GNU - Open Source vs. Labor


This is mostly a beef with GNU.

First let me start off by saying I have nothing what−so−ever against people writing software and giving it away for free with or without source and with or without re−distribution rights and with or without modification rights.  GPLed or whatever you want to call it.  I think that's very cool and I've done it myself.

On the other hand, I went to and I read many of the philosophy documents there and I came away with the distinct impression that the leaders of GNU feel that creating and selling software as a commercial venture without allowing the purchaser the right to re−distribute the software is pure evil and an abridgment of the purchasers rights.  I don't agree and I wonder if the some of their basic assumptions are wrong.

One of their assumptions seems to be that until the advent of software, when somebody purchased something they were paying for a material good and therefore since they could not make a copy of that good there was no issue of copying rights and no issue of re−distribution rights since you clearly have the right to resell or give away the product that you just purchased.  Also, since the purchaser could not make a copy, at least not easily, the only way to get a material good without paying was to steal it.  If you steal a material good then the original owner of that good no longer has it in his possession. Since you can make a copy of software without taking away the owner's original that makes software different and hence it should be legal to copy and re−distribute all software period because it's easy and doesn't effect the owner.  In fact they go on to stay the because it's easy and doesn't effect the owner it is an abridgment of the users rights to prevent him from re−distributing the software.

They seem to base alot of their reasoning behind the "users rights" and the difference between material goods where you purchase a material good and software where you purchase something that is arguably, not a material good.

The problem I see is that they completely ignore the labor element of goods, material or non−material.

If fact, it can be argued that you almost never pay for material goods or that if you do it is a very small percentage of the total cost of the goods.

Take almost any material good.  Bread, Apples, Cars, Houses, Furniture.  When you by a loaf of bread for $1 or $2 did that bread cost $1 or $2 dollars in material goods?  Did the flour, yeast, eggs, salt, fuel for the oven, etc cost $1 to $2.   No, it probably cost less than 25 cents.  Even if you consider the cost of the kitchen and all the tools inside it, pans, sheets, spoons, knives, oven and divide it by the total number of loafs of bread that will ever by made with it and factor that into the material costs of the bread it's still only going to be like 30 cents total.  So, what are you paying for?  You are paying for labor, not material goods.

The same holds true for nearly every other material good.  Some products are the result of specialized labor and so usually you pay more for those goods because it's harder to find somebody to make them.  Other times a particular good requires alot of labor and so it costs alot more.  For example say a $100,000 house (note: this is not taking into account land values, just the house).  There are not $100,000 worth of materials in a $100,000 house.  Especially if you break it down to the base elements level.  I.e., wood, copper, brass, lead, steal, concrete, glass, etc.  You paid for labor to turn those things into 2x4s, pipes, fixtures, nails, bricks, windows, etc.   Then you paid more labor to turn those things into a house.

So, along comes the GNU people and because, unlike a house, software can be duplicated for free without taking any material goods from the creator that therefore it is their right to be able to copy and re−distribute it.  But, that completely ignores the labor factor.  I'd argue that the analogy is to walk into a bakery, take a loaf of bread, give the baker 35 cents and tell him "I'm only going to pay you for the cost of materials." and then walking out without giving the baker the option to say, "No, I'm asking $2 for the loaf, pay it or get out."

The GNU people assume that because there are no material costs for software then it should be free to copied and redistributed but I hope I just made it clear that you almost never pay for material goods now.  Or when you do pay for something very little of price is actually covering material goods.  The majority of it is covering labor.

So, along comes software where it is very easy to make copies and to re−distribute.   Those people making software would like to make sure that even though people can make copies, because there are no material costs, that they can still get paid for their labor in the same way as the baker wants to get paid for his labor.

to be continued...