posted Aug 07, 2000

New Department: Programmer's Rights Programmer's Rights8/7/2000; 12:37:39 PM I'm creating a new department for what I percieve to be a controversy I suspect we'll be hearing more about in the future: Programmer's Rights and the responsibilities that come along with those rights.Like any controversy, one can find hints of it extending far back, but I think this issue has come into a new focus with the developments surround Napster. Can Napster-the-software's writers (i.e., Napster-the-company) be held responsible for the software's use?In Napster's case, it is further blurred by the fact that Napster is also a service (Napster-the-service), but in the case of distributed programs like FreeNet, there's no service to shut down, so when the authors are taken to court, it will be solely because they have created a program with which it is possible to violate some law or other. While copyright is the current favorite, expect old the old standbys to show themselves (you know, kiddie porn and bomb instructions) and new ones to join the fray around the world (illegal political speech, perhaps not in the USA (perhaps!) but it will be an issue in other countries).If this issue continues to take off, there are some other lawsuits waiting to happen in this area:

Yet, for all the confusing technology and endless permutations involved in the computer business, this is actually not a technical or Internet issue at all. It is really a result of our society's fascination with lawsuits, and our desires to shift blame from people to whoever has deep pockets and can pay for the blame.In the end, this boils down to a fundamental question that people of all industries face: Can the manufacturor of a product be held responsible for the use of that product? Can the supplier of a product be held responsible for its use? When? Why? This is the really the same issue for guns, tobacco, cars, planes, and anything else.The only rational answer is "The vast majority of the time, no." Personally, I can only stomach saying yes when there's active fraud involved, such as is claimed on the part of the tobacco companies. Most any other answer results in absurdity... and the proof of that statement will quite likely lie in the truly absurd stories I expect to populate this department... on par with the absurdity of claiming the damages caused by Napster probably exceed the entire revenue of the record companies in the last year (because each infringement could cost from $500 to $100,000... absurd!). Stay tuned


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