With a book, there are two important people involved: the writer and the reader. The writer has a concept which they communicate to the reader through words. The reader than turns the words back into the concept. With books, we can always see the words — by their nature, they can’t be hidden and cause the same effect.

Software is different. The programmer wants to do something, so he puts together a bunch of instructructions (source code) to do it. But then he compiles the source. The source code is compressed in a way that the computer will continue to do the same thing but humans can’t understand. It’s a difficult concept to describe and I can’t think of a good analogy but it’s important to understand that while you still get the same experience when running the program, you can’t look at the instructions that create that experience. It’s like the sealed toasters: they still work, but you can’t see inside.

Lessig is arguing that we should be allowed to see inside, that it’s important to see the instructions that make the computer do what they do. Dave contends that what’s really important is the experience that’s created because the same experience can always be rebuilt with different code.

As with all copyright questions, the thing that should be driving our analysis is what benefits the public most. It’s clear that the public will get some benefit from being able to see the source code:

So what are the downsides of making source code available? This is the case I think Dave needs to make. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any serious ones.

posted August 21, 2002 01:56 PM (Technology) #


Car Factories and Post Offices
Electronic Pulsing Spam-Killing Superbrain
Introducing… Warchalking! The New Swhack!
IMS/ISC out of the ICANN Running
Fireworks of Failure
Software and Source Code
Vote Hank Perritt
Dear Bigshot
Scientology threatened by “unadulterated cyber-terrorism”
Screen Savers on the Desktop
David P. Reed on Piracy

Aaron Swartz (me@aaronsw.com)