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:
- So-called root kits: These are little bundles of programs that you can download that will allow you to completely take over some computer. These are created by exploiting known vulnerabilities in some program and using those vulnerabilities to gain some user control over the system. Usually, these kits will also attempt to hide their prescense, with varying levels of success.Frequently, they are usable by people with little-to-no computer knowlege. They can cause great damage, both when used deliberately to cause damage, and accidentally, when used by a novice to powerful effect. Does the author of this kit bear some level of responsibility for the authoring of the kit?I'd consider this on the far end of the spectrum, BTW. There are no compelling reasons for these kits to exist, except to crack. Programs that simply exploit security holes and do so in an open fashion to demonstrate them are necessary to computer security discourse... programs that use these holes to secretly take computers over and hide their existance are not necessary.
- ALL Serving software: If you're going to hold Napster accountable because it facilitates MP3 sharing, then for consistency, you need to go after other things that facilitate that sharing... IRC being the natural first target.If the corporations could twist this the way they'd like, this could be used to largely lock us into a web where only approved servers could serve anything significant, with teams of lawyers verifying the intellectual property status of every byte being served, because it would be illegal to run a rogue server. I can't seriously imagine things going this way, it's just the logical conclusion of the Napster suit.
- Utility software: Any software peripherally related to any other lawsuit. Can I sue the manufacturors of the crash simulation software the car companies use if I'm injured in a crash? What about the people who wrote the software to design the crash simulation software? If Intel releases another chip with a division bug, could I sue Intel for nearly anything related to a computer at some point, because it might have something to do with that bug? Certainly, these are extreme, but I expect to see them in some form.