What the Heck Does “Socialize IP Ownership” Mean?

I read a blog entry today by Shai Agassi, president of the product and technology group at SAP, in which he sought to set the record straight concerning his opinions toward open source. Last week, Agassi made some comments about open source software and development that some interpreted as negative.

So, let us duly note, Shai LOVES open source.

I thought briefly about blogging about those earlier comments, not in response to the bits about open source being non-innovative, but in response to Agassi’s comment about IP Socialism. I ended up not blogging about the comments-there’s really not much new or interesting about proprietary software vendors taking pot shots at open source, since this seems to happen pretty much every day.

However, this bit of clarification text from Agassi’s latest blog entry stirred me sufficiently to prompt a post of my own:

“The one thing we do not believe in is the attempt to kidnap the whole Open Source topic by the ‘socialize IP ownership’ movement.”

The quotes that Agassi puts around “socialize IP ownership” suggest that the term is not Agassi’s own, that there’s some specific movement for socializing IP ownership to which he’s referring. I searched for the term on Google, and the only references I found to this term were Shai Agassi’s blog entry.

I know it’s popular to point to the free and open source software trend as a new red menace, but can anyone explain to me what open source or free software actually has to do with Socialism or Communism?

Developers, or the firms that employ them, are free to license their works in any way they see fit. If these individuals or groups use the code of others in their works, they’re required to abide by the licenses under which the developers of those borrowed works released their code. Did the writing of that sentence just evoke a Karl Marx cackle from beyond the grave? Is Lenin now grinning underneath his waxy coating?

The rise of free and open source software might prove inconvenient for incumbant, proprietary software vendors, but that doesn’t make it some Communist threat. Far from it-what could be more free market than open source? Everyone who uses a particular project or codebase (which, by the way, they’re free to use or not use) starts from a common point, and those who execute best win.

What’s the defining characteristic of Socialism or Communism? The State decides how property is assigned, and intervenes in the lives of its citizens to enforce its will.

Now, what are Patents and Copyrights? The State grants individuals and corporations leave to pluck preexisting ideas and expressions or combinations of preexisting ideas expressions out of the air and assert monopoly control over the rights of others to use or speak those ideas and expressions. The State also stands prepared to pursue and punish-through fines or imprisonment-those who run afoul of these monopoly grants.

Personally, I prefer less government control over my thoughts and expressions, rather than more, I don’t believe that idea and expression monopolies should last forever (or forever minus one day) and I’m quite certain that these preferences don’t make me a Socialist.

When I read in our constitution the line that allows so-called Intellectual Property to exist at all, “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries,” I take that limited times bit seriously.

Maybe what I am is a Strict Constructionist. GW, I’m willing to trade my analyst’s pen for a robe-drop me a line.