Mary Branscombe (marypcb) wrote,
Mary Branscombe

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Which race are you running?

The SCO contention that the GPL is invalid and breaches US copyright law reminds me of the book I was reading this morning, Cynthia Voigt's The Runner, which is the fourth of her Tillerman books (chronologically the first but it has much more resonance once you know who all the off-screen characters are from the earlier/later books). It's about Bullet Tillerman, who likes to run and is fed up with most people because they lie to themselves instead of being the best they can be. Know thyself; above all else to thine own self be true; lie to the world and you become the lie (Socrates, Shakespeare, German existentialists like Friedrich Durrenmatt). Who doesn't want to be boxed in by anyone - not this father, not the teachers, not the coach and not himself. He runs because he wants to run; he doesn't think it's because he wants to win but no-one else is ever in much danger of beating him and when he finally comes up against someone who does he finds himself afraid not of losing, but of running because he wants to win easily.

It's easy to do the easy thing, rather than enjoying the challenge of the hard thing; a lot of the writing I do is easy now and I wonder if I should try the harder writing - fiction - as well or if it's easy because I've done the hard work of learning to do it. It's easy to say 'I won't play by these rules' and take your ball and walk away; if the courts say you can't do that in software development it will be as much as a step backwards as if Fox wins the absurd fair and balanced case. Phrases like 'where do you want to go today' and 'innovate for what's next' get trademarked - and suddenly if you use those in writing you're liable to get a court case coming your way if your business isn't far enough away from the trademark holder's field.

But what the SCO thing really made me think of is when Bullet's history teacher quotes Houseman at the class; the old anger in the old wind. How people don't change - how you can look back at Ancient Greece and Republican Rome and see people you recognise, familiar motivations and reactions and (most of all) conflicts. How what really lasts is art - the death mask of Agamemnon, the poetry of Housman, fragments of mosaic, music - fragile as they are, they represent achievement and development and things we can pass on. I'd count the artistic license and the GPL as at least attempts at art. How those two things are if not a contradiction then a conflict, and how we have to live in the tension between the two; between what we all are and what we might hope to be.

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