March 2nd, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

Quicktakes

Free (As in Beer) is Just Another Word: I don't know if you saw this when it went around about a week ago, but I know a lot of people were scratching their heads or yukking it up about this headline: "Free Software? You Can't Just Give It Away," London Times, February 21st. On the face of it, it's pretty funny: customs officials impounded a pile of Firefox CDs as pirated software. When they contacted the Mozilla Foundation, the General Public License copyright holders, to notify them that pirate copies of their software had been found, they at first refused to believe that anybody would give blanket permission to make copies of their software and sell the CDs. But it gets even funnier-seeming after that: when they did get it, they insisted that that was illegal. What? Their explanation was incomplete and made no sense, and boiled down to, "You can't possibly expect us to have a copy of the license terms to every piece of software out there so we can check which copies are legal and which aren't."

What makes that an incomplete answer is that their answer points to the fact that software is just about the only commercial item or service in this world in which each individual product has its own licensing terms. Virtually everything else has standardized terms of use, via a body of law called the Uniform Commercial Code. The Uniform Commercial Code spells out what the customer can and can't do with the product, and what the seller is and isn't allowed to do, and to what extent the product has to live up to its sales hype, and what the minimum remedies the seller has to offer are in the event of a defective product. Way, way back in the early 1980s, the then-infant software industry lobbied hard for and got an exemption to the Uniform Commercial Code, and parts of that exemption (such as the ability to enforce click-through and shrink-wrap licenses, and the ability to disclaim incidental damages) had to be litigated all the way up to the Supreme Court. The UCC exists specifically so that every customer doesn't have to read a 10 page contract to know what's legal and what's not for every product they own, and so that manufacturers can't screw people over by burying disclaimers in the fine print. I lobbied against the UCC exemption at the time. It's a shame I lost. Companies would be writing a lot more reliable and a lot more secure software, at a bare minimum, if they were liable for incidental damages.

Republicans Just Never Learn, Do They? Another of the classic sins of the Nixon administration is back: politically motivated IRS audits. A lot of the evidence that resulted in Tom DeLay's indictment was found by a non-partison, non-profit "good government" watchdog group called Texans for Public Justice. To punish them for revealing the truth about DeLay's various schemes, the Republicans in Congress lied to the IRS and then pressured them to follow up on the lies, in order to get the group audited. They were cleared, of course. DeLay probably won't be so lucky. See R. Jeffrey Smith, "Texas Nonprofit Is Cleared After GOP-Prompted Audit," Washington Post, Feb 27th (registration required).

I Wonder What's the Story on These? Somebody on LiveJournal, I think it might have been in the polyamory community which I skim once in a very rare while, included a link to these odd little scans: "Edwardian Poly Postcards." Hand-tinted hundred-year-old or more photographic postcards that seem to show a perfectly cheerful, happy, V relationship, two girls and a guy. Or else I'm misreading the artwork? Anyway, I'm naggingly curious as to what the original story behind these was.

Sometimes The Onion Gets it Just Right: Dead-on perfect political humor this week: "Democrats Vow Not to Give Up Hopelessness."

Edited: Forgot to include the article link the 3rd story. Sorry this went up so late; I queued it, but the queuing software didn't work this time for some reason.