Noted anti-patent activist Florian Mueller recently distributed a statement
regarding the Linux
trademark policy. This policy, according to Mr. Mueller, is just fine;
trademarks are not a barrier to innovation and free software in the way
that patents are. Opposing trademark protection, he says, risks making the
anti-patent community look like it opposes intellectual property in
general; that, in turn, could hurt the fight against software patents.
That could all be true, as far as it goes. Mr. Mueller does not stop
In addition to the debate over the Linux trademark, Mueller is also
worried over the role that some organizations play in an American
court by defending the developers of the "bnetd" software against
computer game publisher Blizzard Entertainment: "It's very unwise
for organizations like the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) to
rush to the aid of piracy-enablers. It makes it look like software
patent critics are against copyright, which most of us are not."
This, in your editor's opinion, is dangerous and incorrect reasoning.
One could start by noting that bnetd was certainly not implemented as a
"piracy enabler." Bnetd is a game server for certain games created by
Blizzard Entertainment. It was created because its developers, having
experienced Blizzard's game servers, decided that they could create a
better environment for themselves. So they wrote their own game server
package which lacks some of the problems of Blizzard's Battle.net. It also
lacks Blizzard's authentication mechanisms (for which the requisite
implementation information is not available in any case). As a result,
bnetd can (unlike Battle.net) be used by multiple players who have made
copies of the same game
CD; this is an unintended side effect of bnetd's implementation, not its
purpose for existing.
It seems unlikely that any significant amount of piracy has been "enabled"
by bnetd. But it would not matter in any case. The issue here is not one
of piracy, it is, instead, about the right to create interoperable
software. If bnetd is illegal, then our right to develop software to
interoperate with commercial offerings is much reduced. That is an outcome
which is worth fighting.
We have seen this sort of issue before.
Dmitry Sklyarov's e-book processor could be said to be a "piracy
enabler." Adobe certainly made that claim. Fortunately, few people
questioned the correctness or necessity of defending Mr. Sklyarov.
Similarly, Jon Johansen was accused of facilitating piracy by releasing the
DeCSS code. But DeCSS is not about piracy; it is about our right to play
the DVDs we have purchased on our Linux systems. If we cannot write
interoperable software, we will be stuck with whatever others deign to sell
In the U.S., at least, the fight for civil liberties often requires
defending unpleasant people. It is the criminals, pornographers, drug
dealers, and others whose rights tend to be infringed first. But even the
sleaziest of people still have rights; if those rights are not defended,
they will soon cease to exist for everybody else as well. If the people we
disagree with do not have rights, we do not either.
Calling the bnetd developers "piracy enablers" puts them in the same camp
as other societal outcasts. Pirates are, after all, among the great
evildoers of our time - at least, according to some people. So casting
developers as pirates makes it easier to attack them. But even if bnetd
were truly a "piracy enabler," its developers would still deserve our
support. These developers did something that many or most of us believe is
within our rights to do. Should we write them off just because somebody
says they are helping pirates?
Anybody who believes that the bnetd developers do not deserve the
community's support would be well advised to think about what the next
"piracy enabler" might be. BitTorrent, perhaps. MythTV? Sound Juicer?
Gaim or Kopete? How about GreaseMonkey? Or XBox Linux? Or Linux in
general, for that matter. The fight against software patents is crucially
important, and it is well to think about how we might best win it. But any
victory which involves throwing members of our community to the wolves to
avoid any appearance of being soft on intellectual property rights will be
illusory at best. The EFF is doing the right thing when it defends the
bnetd developers; this fight is just as important to our rights as the
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