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Hello freedom seekers. My name is Patrick Anderson.

I've been working on writing a Trade Agreement in the spirit of the FSF's GNU GPL that joint owning investors can choose to apply to physical Sources of Production such as Land, Tools, Buildings, Plants, Water, Computers, Networks, etc., and to the Objects of those Sources.

The current version is GNU's Not Usury General Public Law, and is at version 4 - which also causes the abbreviation to be GPLv4.

This social contract will accomplish many of the goals we have for hardware that are out of reach for a copyright license, such as eliminating DRM, accelerating OLPC (One Loaf Per Child), and generally improving our world through User Freedom.

We tend to think of software as a special product because it is appears to exist in a virtual world of zero rivalry. But that is incorrect. While any digital information can be quickly and almost effortlessly copied from one physical medium to another, the costs to store and express it are not even close to zero. One of the largest costs is the computer itself.

The genetics of wheat, the designs of the tools and the plan or instructions used to plant, harvest, grind, mix and bake are the virtual parts of bread. The physical parts are the actual seeds (the mass which contains that data called DNA), land (surface area of the earth), soil (both minerals and rotting organic matter), water, energy (including the SUN), petrol for plastics and metals (and recursively the virtual and physical parts of the machines used to extract these from the earth and form them), etc.

A computer also needs land (rackspace - which also implies a building), energy (electricity), plastic and metals; plus the virtual designs needed to assemble those raw materials into motherboards, CPU, RAM, Hard Drive, Optical Media read/writer, fans, screws, etc.

Moglen claims it would be evil to not give bread away if it were as cheap to produce, yet, if we step through the costs of production we find the physical resouces needed to host the production of bread are much smaller than those needed to host instances of software.

When he says nobody owns Free Software he is referring to the virtual part, but when it comes to the physical material required to host (store and express) that software, it is primarily the end-users that own. OLPC was started to address that very issue for those that don't have a home machine.

So for computing the problem is hidden in plain sight - in that we overlook those costs maybe because we have the attitude "well, I would have bought the computer either way". But that same reasoning could be applied to your yard. If you own land that is not covered by asphalt, concrete or continually poisoned with weed killer then it will probably be growing something, and that something very well could be the extremely easy to grow grass called Wheat. You could grow enough in 1 square foot to make a loaf, but most people don't because it is too clumsy, but even if we limit ourselves to the small-scale production where physical Sources are only individually owned (such as Mao's back-yard steel furnaces) the cost is still less than software. The simple hand tools required over the entire production of bread are very rudimentary and orders of magnitude less complex than the electronics required to store and express software.

But this is even easier to prove for large scale, corporate owned agriculture where the costs are so small that the US government actually PAYS farmers to NOT grow wheat. They (the supposed "we") use federal tax dollars to keep wheat (and therefore bread) artificially expensive so that price does not reach cost. This also causes US to 'dump' this food in foreign countries for prices less than what the local producer can charge.

You may think "It's not our fault, why don't they just grow their own damn food?". But the trouble there is our universal misconception of profit as goal instead of production. So, while a small farmer who owns the physical Sources of Production can grow some wheat for himself, once he begins trading with neighbors he must take a stance AGAINST them because ownership of those Sources do not 'flow' to the consumers of the objects of that production.

This is the same lack of control we see and are beginning to complain about with SaaS hosts such as MySpace, Feedburner, Google, etc. and all other industry such as cell-phone 'service', gasoline producers, DRM laden electronics, etc. who offer deals that appears to be "good enough", but can pull the rug out whenever they please and can charge a price far above cost, as they are the owners.

This is the core issue of what is wrong with the structure of our economy. Prices must be "protected" from reaching cost because businesses define their success by the profit they extract, not by production itself.

Confusingly, the word "producer" sometimes denotes the Owners, and sometimes denotes the Workers. For a small business where the owner is also a worker the line is even more blurry. Workers receive wages, and are not generally involved with profit, while owners usually invest for the long term goal of profit. This is a precarious situation that destroys small business that play that game, since efficiency in scale causes only the largest corporations to survive. This is why we see fewer and fewer farm owners and our food supply being controlled by a handful of powerful corporations that barely need answer to our supposed consumer 'demands'.

But there is a special case where price can reach cost - where production and abundance is always good and profit is actually meaningless. This condition occurs when the Object Users (consumers) also happen to be the very Owners of the physical Sources (Means of Production).

When you OWN the land, water, seed, tractor, thresher, grinder, mixer, stove, pans, buildings needed to make bread you may hire someone to operate those things (and would pay that wage as a cost), but you can't pay price above cost, as it doesn't make even sense at that point; profit is undefined.

Owning the Sources of Production is easy when the operation is small and you don't need to share, but in many cases it is more efficient or even mandatory that the physical Sources be jointly owned because each person just can't afford (and it would be terribly wastful) to Own the land, buildings, tools, etc. to make (for instance) laptops - we tend to leave that to a random group of owners that intend to keep price above cost.

The argument against adressing this issue usually revolves around the idea "Well, who in the world would invest if there will be no profit?". The surprising answer is: *The Consumer* will invest, since production is already their only motive.

So now the question of how to make this occur without coercion - since any other way would be not only unfair, but, as Moglen states, would not have enough momentum to continue anyway.

A solution patterned after the GNU General Public License trade agreement would be some kind of contract that owners could CHOOSE to apply to physical property. That contract might say something to the effect of:

If you share this object (say an apple), you must ensure the end user (the consumer) has access to the Sources of that object (the land, water, trees, tools). One way to accomplish this is through a revenue sharing scheme that causes any amount paid above costs (what would usually be called profit) to become an investment in the name of that User toward the purchase of more physical Sources required for future production of that same object.

All physical things are hosts for the storage and expression of virtual things.

Information (any virtual thing) must be hosted by material goods that have the physical properties of "mass" or "energy".

  • Audio and Video have been hosted on a wide variety of physical things including a metal cylinder, grooved plastic discs, photoreactive film, etc.
  • Software is usually stored on optical or magnetic media and is expressed with a computer and electricity.
  • Mechanical design is stored on paper (blueprints) or on a computer (CAD) and is expressed with machines that copy (manufacture) that design.
  • Genetics (DNA) is stored in seeds, spores, eggs or living organisms and expressed through water, soil, air, and sun.

It has been argued that comparing software to spaghetti is an overstretched analogy.

But this conclusion may be invalid because the comparison is between the Type of an Object (all possible copies of a computer program) and a single Instance of another Object (one particular copy of spaghetti).

Software can NOT be copied without access to physical Sources of Production. It requires land, a computer, at least one instance of the software, magnetic or optical media, tools, energy and time.
Spaghetti CAN be copied with access to physical Sources of Production. It requires land, soil, at least one wheat seed, water, tools, energy and time.

Discussion of Free Software licenses limits our investigation to the virtual realm of information because that happens to be the domain of Copyright. But all information requires a physical host, so the real differences between Software and Spaghetti are much smaller than they appear.

  • Comparing Type (infinite info):
All possible copies of this software type; limited by physical Sources.
If you run or change a program I wrote affects you directly and me only indirectly. Whether you give a copy to your friend affects you and your friend much more than it affects me. I shouldn't have the power to tell you not to do these things. No one should. Not even Microsoft.
All possible copies of this spaghetti type; limited by physical Sources.
If you eat your own copy of that type of spaghetti affects you directly and me only indirectly. Whether you give a copy to your friend affects you and your friend much more than it affects me. I shouldn't have the power to tell you not to do these things. No one should. Not even Monsanto.

  • Comparing Instance (rivalrous mass):
The CD/DVD, Hard Drive or RAM that host this copy of the software.
When I write software, I do object if someone else takes that INSTANCE, because then I cannot also use it. His action hurts me exactly as much as it benefits him; only one of us can use THAT PARTICULAR COPY, so the question is, which?
The mashed and pressed wheat seeds (noodles) that host this copy of spaghetti.
When I cook spaghetti, I do object if someone else eats that INSTANCE, because then I cannot eat it. His action hurts me exactly as much as it benefits him; only one of us can eat the spaghetti, so the question is, which?


More thoughts

The FSF's GNU GPL is an international Free (as in Freedom) Trade Agreement that requires the 'virtual' Sources of Production be made available "at cost" to any Consumer that receives an Object Instance, regardless of price.

Owners of physical Sources pay the real and recurring costs to invest, install, operate and maintain them.

Competition for consumer profit occurs only between Source Owners, never between non-owning Workers since no work can be done without access to physical Sources of Production.

Owners receive profit when consumers pay more than cost. Consumers pay more than cost when they calculate there is no better alternative. That profit is a measure of the Consumer's dependence on those Owners. Wage is not profit, it is a cost of production.

Let's write a revenue sharing agreement to help owners begin syndicating freedom in the physical realm. Maybe we could call it "General Public Law" -> GPLv4.

GPLv4 could require Consumers be given the option of accepting shares of controlling ownership in physical Sources of production whenever they pay more than cost.

The Consumers of a GPLv4 Object would slowly gain joint control of the physical Sources still available for investment; or would be growing the cooporation as the current owners would use those funds to buy more land, buildings, plants, tools, water rights, etc.

I don't want to have artificial limits, but wonder if there should be some kind of delay in transferring control to the Consumer if they tend to just immediately sell their shares for cash, and also for the disruptiveness of too many hands in the kitchen too soon...

A social Operating System can stabilize when profit is an investment in the Object Consumer's behalf toward physical Sources used to create more copies of that Object Type.

This holds the economy in a sort of tension that continually adjusts to the dynamic demands of Object Users so the perfect case of Consumer Ownership is always being approached, though never quite reached except for Consumers with very static wants.

Profit is meaningless and competition is perfect when an Object Consumer is also the Owner of the physical Sources for that Object.

  • Scarcity is never sought and sources are real insurance.
  • Low prices are always good and tend toward cost.
  • New users gain control whenever paying price above cost.
  • Old owners loose control whenever failing to pay costs.
  • Product is reward for owners; profit is new user growth.
  • Profit is held by new users as their investment in sources.
  • Unemployment is not a problem. It is the second goal.
  • Work is to be eliminated as a hurdle on the road to riches.
  • Competition is between all artisans, not just between owners.
  • Wages are minimized and permanent solutions are sought.
  • Dumping is harmless as the goal is product, never profit.


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