Eben Moglen, the lawyer of the Free Software Foundation, explains what is very wrong about the Microsoft-Novell agreement.
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Below you can find the video and a transcript of it from Wikisource which is released under the GNU Free Documentation License and hence gives me the freedom to redistribute it here under the same licence.
The “be very afraid tour” video
I beg your pardon, certainly, I thought the question was so obvious that it needed no repetition: â€œCould I explain the threat posed to GPLâ€™d softwareâ€™s freedom by the Microsoft/Novell agreement?â€.
And Iâ€™m gonna speak in slightly more general terms than that, beginning with: Imagine a party which wants to eliminate free softwareâ€™s freedom, or at least hobble its developers in serious ways, so as to inhibit their ability to compete. Imagine that such a party has patents of uncertain validity, but in large numbers, which it could conceivably use to scare developers and users. Imagine that such a party then begins to make periodic threats in the form: â€œGee, we have a lot of patents. Never mind how many, never mind what they are, never mind how good they are, we have a lot of patents, and someday something terrible will happen. Donâ€™t use that software.â€
Imagine that thatâ€™s a strategy that the party adverse to freedom engages in because itâ€™s better than suing. Suing is expensive, suing is irreversible, and suing might actually cause you to have to explain which patents they are and why theyâ€™re any good. So threatening is better than suing, okay? Imagine a party who engages in recurrent threats every summertime, for years on end, on a sort of annual â€œBe very afraidâ€ tour, okay?
I know, it sounds absurd, I know.
Imagine now that what happens is that the annual â€œBe very afraidâ€ tour starts creating terrible pushback, because people call up, who are the CEOs of major banks and financial institutions, and they say: â€œThose people youâ€™re threatening are us. Weâ€™re the largest, richest, most powerful people in capitalism, and we determine the value of your stock. We think you should be quiet now.â€
Okay? That happens if you do this thing, of saying â€œBe very afraidâ€ to people who have lots and lots of money and lots and lots of power and who control the value of your stock â€“ they will push back. The business model of threatening to sue people works if the people are 12-year-olds. It does not work real well if they are the pillars of finance capitalism. So, as a party engaged in annual â€œBe very afraidâ€ tours, youâ€™re gonna start to get pushback by enterprise customers who say â€œThatâ€™s us youâ€™re threatening.â€.
Now what if you could reduce their sense of being the people who are made afraid? What if you could find a way to give them quiet and peace â€“ and make a little money on the side â€“ so that the only people who are left quaking when you did your annual â€œBe very afraidâ€ tour, were the developers themselves? Now you would have given yourself a major ecological boost, in swinging your patents around and threatening to hurt people.
Deals for patent safety create the possibility of that risk to my clients, the development community. If enterprise thinks that it can go and buy the software my clients make from some party who gives them peace from the adversary in return for purchasing a license from them, then enterprises may think they have made a separate peace, and if they open the business section one morning and it says â€œAdversary makes trouble for free softwareâ€, they can think â€œNot my problem, I bought the such-and-such distribution, and Iâ€™m okay.â€
This process of attempting to segregate the enterprise customers â€“ whose insistence on their rights will stop the threatening â€“ from the developers who are at the end the real object of the threat, is what is wrong with the deals.
So what you ought to do is to say to parties â€œPlease donâ€™t make separate peace at the communityâ€™s expense. Please donâ€™t try to make your customers safe, if thatâ€™s gonna result in the destruction of the upstream rainforest where your goods come from. Weâ€™re an ecological system. If you undermine community defenses youâ€™re undermining the whole ecology, and doing that for the benefit of your customers at the expense of your suppliers is not a good way to stay in business.â€ So thatâ€™s the fundamental discussion about the problem created by such deals.
Now you have the second question, which is: â€œWhat to do about it?â€, but Joe didnâ€™t ask that question.