term more  
as a label than as a strict juristic term, which refers to a certain  
type of license. And: I did not have only Free Software in my mind  
when I talked about „Free Information“. E.g. on some point I  
mentioned the Acrobat Reader as an example for a special business  
practice, where things are giving away free of charge to bind people  
to a certain product. It was NOT meant to be an example of free  
software. I admit, one has to distinguish different digital goods  
more precisely, in free software, shareware, freeware - and what else  
one can term. But in that short paper I only wanted to stress and  
analyse arguments for a less restrictive copyright system. In the  
debate about intellectual property in the internet these arguments  
are not only related to free software, but to all sorts of digital  
goods. So much for that.

I continue with direct response to Stallman’s Mail:

I wrote in my paper:

„The internet freedom fighters explicitly separate cyberspace from  
the real world (other rules etc.). This is false, both analytically  
and in reality.“

Stallman wrote in his mail:

„Here the article argues against a straw man. Of course software is a
part of the real world--what else could it be, a fantasy? The use and
development of software are part of the real world, too.

What we say is that what can be done with software (and other
information) in the real world is different from what can be done with
physical objects--and this has consequences.“

According to the internet freedom fighters is that, what can be done  
with software (and other information) in the real world, different  
from what can be done with physical objects. But: the internet  
freedom fighters draw the consequences that there must be other rules  
for this sphere. That was the point I wanted to stress. Now I would  
add, that in a capitalistic society for the „immaterial world“ the  
same rules are valid as for the material world: private property is  
the precondition for selling things (unless intellectual work is  
protected by a different law – the copyright law). But one have to  
find alternative ways to execute these same rules: If you will earn  
money with free software, and you don’t fence in the code as private  
property, then you have to find other areas connected to the code,  
where you can earn money with, e.g. writing and selling the handbook  
or the support.

I wrote in my paper:

„The critics of private property relations on the net refer only to  
the level of commodity circulation. They don’t take into account the  
sphere of capitalist production.“

Stallman wrote in his mail:

„We are more concerned with the use of software than with its
development for a specific practical reason: the use of software (the
word "commodity" is inappropriate) affects our freedom, where as its
development does not. Therefore, the details of the social system of
use of software are directly important to us, in way that the system
of development isn't.“

When I wrote about “production” I had not only in mind the  
development of software, but all branches of capitalist production.  
My point was that the scope of critic of the internet freedom  
fighters is too limited, when restricted to circulation. It seems a  
little bit funny, how Stallman confirms this point. When he reads  
production, he only understands production of software. What is less  
funny is his view that only the use of software “affects our  
freedom”. Apparently, the only freedom he knows is the freedom of the  
consumer. That freedom is also affected by capitalist production, not  
only by submitting the workers in the capitalist production process  
but also by implementing the logic of profit to the whole society, he  
doesn’t seem to recognize.

Stallman wrote in his mail:

„The word ‚commodity’ is part of the Marxist mind-set that thinks in
terms of economic value only.“

It would be nice, if everyone who uses the word commodity would have  
at least a few Marxist ideas in mind. Unfortunately it is a word used  
in any modern economic theory. But it is correct, that “commodity”  
stresses the connection to economic value. And that every economic  
theory does this may have its reason in the fact, that we live in a  
capitalist society, where economic value is the most important  
attribute of goods.

Stallman wrote in his mail:

„To speak of ‚realizing the value’ assumes that the only value of a work
consists of the money that could be made from it.

There is more than one conceptual way to value a work. One value is
_what you get in exchange for it_, and the other is _what it
contributes to society_.  For material commodities in a competitive
market, the former tends to follow the latter (but watch out for
externalities, such as pollution that neither the producer nor the
consumer pays for).  But that conclusion is not universally
applicable. In cases where it is not applicable, the two kinds of
"value" have to be distinguished.“

It is correct to distinguish between economic value, which is  
realized in money and a value contributing to the society. But what  
Stallman then says, that in a competitive market the economic value  
tends to follow the value for the society is nothing else as the  
prophets of free markets pretend in advertising their paradise. But  
the real capitalism looks not so nice. Here economic value follows  
profit: on the one hand a lot of useless stuff is sold, after  
expensive advertisement has created the need for it and on the other  
hand a lot of things and services, which would contribute very well  
to society is not produced because this production would bring no  
profits. So, that economic value doesn’t follow the contribution for  
society is not a very special case in a capitalist society. Such a  
view can only occur if one is only looking at one branch and  
neglecting capitalism around.

My conclusion is:

In the material world the scarcity is artificial as well, it is the  
result of the private property regime: in nearly every capitalist  
economy you have a lot of unemployed persons and unemployed  
capacities. Would they come together a lot of useful goods could be  
produced. But they come only together, when you can make profit by  
this production. Also in the material world profit is the main  
determinant of scarcity. We don’t recognize this anymore because we  
are used to it, we take it as natural and as such a natural thing it  
is the starting point in our analysis. This is the reason why every  
economic textbook starts with the sentence „goods are scarce“. The  
measures undertaken in the last century to commodify the  
„Cyberspace“, that means to put property protection technologies in  
it and to pass appropriate laws, shows that the same rules are valid  
- in the material and the immaterial world. The difference between  
these worlds lays only in the material consistence, which requires a  
different dealing with the way of commodification. Fighting for free  
software „without“ criticizing capitalism as such means to help  
capitalism in finding new and modern forms of capital accumulation  
and exploitation. With such a fight for freedom one supports a  
system, which is based on bondage - it is an oxymoron.

thank you!
Sabine


   

[Upd-discuss] Response from Sabine Nuss to Stallman Re: Paper:"Digital property" By Sabine Nuss, NY, NY, April 12-14, 2002

Richard M. Stallman rms@gnu.org
Tue, 27 Sep 2005 17:58:18 -0400


I read and responded to the first part of Sabine Nuss's response.
(Then I ran out of time.)

    According to the internet freedom fighters is that, what can be done  
    with software (and other information) in the real world, different  
    from what can be done with physical objects. But: the internet  
    freedom fighters draw the consequences that there must be other rules  
    for this sphere.

Yes, we do say this.

Those words above accurately represent the views of some people,
including me.  However, the article presented the views inaccurately,
saying that we deny software is part of the real world.

    Now I would  
    add, that in a capitalistic society for the „immaterial world“ the  
    same rules are valid as for the material world:

On the contrary, under current US or EU law, the rules are NOT the
same.  Copyright law does make people treat copies of information
_more_ like physical objects, but it's still not the same.

More importantly, that is not the only option that a capitalist
society has.  There is no single choice that is automatically forced.

     private property is  
    the precondition for selling things (unless intellectual work is  
    protected by a different law – the copyright law).

The term "selling", when applied to software, often hides a lot of
complexity.  For instance, anyone can make and sell copies of free
software, because these copies are private property.  But this has
nothing to do with copyright law.

    If you will earn  
    money with free software, and you don’t fence in the code as private  
    property, then you have to find other areas connected to the code,  
    where you can earn money with, e.g. writing and selling the handbook  
    or the support.

That is true--as regards those who want to make money from developing
free software.  However, let's not forget that many free software
developers work as volunteers, and probably have other jobs, which
could be anything at all.  It is a mistake to assume that developing
free software entails making money from it.

    When I wrote about “production” I had not only in mind the  
    development of software, but all branches of capitalist production.  

The Free Software Movement is not against Capitalism, and it is not
based on Marxism.  Its goals are not based on Marxist ideas, and they
relate to issues that don't apply to most production of _goods_.
If you generalize "production" so broadly, you're orienting the
discussion in a direction that doesn't relate much to free software.