Minutes, APAS as a guerilla tactic for liberating proprietary software

Joseph Turner joseph at breatheoutbreathe.in
Sun May 29 04:33:00 UTC 2022

Thank you for the care and patience with which you're approaching this
new challenge to software freedom. I appreciate the suggestion to avoid
thinking in terms of legal tactics in order to remain open-minded, and I
agree that we will need to devise a radically different approach the
problem of proprietary software if copyleft doesn't prevent machine
learning from washing away licensing restrictions.

"Bradley M. Kuhn" <bkuhn at sfconservancy.org> writes:

> I thought you were saying that you'd seen discussion of folks raising
> concern that CoPilot might be used with *proprietary*/non-FOSS inputs
> to circumvent those *proprietary* licenses. *That* kind of discussion
> would be interesting to me, because if there are proprietary licensors
> worried about such a thing, they may turn out to be unexpected allies
> that we should try to work with.

Yes, that would be interesting indeed.

> just reject proprietary software outright and focus on building
> alternatives that respects users' rights.

I couldn't agree more. My uncle says, "Do your best and forget the rest."

> I *think* we've avoided that mistake (by noticing this problem very early
> and acting quickly), but I don't want to repeat the “must do something with
> the license text, quickly” one.  If there are copyleft license updates that
> this situation demands, we probably (IMO) need to figure them out in the
> next 6-10 months, but we shouldn't rush to them, either.  Indeed, it could
> turn out this problem doesn't have a licensing solution; we just don't know
> yet and I'm working hard not to jump to conclusions about what to do.

Thank you for sharing the history of AGPL, autonomo.us, and the Franklin
Street Statement, which helps me to understand the approach you're
taking now.

> As I said above, I think civil disobedience here is unlikely to help.
> Social justice causes where civil disobedience has tended to work are those
> where the issues are stark, well understood by the entire populace, and
> where any and every citizen has the power to engage in civil disobedience.
> I respect much what Aaron was trying to do, but as his own Manifesto points
> out: only the privileged can actually engage in the requisite civil
> disobedience.  The same is true in the issues we face with software rights
> generally, and the problem of APAS' specifically.  Can the average software
> user, or even the average developer, do anything civil-disobedience-wise
> right now to prevent companies from building and marketing APAS's?

You're right that the majority of people/developers aren't able to
participate in the kind of civil disobedience I asked about in my first
email. However, I'd like to understand better why you conclude that
civil disobedience is less effective when performed by individuals or
small groups. Is not Github a small group performing civil disobedience
when it bends/breaks copyright law by ignoring copyleft licenses?

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that Github's civil disobedience is
moral, simply that it is effective at achieving their selfish ends.

Do you think that civil disobedience like that could have a negative
impact on the free software movement?

>> … action could augment a movement to …  amend copyright law.
> I always point out here: copyleft exists in the first place because amending
> copyright law (and the other legal mechanisms that are used to proprietarize
> software) was politically unviable.  I think it still is — possibly even
> moreso than it was when copyleft was invented.

Sorry, "amend copyright law" wasn't what I meant. Rather, I was simply
suggesting that the use of APAS to wash away proprietary licenses
*might* (1) bring public attention to the unfair double-standard between
copyleft and proprietary licensing protections (especially with the
advent of APAS) and/or (2) increase the likelihood that the issue goes
to court. If the issue were never brought to court, then the de facto
precedent would be that machine learning can circumvent all copyright.

> And, if we do it as transparently as we can, hopefully it will make it
> easier to gain mindshare for whatever ideas we come up with.

Yes, transparent discussion is the way to go :)

-- breatheoutbreathin

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