Bricklin on DVD: Good software copyright primer for enterprises

Bricklin on DVD: Good software copyright primer for enterprises

Summary: Normally, when PC-industry pioneer Dan Bricklin comes out with a new product, you can download it or get it on a CD.  Not this time.


Normally, when PC-industry pioneer Dan Bricklin comes out with a new product, you can download it or get it on a CD.  Not this time.  Instead of publishing some new innovative software (as we're so accustomed to seeing him do), he has published a video of himself discussing basics of software licensing -- one that spends a considerable amount of time on open source. The title of the video is A Developer's Introduction to Copyright and Open Source. 

bricklin_1.jpgThough the DVD makes for a great icebreaker for developers who've had limited exposure to the world of software licensing and copyright, even those who think they're well steeped in all aspects of open source might learn a thing or two from the specific examples Bricklin provides. For example, how some of the academic licenses (eg: the MIT license) are far less restrictive than the Free Software Foundation's GNU General Public License and what that means to licensees or licensors.  Or, how developers (including Linus Torvalds with Linux) sometimes include additional disclosures with their code in order to provide certain licensing clarity that might otherwise not be conveyed through the chosen license's fixed terms.  To the extent that Bricklin also covers the concepts of derivative works, fair use, the netherworld of ideas vs. idea expression, and the ability of anyone or any company to, separate from some source code's open source license, negotiate their own custom terms with a copyright holder, the DVD really makes it clear that by paying little or no attention to the many nuances of software licensing and copyright law, IT managers and developers could be unnecessarily exposing their companies to some potentially damaging legal risks. 

Some open source experts who think they know it all may find the video to be too rudimentary.  But, when I got done watching the video, I felt like it was like any other training video that your human resources department might ask you to watch.  For example, the ones about sexual harassment.  Many people already know the do's and don'ts of sexual harassment and probably feel as though they don't need to be subjected to an annual refresher course.  But, every time I sit through one of those, it's a real clear reminder of what the company will and won't tolerate and why it's so important to minimize the company's exposure to risk while at the same time, respecting the rights of others.   Since  the copyrights of others must also be respected (and knowing what could happen if they're not), an annual display of Bricklin's DVD serves in two capacities.  First, it's a primer to those who need to learn more about software copyright and licensing.  Second, it's a reminder that the company takes copyrights very seriously and that their are certain policies and guidelines when it comes to software development and usage that employees should not lose sight of. 

Compared to the damages that might be incurred by an inadvertent copyright infringement (or the consumption of business and legal resources in order to avoid those damages after the infringement took place),  the DVD's $695 pricetag is peanuts.  According to Bricklin's Web site which includes trailers and information on how the DVD can be acquired, the DVD can be replayed in corporate training sessions or by professional service outfits to their clients, but it cannot be displayed in public or online.  The production quality is very good and, at the end, Bricklin even provides information on what products he used to setup his one-man studio.

Topic: Legal

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  • GPL Restrictive only if you plan on stealing someones work

    I have not seen this video but it sounds like several things going about in Usenet and other mailgroup discusions.

    The GPL is not really restrictive to the end user.

    In fact it clearly states that it does not regulate end use.

    Why is this?

    It is becuase of CONTU. and has the text of CONTU. IN 1978 CONTu released its report that was comissoned By Congress to explore the effects of having Softawre being copyrightable and even explored if Software should fall under Copyright or Patent. Read Chapter 3 see in paticular table 1.

    Anyhow the purpose of CONTU was to sheild end users from having to negotiate a seperate license from the copyright holders in order to use (Load, Install, and Run) their software. Congress adopted the CONTU recomondations with one change, they changed lawfull possesor to owner of software. When they did this it was to prevent mail couriers and other intermediaries from having rights to use the software. The validity of use licenses depends on which court you are in front of. Most notably the 8'th and 5'th district upholds them while most districts already have prescedent so they don't. Five states have passed ANTI-UCITA (UCITA Bomb shelter laws) so that a sale of softaware is a sale of goods under the UCC. One district even has a precedent that regardless of what the EULA says you have ownership rights to the copy of the software thus own it.

    Anyhow under the GPL as a user you have no liability under copyright assuming you did due diligance to make sure it wasn't misapropraited. Even then the copyright holder must go after the distributor first - Why the SCO V Autozone case is on hold- SCO has to go after Red Hat first.

    As a developer or distributor you do have liabilities and terms under the GPL that you do not under the BSD license. You must follow the Source Code and redistribution rights of the GPL or not distribute or create derivatives from it. Becuase of the redistribution clauses under the GPL there is no such thing as WAREZ GPL software. If someone wants to enter the market redistributing GPL software for 0 cost they can. Unser BSD you only have to notify that you incorperated softawre into your product.

    Now Patents are a different story altogether. DMCA is also another ball of wax.
  • Evaluation Copy available for only $29.95


    Thanks for the kind review. For those individuals that might be stopped by the training video level pricing, there's another option. Here's an excerpt from my blog post about it:

    $695.00!?! That's fine, you might say, for a company with dozens or hundreds of programmers, but what about an individual working at home who just wants to see it themselves to fill in their knowledge or review it for others? Also, many companies insist on seeing an "evaluation copy" (which they then have to ship back or else pay full price) before they will commit to a purchase of that magnitude. I need to deal with that, too.

    I decided to handle both of those issues by making the same content available in an "Evaluation Copy" that is authorized for viewing only by the individual for whom it is purchased. (The $695 version is authorized for viewing by employees of the company that purchases it, or, in the case of an outside law firm, for their clients.) The Evaluation Copy is priced at only $29.95. That's at the low end of the price of computer books (of which most of us have dozens on the shelf) and high enough to cover my costs plus some modest profit. The main content difference is a simple, unobtrusive "Evaluation copy, not for corporate training" overlay at various points in the video.

    -Dan Bricklin
  • Copies for FREE on Bit Torrent!!!

    • Why would a corporation use a pirated copy of this?

      It would be strange for someone to watch (or want to watch) a video about copyright law with a pirated copy (especially when there is a very reasonably priced alternative). Could you imagine what a corporate CFO would think of legal counsel that was using pirated video to teach their employees to abide by the copyright laws? Lots of software is available "for free" on Bit Torrent, yet corporations still seem to go and buy lots of it (as they should). I cover a bit about that in the video, of course.

      On the flip side, there are always some people who wouldn't have paid and find a way to see it anyway. I hope they at least learn something, like it, and recommend it to someone more willing to abide by the license terms. Better yet, I hope they like my presentation so much they hire me as a speaker for one of their events...

      -Dan Bricklin
      • For the same readon 1/4 of all businesses have bootleg software.

        • Not a bad business model...

          If 1/4 have bootleg software (I assume it's a bit higher but they don't know it), they probably have a mixture (i.e., not ***all*** bootleg), so the "market" for software is probably higher that that 75%. Wow! Compared to the cost of lost sales to copy protection in the old days, that's not bad. Now, if it was 1% of those that would have bought it did, then you need a new model (which even then you can make money, as Open Source shows).

          I assume you are ignoring the irony of bootlegging this video...
  • Krause v. Titleserv, Inc., No. 03-9303 (2nd Cir. Mar. 21, 2005)

    2'nd district circuit court ruling taking 90% of the bite out of EULAs. Note that however the 8'th district circuit ruled the opposite in Blizard v. BNetD (So don't take this as legal advice).

    The Meat of it;

    "Judge Leval decisively and rightly rejects the idea that Section 117 can be bypassed by the software developer's unilateral characterization of the transaction as a "license." Importantly, the court goes on to hold that the defendant in the case could lawfully exercise the rights of a Section 117 "owner" even though it did not possess formal title to its copy of the program...

    ...We conclude in the absence of other evidence that Titleserv's right, for which it paid substantial sums, to possess and use a copy indefinitely without material restriction, as well as to discard or destroy it at will, gave it sufficient incidents of ownership to make it the owner of the copy for purposes of applying ? 117(a) ...

    ...Thus, a right to make those changes necessary to enable the use for which it was both sold and purchased should be provided. The conversion of a program from one higher-level language to another to facilitate use would fall within this right, as would the right to add features to the program that were not present at the time of rightful acquisition."