You know that situation when someone is embarrassing himself, and it is so funny that you just feel like you want to grab popcorn, sit back and enjoy watching him doing it? Recently, somebody was generous enough to pleasure us in such a way.
Imagine that I told you that, on your hardware, you can install software, for example an office suite, on one computer at a time. In other words, you can’t have it at two or more computers at the same time. Then, if you want to “move” the software to another computer, you can do it only once every 42 days. You wonder why 42 days? Because! I know, this may seem harsh, so I’ll be kind and let you “move” the software sooner if the hardware fails. Furthermore, if you do “move” the software to another computer, you can have the software on that other computer only, i.e. you must delete the copy of the software from the prior computer and any other copies you may have had.
Imagine I told you this for your favorite office suite, or any tool from the suite or any software that does the same job, be it LibreOffice, LaTeX, GNU Emacs, Org-mode, or any other. You would be like: “Are you out of your mind? No way!” And then Sheldon Cooper would walk in and say: “Bazinga!” and both you and me would laugh!
The arbitrary severe restrictions in the joke just told are completely ridiculous for a few very simple reasons. One, we know how easy it is to copy software or, for that matter, anything digital — you just copy-paste and there you go, you have another copy of it! It is as simple as that. If you don’t have it yet, you can find it at so many places on the Internet and download it in a matter of seconds. People find software useful, so they share it for the benefit of the whole community. Generally speaking, people share ideas they appreciate, which further increases the value of the ideas they share.
Two, since it is so easy to copy anything digital, would it be ethical to restrict someone in helping himself by making a copy more than once every 42 days? Even more, would it be ethical to put restrictions to use the software for any purpose or at any time? With the general purpose interconnected computers we have today, there is no ethical excuse to put such restrictions onto anything digital.
And three, since it virtually requires no material goods, why not make as many copies of the software as you want, on as many computers you want? On the other hand, to make another house it takes a lot of material goods; at the end, you have another house, but something was taken away from the environment. To make another copy of an idea, i.e. to pass it on, I just have to tell it to you or write it down for you to read it, or to put it simply, I just copy-paste it; at the end, both of us have it, without decreasing the value of “my copy” of the idea. In fact, now that both of us have the idea, the idea is more valuable. It’s the same with software: if people appreciate it, they will make lots of copies of it and share it.
These simple principles behind ideas, i.e. behind something non-material, are well-known within the free software community and within the free culture community. You learn this kind of things as you discuss within these communities. We don’t split ourselves into two disjoint groups like the society often does, one group being creative, and the other one being passive and just consuming. Instead, we share ideas, develop software and create culture together, provide feedback to each other, issue software defect reports, improve the software and the culture, and share for the benefit of all of us. It feels so good to share the software, the culture, and ideas in general! Therefore, it would be disturbing and incomprehensible to impose control over the others in terms of what they can do with the software or the culture, just for the sake of having power over the others; it wouldn’t be to the benefit of all of us.
So, whenever someone comes up with a joke like the one told earlier — and however incredible it sounds, people make jokes like that all the time — we grab popcorn, sit back and watch and laugh. We laugh at people that want to have power over the others, and at the ways they justify their desire to have the power. We laugh because all of us have as many copies as we wish of every single idea we came up with, and we share without imposing silly restrictions onto each other. You need LibreOffice? Here you go! Need an incredible “text editor”? Take GNU Emacs and copy it once, copy it millions of times! Take Kile and create publish-quality documents easily! Do all of these without having your privacy invaded by the powers that be. Sharing turns out to our advantage.
If you still didn’t grab popcorn, do so now because the fun is about to start. Ready? Ok, lets start! Two days ago, Microsoft made a popcorn day by making an announcement about the change in the way you can use the proprietary Office:
Can I transfer the software to another computer or user? You may transfer the software to another computer that belongs to you, but not more than one time every 90 days (except due to hardware failure, in which case you may transfer sooner). If you transfer the software to another computer, that other computer becomes the “licensed computer.” You may also transfer the software (together with the license) to a computer owned by someone else if a) you are the first licensed user of the software and b) the new user agrees to the terms of this agreement before the transfer. Any time you transfer the software to a new computer, you must remove the software from the prior computer and you may not retain any copies.
Microsoft, two words for you for making the popcorn day: