social producers are going to get lawyers whether we like them or not
One of the comments to Matt Asay’s post about me over the winter asked what I think was a pretty good question, and one that has been asked in a couple variations this summer:
…I am usually saddened to see that law becomes a necessarily evil in science (programming in this case). Why can’t we just be?
For better or for worse, social producers (not just software, but wikipedia, etc.) are becoming so successful that we often have to interface with the real world. We’ve got two options. First, we can either stay small and under the radar, allowing us to keep operating on a handshake basis. This will work for some products and some producers, but I think many of us want to have a broader impact than that. For those of us who do think that social production is going to have a serious and broad impact on the world, we can use the tools the rest of the world has developed to relate to that real world- laws and legal experts, aka lawyers. I’m pretty sure there is no third option to ‘be big but somehow still avoid lawyers.’ (Feel free to convince me otherwise; I’ll save at least $90K in school bills if you do. :) At best, we might be able to avoid some of the regulation which has affected every other pervasive industry, but even without regulation by government, when you’re big you have to relate to other private parties- corporations, less trusting individuals, etc. The bigger you get, the more those relationships are mediated by lawyers, in order to make sure that all sides can eventually trust each other once the lawyers are gone. The need to defend and define our success, in part by using the law and legal experts, is a virtually inevitable byproduct of our success- the rest of the world is not just going to let us be if we have the impact we hope we can have.
The types of issues lawyers can and will help social production navigate aren’t just going to be defensive issues, thankfully. If more of our relationships are going to lean away from the purely economic/industrial and begin to include more aspects of the social/cooperative, we’re going to need creative new ways to structure and define those relationships. The GPL is the canonical example of this, of course, but there are other examples too, like the Red Hat sales model. We got lucky in many senses with GPL- while originally intended for a cathedral-like model of production, it happened to provide the reciprocity which turned out to be critical for success in the bazaar. We aren’t likely to be so lucky again- we may never again have the time to allow such relationships to grow slowly and organically. Red Hat’s current sales model couldn’t evolve; it had to be sculpted with the aid of lawyers from day one. Again, then, if we want to have such relationships, we’re going to need to choose the ways we structure them more deliberately and proactively- and lawyers will likely be involved, whether we feel comfortable with that or not.
This isn’t necessarily to say that social producers should give up and let the lawyers have their way with us; they should be viewed with some suspicion, and we should demand that the same principles which tend to govern social production now - values like openness, transparency, simplicity, robustness - should continue to govern social production in the future, even after the lawyers get involved. (Mike Dillon, Sun GC, has a great blog post on the clarity/simplicity thing; and another on aligning provision of services with the needs of customers instead of the needs of providers; great social production lawyers will take both of those to heart and great social producers will demand it of their lawyers.) But denying that law (and with it the lawyers) is coming doesn’t serve anyone well.
So… perhaps unfortunately, our own needs and the needs of the outside world are going to push social producers into the arms of lawyers, whether we like it or not. Fortunately, more lawyers are going to get it as social production becomes more pervasive; the team here at Red Hat certainly seems to, and hopefully I’ll add myself to the pool of such lawyers in another couple years.
my nose is incompatible with my face, I think I’ll cut it off.
(for those whose instinctive response is ‘well duh, it is debian-legal’, I unsubscribed… jeez, most of a decade ago now, and may have forgotten how maddening it is. Apologies for restating the obvious.)
im in your RDU, eatin ur foodz
As I’ve now had several RDU-based people approach me about meals in recent days, and ask if I’d be interested in lunch, let me be clear: the answer is definitely ‘yes, I’m interested!’ The only question is about my availability; I’ll be traveling many weekends and know lots of folks down here who want to munch at various times. But if you’ve ever exchanged more than a handful of lines with me over email or IRC, feel free to poke.
great Buckminster Fuller quote
Hadn’t seen this one before:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
Kudos to those who are doing that. (I was going to make a list, but it was longer than I expected- which is great.)
choice usually sucks; documenting choice sucks more, though.
This is the most depressing thing I’ve read all morning. (Granted I’ve only been up for 15 minutes.) Remember, kids, choice is usually just another way of saying “the engineers and PMs don’t have the balls to make the hard decisions, so instead we’re going to give the users a ‘choice’ they can’t possibly make with any more reliability than a coin flip.” But hey! After that post is successful, Fedora users will be able to waste time reading documentation which can’t possibly explain anything useful before they make the coin flip! Yay progress!
(It of course could explain something in a way that would be useful to users, but then it would offend one camp or the other, and that would require the aforementioned balls, so it won’t actually be useful.)
(Not that Fedora will be unique in this problem; this may be the most maddeningly stupid screen in all of YaST, and I seem to recall that older Fedora installers had something similar. But at least SuSE has basically admitted there is no way to provide useful information on this choice without pissing someone off and didn’t bother to waste time documenting it.)
(Wow, took me all of one week to have to say ‘this post is purely my personal opinion and does not represent the opinions or policies of Red Hat, Inc., particularly the legal department, who would surely think I’m off my rocker for even knowing what this particularly controversy means.’ :)
(ed. after a shower and some head-clearing: it is of course possible that KDE apps may be best of breed (though I can’t think of any and the first person who says k3b gets their posting privileges revoked), and those should be documented. But if your example is konqueror, you have already lost the game for many reasons.)
deep, deep breath
I’m exhausted. And I’ve only barely started. This is great… I’d almost forgotten what it is like to do something because you’re really interested in it, rather than running in fear :) [Edit: I realize that could be misconstrued to be a comparison to past jobs; it was supposed to be to the last year of law school, not any past jobs.]
A couple one-line observations as life flies by at high speed:
I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up
The recurring question lawyers ask first year law students when they meet them is something like ’so what do you want to specialize in?’ The answer I really want to give is something like ‘open source law generalist’, but sadly that isn’t really something that people hire, and probably isn’t something you’d really want to be anyway unless you were an academic- law is a highly specialized profession where ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ is quite true. So at some point in the near future I’m going to have to figure out what or how to specialize, I think… and I have no idea what it is going to be. I’m definitely interested in patents, copyrights, trademarks, antitrust, and a few other things. But none of them yet jump out as something I’d like to pursue single-mindedly for several consecutive years. Definitely something I hope folks around here can help me figure out this summer.
[Am in Raleigh; getting a network connection has been a real PITA. Wrote this last night while unconnected from the network; more coming on The Red Hat Experience ™ in due course. :)
A quick run-through (mostly for personal journaling purposes, but possibly of interest to others) of the books I read over my post-exam vacation in the mountains.
Latin American bits:
The Autumn of the Patriarch, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: like 100 Years of Solitude (which I started re-reading Thursday but have not yet finished) a sort of warped view into the history of Latin America and the Caribbean, in this case with a focus on the perspective of the dictators. Probably helps to be at least comfortable with Latin American history before reading it. The style is almost experimental (very stream of thought) so I found it a little harder and uglier to read than I had hoped. Still, brilliant in its own way, as is to be expected from Garcia Marquez.
Dreaming In Cuban, by Christina Garcia: a novel of Cuban women from ‘72 to Mariel, with some pre-Fidel history as well. Couldn’t help compare it in my head to the recent (male-centered) pre-Fidel Havana movie I saw with my family last summer- could have almost been a sequel in some ways. Like the movie, I enjoyed it, but probably wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t deeply interested in the period.
Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution, by Louis A. Perez: a good but eventually troubling non-fiction history, covering the island from European settlement to virtually the present. I knew very little about Cuban history before Fidel, and now know a fair amount more, so that was great. The author’s framework for historical analysis is Marxist. This is completely reasonable, given the dynamics of poverty and power in Latin America, particularly in pre-Fidel Cuba. That portion of the book, at least, seems solid. But his apparent blindspots in his treatment of Fidel (no dissent or repression worth noting between Bay of Pigs and the US’s response to the Special Period? seriously? in a book which has dissent and repression as major themes?) make me wonder how accurate the rest of the history is- what else was left out? Was that a condition of his access to the libraries in Havana? Does he just not feel that is worthy of treatment? I’m very curious, and it marred what was otherwise a very informative and (apparently) rigorously analytic book.
couple Islamic authors:
Tariq Ali, Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree: a family novel, set in the years immediately after the Reconquista of Spain. Clearly written to make a politico-historical point, sometimes to the point where the caricatures of Islam and Christianity get dull rather than interesting or informative. Still, the core of the story is moving and historically accurate. Particularly recommended for anyone (sadly, like some of the folks I met this past week) who doesn’t realize that 500 years ago religious terrorists slaughtered and tortured innocents and destroyed a progressive, tolerant, mostly superior culture - in the name of Christ. Pot calling kettle black, yadda, yadda.
Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Rushdie: a really lightweight, fun story. Like Serious Rushdie but kid (or summer vacation) appropriate.
Also some scifi:
Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed: Don’t know if it is a great book, exactly, but an interesting thought experiment in writing about anarchism and ownership. Surprised I hadn’t been told about this earlier- exactly my kind of political theory/sci-fi mashup.
reread The Carpet Makers, by Andreas Eschbach, which is just as brilliant as it was the last time. Scifi is rarely spare and beautiful, but this is.
reread Vernor Vinge’s Deepness in the Sky. A fun romp, if a little long and a little predictable. Bonus for compsci geeks: the protagonist is a 1337 programmer. Bonus for serious compsci geeks: read closely enough and you’ll note that it is implied that, 9-10,000 years in the future, starships run on Unix.
Now that I’m back at a computer and back in a more serious mental mode, I’ll probably finish Hundred Years and then work on Wealth of Networks and Infotopia.
New HTML Parser: The long-awaited libxml2 based HTML parser code is live. It needs further work but already handles most markup better than the original parser.
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