links for 2007-08-05

August 5, 2007

17 Responses to “links for 2007-08-05”

  1. Rob Myers Says:

    “A gift economy is an economic system in which goods and services are given without any explicit agreement for immediate or future quid pro quo.”

    This is a popular view among ESR-addled “Open Source” twatvocates, and is almost correct as far as it goes, but it seriously distorts how gifts (and gift economies) work.

    Gifts have deontological properties. It is explicitly expected in a gift economy that you will return the gift by giving in turn. This is the immediate quid pro quo of the gift: participation in the social network of obligations that the gift is a node of. Misunderstanding this gave rise to the phrase “Indian Giver” (

    See Marcel Mauss

    And the Code book has some good stuff on this as well

    For Free Software and Free Culture, a Gift Economy is the downstream result of the core issue, which is rights. It is dangerous to mistake gift economies for the core issue or value of Freedom and to try to encourage or theorize them by means other than rights. Lessig has IMO made this mistake with Wikipedia for example, substituting economics for rights.

  2. Rob Myers Says:

    The prospect of a gift economy can encourage participation and thereby help extend and protect the area in which people can exercise their rights, but it is still an effect rather than a primary cause.

  3. Let us remind gift economy enthusiasts though, that a gift economy is necessarily an epiphenomenon: the moment gifts are made compulsory is the moment gifts can no longer be made.

  4. And comments are gifts! Epiphenomenon is now word of the day. Which is a nice side effect of me bookmarking WP’s Gift Economy page.

    Which prompts me to ask:-

    Why did the Epiphenomenon cross the road?

  5. robmyers Says:

    Crosbie – Whither the GPL then? 😉

  6. So you saying the GPL is an unwanted gift? Get it on Ebay sharpish.

  7. robmyers Says:

    No I’m saying it is a form of compulsion.

    Gifts have an element of social compulsion to them. The GPL just encodes this in law for a society that is larger than a single tribe (or [Emacs] commune) and therefore unlikely to feel that compulsion personally.

  8. Right, so if I make some GPL3 themed wrapping paper, you’d think twice about untieing the ribbon. Bearing in mind it’s a BIG present, nice and heavy, and the smell of fresh baked bread…

    No, it’s not schrodinger’s loaf.

  9. robmyers Says:

    I’m entirely happy with GPL3 themed wrapping paper (I may do some wrapping paper for my Ironized CC Licences based on this idea. No, you can’t patent it.)

    A tribesman or a member of the original Emacs Commune who is used to the obligation of a gift being social rather than legal might not be though.

  10. Apart from just one clause (non-obfuscation of published derivatives), the GPL contains no compulsion that is not equal and opposite to the compulsion of copyright and software patent.

    Barring that clause, by laudably neutralising compulsion, the GPL enables a gift economy in software.

    Now while I would readily concede that the non-obfuscation clause has probably been necessary to make things a little more plain to those who might not otherwise realise the futility of obfuscation, and hence has been critical in demonstrating the viability of software in the absence of copyright/patent, I am arguing that non-obfuscation is not actually a right that the GPL is restoring, but a compulsion of benevolent motive.

    If copyright/patent vanished in a puff of smoke tomorrow, the post-GPL development community would continue to thrive irrespective of the ability for people to distribute binaries without source. The proprietary development community would no longer be able to utilise the copyright business model.

    Authors could still sell their software. And communities could still gift each other their source.

    However, if some misguided fool mistook the mechanism of a software gift economy for its success, instead of its appearance as an epiphenomenon of liberty, and then enacted a law to compel source code reciprocation, we’d be right back at square one with neo-FAST storm troopers doing dawn raids on authors who published binaries without source.

  11. […] and Crosbie have been kicking off about the idea and use of Gift Economy in the comments section here – which has led to the idea of some lovely GPLv3 wrapping paper, which I’d love to hand over […]

  12. Not to belittle any of this, but check out the Free Gift Wrapping Papers here: –

  13. robmyers Says:

    Hmm. Now I think of it, are shrinkwrap licences legally binding?

  14. Shrinkwrap licenses are only binding if you agree to them voluntarily, i.e. without duress. Requiring a license to be accepted in order to use the goods you’ve purchased constitutes duress.

  15. John Dodds Says:

    In gift economies the ownership of the gift remains with the original donor even though it is expected to be passed on in a continual stream of bestowing status/respect/whatever you wish to call it. In my understanding, this is designed to cohere the social unit and, as such, has very little relevance to patents – just as Rob pointed out at the start of these comments.

  16. John, so if I was asked what I wanted for a gift and someone makes something for me for my birthday, but I designed the gift – does this not overlap patents and the gift ecconomies?

    Or is this about managing expectations?

  17. (Scuse me for butting in)

    Definitely managing expectations:

    1) Copyright: If you sell your art to an artist you can expect them to be thrown in jail if they copy it without your permission.

    2) Compulsory reciprocation: If you sell your art to an artist you can expect them to be thrown in jail if they modify it without giving those modifications away free of charge to anyone who wants them.

    3) Natural intellectual property: When you sell your art to another artist, it’s theirs – to do with as they please. Jail is for burglars, not artists.

    4) Literal gift economy: Same as 3 but no money is involved.

    5) ‘Indian’ gift economy: Same as 1 or 2 but no money is involved.

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