[Updated 5-Sep-2007, 11:38: Tim has posted his comments and the definitive video. You be the judge.]
[Updated 1-Aug-2007, 09:28: Matt Asay was unfortunately out of the room, but has blogged his take on Eben's concerns. He thinks this post is "hooey". I've responded in his comments. All good fun.]
Tim O'Reilly tried interviewing Eben Moglen on licensing in the "Web 2.0" era as one of the sessions at the O'Reilly Radar Executive Briefing. I believe his intent was to expand the discussion he began a year ago when he suggested "open source licenses are obsolete."
Unfortunately, Eben went on the attack. Indeed, he made it personal. And it was in poor enough taste that many of the excellent ideas he delivered on the need for a second order debate and tools to deal with conflicts in rights were lost. (News and blog links are below.)
I haven't seen Tim on stage before with someone directly involved in the freedom discussion to the level of Eben. It perfectly cast the debate into positions that I believe are by definition incompatible and incongruous.
Jane Jacobs (originally famous for "The Death and Life of Great American Cities") wrote a small Socratic dialog called "Systems of Survival". The characters debate that there are exactly two value systems in existence. One leads to politics (protecting) and the other to commerce (trading). These value systems are not opposite ends of a spectrum, but rather different and incompatible. For each value in one syndrome there is no equal and opposite value in the other.
I've long maintained in my free and open source software talks that we have understood communities since "you had a campfire and I wanted to sit beside it." That metaphorical campfire perfectly frames the value systems debate as well. Am I allowed to sit beside the fire because you're acting as protector? (And when will you begin to tax me firewood?) Or did I trade to sit beside the campfire.
Neither value system is inherently "better" than the other, indeed they each serve their adherents and proponents well (which was Jacobs's point). But neither can they be mixed together. (They are not along a continuum.) One sees this every day. Businesses and governments have an uneasy alliance in policy, regulation and legislation. But while trading is as old as communities, the growth of the economy over the past ~200 years owes much to government legislation enabling limited liability, joint ownership companies and the shared risk investment in capital that was thus enabled.
Tim is the embodiment of the trading value system. Indeed, I would suggest that not only was the attack on stage unwarranted, but that the Free Software movement has been able to deliver its important message to a broader audience faster because of the stage Tim built with O'Reilly Media.
Likewise Eben is a veritable intellectual and rhetorical lion for our political value system around software freedom. Eben may be the perfect person to engage in the necessary debate going forward around conflicts of rights that I believe are invariably created by friction between the two value systems.
Hopefully the debate is not lost in the unfortunate heat and noise arising last week on stage.
News and blog links:
- Eben Moglen challenges Tim O'Reilly to "join the conversation" by Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier (Linux.com)
- Eben Moglen Berates Open Source by Robert Kaye on the OSCON Conference News site
- Eben Moglen Whacks Tim O'Reilly on the Snaplogic blog
- GPL Whiz Moglen nails Web 2.0 O'Reilly on "frivolous" charges by Ashlee Vance of the Register.