[sword-devel] e-Sword collaboration & other copyright matters

Leon Brooks sword-devel@crosswire.org
Mon, 01 Jan 2001 14:03:42 +0800

Chris Little wrote:

>> some of our leverage as being a free, non-commercial and OPEN SOURCE
>> software package would be taken away.

> I don't think being Open Source is much of a selling point to publishers.

No, but it does illustrate that in principle we are not chest-hugging 
greedy and paranoid about things.

> Generally, they're afraid of someone cracking the software and
> stealing their stuff.  There's some logic to it, since someone with an
> unlocked module could essentially do anything with that module, like print,
> publish online, etc.  Amusingly, I'd say we still have much stronger
> protection than most closed-source, even commercial products.  With SWORD,
> you definitely have to have a decrypt key for every query.  Logos, on the
> other hand, just keeps track of which books you have unlocked and stores it
> in a file.  In other words, nothing is even encrypted, so you can pretty
> easily share your unlock cache file or crack the program itself to ignore
> the unlock checks.

The advantage here is not ``open source'' but ``better methods,'' or (in 
this case at least) better engineering.

Really, any work done for Christ should be both free and open source 
regardless, caveat that the workers concerned must find a way to sustain 
themselves. Many ``Christian'' publishers are worrying too much about 
staying in business and not enough about what their business really is. 
While there is a definite duty of care involved, if God be for a 
publisher, who can be against them? Publishers should have the purity 
and effectiveness of the works that they produce first in mind, the 
dollars second (and the spread of the gospel zeroeth: it should not so 
much be something to be borne in mind as a basic assumption, part of the 
personality of the company).

<pontification target=choir>
These days, at least, the only way to make serious money out of 
authoring something is to write a thick ``Mills-and-Boone'' romance book 
and sell fifty million of them in the first month. The money is made 
from the sale of physical books, not the information in them: the 
information is the reason for the sale, but the book is what actually 
gets sold; copyright exists to prevent others from making duplicates of 
the original physical book.

The digital realm is a completely different universe, in that 
duplication costs essentially zero. If I buy a 20GB hard disk for 
$OZ200.00, my storage is worth $10.00/GB, or 1c/MB. My current 
collection of SWORD texts cost me about 10c to duplicate; if I'd paid 
top dollar for the data (it was free), the transport cost would be about 
$1.50. This compares favourably with about 2000cc (about 3kg) of paper 
which had to be typeset, printed and bound, then transported, stored, 
sorted, transported again (repeat maybe twice more), costing about 
$OZ60.00 at bare-bones prices, probably about double that in reality. 
Not only that, I can search and cross-reference it all pretty much 

Traditional media (ie paper) were protected to some degree from 
individuals copying them by the difficulty and expense of duplicating 
the physical medium. This protection is evapourating rapidly. Tapes and 
videotapes were the leading edge of the wedge, but now with digital 
storage at unprecedentedly low prices and set to balloon even more, a 
revolution of profound implications, similar in magnitude to the 
invention of the printing press, is upon us. [ BTW, is this sounding 
pontifical enough? :-) ]

The different behaviour of the publishing medium requires a different 
profitability model, a different view of issues like copyright, 
royalties, and publishing costs. Before printing, money was made in 
doing the actual transcription; only after presses became common did 
issues like copyright become significant. Open Source pushes the 
operating model even further. What concepts will wither and die, and 
what will blossom in its path?

One profitability method is to use electronic media as a leader back to 
traditional media: ``if you like reading this text on line, have you 
considered owning an attractively bound printed copy with that 
traditional feel, clear print, lasting value and batteryless portable 
operation?'' This, I believe, has a limited future.

Either way, the purpose of Christian literature, espcially the Word of 
God, should be primarily to get itself read and used. If we can find a 
way to make this happen, hopefully commensurate with the profitability 
of whatever the publishing companies become, I'm sure God will be 
pleased. (-:

Do you remember when you only had to pay for windows
when *you* broke them? -- Noel Maddy