Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Learning from the Treacher

Some years ago, Richard Stallman wrote an essay called "Can You Trust Your Computer?", popularising, predicting, and warning of "treacherous computing". This has made significant steps towards coming to pass (with Microsoft's update services and Vista pricing/license schemes in particular having been in the news recently), at least partly because it can be used as a means to lock customers in or extract more wealth from them. The basic idea, according to Stallman, is that machines should be tools solely designed to aid their users, and the interests of IP holders should not be a consideration in their design. I agree with Stallman in the practical - I think strong IP regulations harm culture and impinge too much on autonomy, and would like to see only attribution protections and limited trademark protection. That understood, are there cases where devices should not be expected to be designed entirely with their users interests in line? I'm comfortable with the idea that by default, users should be able to make full use of whatever devices they have, with society rejecting and banning or refusing to legally protect devices that make provisions to the contrary. Any modifications to that default should need to make a strong argument to the public good (rather than a market good) in order to avoid penalty, and companies/groups that would do so should be aware that much of the time users will tinker with devices they have, regardless of licenses and laws to the contrary. What would a public good exemption look like? For some restricted economic sectors like health care or aeronautics, it may place lives at risk if modifications are made without consultation, and for some kinds of electronics (some of the radios inside wireless devices fall into this category) software modifications may easily cause them to interfere with other devices. Instead of a universal "no modifications" for these devices, a system might be put into place by which they would be expected to be consulted for such access, with maximal openness consistent with some conception of the public good. It is unfortunate that our IP regime has created such a divorce between the law - I doubt that if a nationwide plebicite were held our current IP regime would be created if not present or upheld. Criminalising the natural way culture flows is rather sad, and it's ironic that if we had bards today, presumably they'd be one of the most hunted creates in modern society, all in the name of protecting profits and privilege.


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