The social disutility of software ownership

Douglas, David M. (2011) The social disutility of software ownership. Science and Engineering Ethics, 17 3: 485-502. doi:10.1007/s11948-010-9224-4

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Author Douglas, David M.
Title The social disutility of software ownership
Journal name Science and Engineering Ethics   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 1353-3452
Publication date 2011-09
Year available 2010
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1007/s11948-010-9224-4
Open Access Status
Volume 17
Issue 3
Start page 485
End page 502
Total pages 18
Editor R. Spier
S. J. Bird
Place of publication Dordrecht, Netherlands
Publisher Springer Netherlands
Collection year 2011
Language eng
Formatted abstract
Software ownership allows the owner to restrict the distribution of software and to prevent others from reading the software’s source code and building upon it. However, free software is released to users under software licenses that give them the right to read the source code, modify it, reuse it, and distribute the software to others. Proponents of free software such as Richard M. Stallman and Eben Moglen argue that the social disutility of software ownership is a sufficient justification for prohibiting it. This social disutility includes the social instability of disregarding laws and agreements covering software use and distribution, inequality of software access, and the inability to help others by sharing software with them. Here I consider these and other social disutility claims against withholding specific software rights from users, in particular, the rights to read the source code, duplicate, distribute, modify, imitate, and reuse portions of the software within new programs. I find that generally while withholding these rights from software users does cause some degree of social disutility, only the rights to duplicate, modify and imitate cannot legitimately be denied to users on this basis. The social disutility of withholding the rights to distribute the software, read its source code and reuse portions of it in new programs is insufficient to prohibit software owners from denying them to users. A compromise between the software owner and user can minimise the social disutility of withholding these particular rights from users. However, the social disutility caused by software patents is sufficient for rejecting such patents as they restrict the methods of reducing social disutility possible with other forms of software ownership.
© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010
Keyword Software
Intellectual property
Social disutility
Free software
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Confirmed Code
Institutional Status UQ
Additional Notes Published online 08 July 2010. Author's prepress title: "The Social Disutility Argument against Software Ownership".

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: Official 2011 Collection
School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry
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Citation counts: TR Web of Science Citation Count  Cited 1 times in Thomson Reuters Web of Science Article | Citations
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Created: Wed, 09 Mar 2011, 15:53:02 EST by Mrs Gaylene Wagner on behalf of School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry