Copyleft

Subject: Copyleft
From: "Tim Altom" <taltom -at- simplywritten -dot- com>
To: "TechDoc List" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 15 Mar 2000 08:40:00 -0500

I have a question that's not about everyday matters, but about a larger
issue.

The new GNU Free Documentation License is out. For those of you not familiar
with GNU or the Free Universe, GNU is an organization that specializes in
coordinating projects whose outputs are free in both senses of the
word...they're free for download, and freely open to modification. This is a
radical idea in corporate offices, where lawyers make executives protect
everything with patents, copyrights, and trademarks. GNU has helped foster
or distribute Linux and hundreds of other programs, all under a GNU license
that specifies that an end user can use, distribute, and modify this
software under terms of the license. Linux is such free software, and as you
can tell by several Linux distro-makers going IPO, free software isn't
limited to a few hobbyist-geeks.

GNU now also has a license for free documentation. It's at
http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html . This license turns on its head the
general way we protect our work, by essentially putting it on an honor
system.

This intrigues me, because most of the companies we work for don't have good
arguments for not distributing free doc, especially online. We've all just
fallen in the habit of conducting business from a wary position behind
circled wagons. Trade secrets won't be revealed by doc; if a competitor
wants to know your interface, he'll call a buddy who has it or buy a copy.
Most companies don't charge for their doc anyway. And the ready availability
of freely downloadable and modifiable doc would help a lot in those
situations where the old doc has been lost or not updated.

There are, of course, some circumstances where a GNU license wouldn't work,
so please don't email me about your super-secret nuclear reactor manual that
shouldn't be freely distributed. But for most of us, I can't imagine why
we'd argue about a GNU license, especially considering the greater
simplicity and wealth of PR we could generate. Moreover, many IT managers
and other technology professionals are coming to like the idea of using
GNU-license software; it's cheaper, it's fully functional, and it's the
product of thousands of scanning eyeballs, looking for bugs and BEING ABLE
TO CORRECT THEM. Often it's more stable than commercial counterparts.

I hope to have a white paper about this on our website within a week or so.
Are there any companies that currently "copyleft" doc, or would be willing
to? I'd be happy to have your stories for the paper.

Tim Altom
Simply Written, Inc.
Featuring FrameMaker and the Clustar Method(TM)
"Better communication is a service to mankind."
317.562.9298
Check our Web site for the upcoming Clustar class info
http://www.simplywritten.com






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