> Why can't an Open Source model work for
> books? For example, why are writers who take other people's word
> called "plagiarists" and held in contempt, yet coders who take other
> people's code and improve it called "hackers" and held up as the
> Programmers Ideal?
Because writing and code are two very different things. Code does
a job of work, just like a wheel: and we all know there's no sense
in reinventing the wheel. As for writing, well to begin with, what
sort of writing are we talking about? Linux Installation and Getting
Started? Ulysses? But, this is too abstract. We can look at free
software and see that the principle works; we don't have to
justify it from first principles. Let's take a look at some practical
examples of the application of the GPL to publishing. The LDP is
a good example of how the free software model doesn't apply well to
writing. Take the case of the Linux Network Administrator's Guide.
It's dead now, isn't it? Well out of date, at least. O'Reilly printed
it, and sales were below those of other books. On the other hand,
Running Linux is basically an updated Linux Installation and Getting
Started. But then, Matt Welsh isn't a writer, is he? I mean,
he writes, and writes well; but he doesn't make a living from it.
Last I heard, he was still in academia.
It's clear that people can make a living from open source, because
the fact of the matter is that most programmers don't make a living
from selling proprietary code in any case. Now, all writers do,
by definition, make a living from selling their work.
There are problems with the free software model too: most notably,
that there is no clear way for society to directly reward the actual
producers of free software. Indirectly, yes; directly, no. But that's
> The thing I usually hear is that it won't work because computer
> programs "do something" while writing doesn't. I don't really buy this
> argument. I don't buy books to "look at words" I buy them for what
> they *do*: entertain me, make me think about stuff, teach me
> something, whatever it be.
I wouldn't use that argument; but You could use your counter-argument
about anything. Should food be free because I buy it for what it does?
Reductio ad absurdum.
To turn to your NYT example:
> The only benefit I can see is that the Times Co. can resell the
> article to other publications. Do columnists and reporters get
> royalties from this? I doubt it. Columnists might for syndication, but
> I know reporters don't. So again... the big business is the
> beneficiary of copyright law.
Then they should turn freelance (he said glibly). Big business
is a beneficiary of copyright law as it relates to writing;
but that law also protects the writer.
Anything I sell to the NYT, I sell on the basis of first US
serial publishing rights. I retain copyright, and I have the right
to sell that piece again later. Who does this benefit? The writer,
the guy who did the work. Now, in your scenario, a publisher can
take my work, published elsewhere, and put it up on their site with
the expectation that hits will soar and advertising revenues rocket
(an unlikely scenario, but bear with me). Who benefits in this case?
The publisher. I don't see a red cent, unless the companies who are
profiting from my work see fit to extend me some charity.
No-one pays for what they can get for free. People pay for free
software because they want support, or simply the reassurance
of a brand name: and they'll pay for that. If my writing is
freely-distributable, no-one in their right mind would pay for it.
What "support" could they expect? What else is there, apart from the
writing? And they've got that. And so we return to the basic point:
comparing source code and writing is comparing apples and oranges.
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