Journal: News & Comment

Thursday, August 29, 2002
# 11:06:00 AM:

Software: like publishing, but also not

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Doc Searls has a good essay on copyright today:

We can talk about [software] in the same terms [as writing and music] (we write, publish and copy it), but what it does for us is radically different. It's stuff we build. It serves as a platform for other stuff we build. It's an environment for whole domains of our lives (such as our professions). It's provides tools for every kind of activity that can possibly be aided by computer. Those all involve different conceptual frameworks to scaffold our understanding of what software is, and what it's good for.

So why bring copyright law into the conversation at all? Only one reason: it's like publishing. It seeks to lock software into one conceptual framework.

That's not a good enough reason. That reason gives insufficient respect to the profoundly unique nature of software ? to the ways software is unlike anything else, and must be understood on its own terms. And we haven't even begun to agree about what those terms are.

There's been much angst recently about lopsided and reactionary legislation in the United States (sometimes mirrored in Canada and elsewhere) that tries to shoehorn new technologies into old legal frameworks and business models. Eventually everything will get sorted out, but it's likely to be messy, partly for the very reasons Doc describes.


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