More on Copyleft

In my previous post I didn’t give enough attention to my statement that: there are creators and users.

For certain if creators have invested time and effort, possibly money, into creating something then it seems reasonable that they should be able to recover that expense. Possibly not: an article I read several months back suggested that such investment of money was lost. However, it does seem unfair that a user can sell the software or even give it away, and thus prevent the creator from making a living.

If buy a printed book, then can sell that book. Books can become collectors items and be sold for considerably more than the original sale price. Old software apparently cannot become a collectors item, as apparently do not own the software and are not allowed to sell it onto another person. Software seems to be a physical object sold as a service but with out the responsibilities of a service provider. The new software subscription and software as a service business models reinforce the idea that the user doesn’t own anything. {Which could mean handing money over for nothing.}

When finished using something it would be nice if could sell it or give it away to someone else who does have a use for it. With software transfer of the license is typically not permitted: the exception possibly being a company take over.

The problem with software is that it is easy to replicate. The consequence of which is that a user can give someone a copy and still retain the original. On the other hand with source code all they get is useless plain text. That plain text can only become something useful for the typical user once it has been compiled and that requires a suitable compiler. The typical user doesn’t have a compiler so giving such user the source isn’t a major issue. The main issue is that they can copy the useful executable, and share that with others. In other situations the file entity which is received can easily be edited: text documents, images, etc.. … though if and only if the user has access to an appropriate editor. No matter what format the file it is easy to copy, to communicate between two or more locations.

The ease of copying is the concern of the creators and the GPL and similar licenses grant such rights. For software which takes considerable time and effort to create that may be a problem. For a lot of software however, the time and effort to create is low, and a lot of people could just as well create for themselves. But a lot of people, even if they have the ability to create for themselves, they would rather have available when needed rather than experience the delay of making it themselves. So there is value in making it available but there is also likely a large number of alternative substitutions. Therefore competition between which product gets the attention and which don’t. The first to market doesn’t necessarily have the advantage, and zero price doesn’t necessarily get the advantage either.

With respect to the ability to copy however, the issue is: who gets to sell the copies? If someone else sells copies then the creator will most likely desire a share of such income, if they themselves are selling few. If someone else is giving the product away then the creator may have a problem selling.

However there is only a problem selling if don’t recover costs necessary to support current or future work efforts. That do not get filthy rich from the sales is not a problem, its an unrealistic expectation.

Most of the copy protection issues in the news, seem to relate more to desired incomes rather than needed incomes. In other words it is rarely if ever reported that a supplier of some product was struggling to survive because of piracy. Piracy therefore is not the burdensome issue that its made out to be.

The real issue is having the right product at the right time in the right condition, at the right price. A price too high can put people off buying, and a price too low can put people off buying. And there is no product to copy until someone buys it.

Which brings back to another issue, that price is what people are willing to pay, not cost plus profit. The value to the market maybe considerably less than cost, and therefore such product is not suitable for a profit making business activity. Hunters go out hunting buffalo and end up eating berries. You, take a chance, and may not get the winnings you desire.

Business is a real world experiment, dependent on making decisions on the basis of incomplete knowledge and in the face of uncertainty. Just, have to try and see what works and then try again until get something that does work. Of course could die of starvation before get something that works, but hopefully don’t.

So may be the real issue with respect to the GPL is to encourage sales. So do your self a favour don’t give it away, as described in the previous post, buy the software and sell to at least two other people to recover cost of purchase. After all friends will probably bug you to assist them with using, and therefore you will be supplier of support services: and you are there whilst the creator isn’t.

Stuff isn’t going to get copied and distributed if it doesn’t meet a need. If it does meet a need, can those in need afford it?

One possibility for example, is that the software is gratis for part of the year, and for a price the rest of the year. This can be done seasonally, on special days, or during special weeks or months. For example in Australia software could be gratis during the summer vacation,before school and universities start. Students can share their copies, but everyone else in the market who doesn’t know a student needs to buy. Everyone can share with others, but to do so, need to know someone who has a copy and that might not be possible.

All depends on whether consider the purpose of a business is to solely make a profit or satisfy a need.

If the objective is to satisfy a need then the requirement is to improve the distribution so that the product gets to who needs it. To do so may require charging a fee to improve the infrastructure for distribution and the communications about the products existence.

For certain there is going to be a percentage of the market that has the product and doesn’t pay, but a large portion of them probably also don’t use. The question is what percentage are willing to pay and how much? If the fee is pushed too high, those who wish or need to use, will not look for lower price they will look for zero price. The price has to be kept right, and for software that probably means that its price needs to be decreasing with time, not increasing. The reason for the decrease is that the original development costs will have been recovered, and all that remains is distribution costs.

The idea that can create a product and then sit idle whilst the money rolls in is a fairly unreasonable expectation. People in the entertainment industry may believe they can do that, but my guess is even that is going to become an unrealistic expectation. The price people expect to pay for recorded entertainment is low, and the form of electronic entertainment is also changing. The TV, radio and magazines, mostly pushed content and the choice was small. With the Internet the choices are much larger and it draws or pulls the audience towards it. The audience is looking, seeking and searching, but the number of suppliers is now more or less equal to the audience itself. There is more interaction, more participation. The result is likely to be a much smaller audience than traditionally gained, but if it does go viral then the audience is likely to be much bigger a lot faster, but then fizzle out just as quickly.

To get income there will be far greater need to be doing now, that is providing a consumable service. Yesterdays work sold as a product tomorrow is likely to become harder to accomplish. Not just an issue for software, as 3D printing also makes it an issue for many physical goods.

The real issue therefore seems to concern clearly defining just what exactly is being sold. Also sold, may be an inappropriate word, the reason for money received may be better description.

A lot of GPL software is distributed by a charitable foundation, and accept donations. Rather than donations a business could operate via subscriptions, sponsorship or patronage. Where by the money received doesn’t directly relate to the software. That is no one is buying the software, nor buying a license to the software: rather they are paying to see that the software remains available, and that such software and complementary products are developed as needed.

To put another way the creator can shut down their source of the application, and see what impact it has on distribution. If people care, then there is a good chance people will pay some fee, to keep the distribution centre operational.