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Protect Your Freedom--Fight "Look And Feel"

This section is a political message from the League for Programming Freedom to the users of GNU CC. We have included it here because the issue of interface copyright is important to the GNU project.

Apple, Lotus, and now CDC have tried to create a new form of legal monopoly: a copyright on a user interface.

An interface is a kind of language--a set of conventions for communication between two entities, human or machine. Until a few years ago, the law seemed clear: interfaces were outside the domain of copyright, so programmers could program freely and implement whatever interface the users demanded. Imitating de-facto standard interfaces, sometimes with improvements, was standard practice in the computer field. These improvements, if accepted by the users, caught on and became the norm; in this way, much progress took place.

Computer users, and most software developers, were happy with this state of affairs. However, large companies such as Apple and Lotus would prefer a different system--one in which they can own interfaces and thereby rid themselves of all serious competitors. They hope that interface copyright will give them, in effect, monopolies on major classes of software.

Other large companies such as IBM and Digital also favor interface monopolies, for the same reason: if languages become property, they expect to own many de-facto standard languages. But Apple and Lotus are the ones who have actually sued. Apple's lawsuit was defeated, for reasons only partly related to the general issue of interface copyright.

Lotus won lawsuits against two small companies, which were thus put out of business. Then they sued Borland; they won in the trial court (no surprise, since it was the same court that had ruled for Lotus twice before), but the decision was reversed by the court of appeals, with help from the League for Programming Freedom in the form of a friend-of-the-court brief. We are now waiting to see if the Supreme Court will hear the case. If it does, the League for Programming Freedom will again submit a brief.

The battle is not over. Just this summer a company that produced a simulator for a CDC computer was shut down by a copyright lawsuit by CDC, which charged that the simulator infringed the copyright on the manuals for the computer.

If the monopolists get their way, they will hobble the software field:

If interface monopolies are accepted, other large companies are waiting to grab theirs:

Users invest a great deal of time and money in learning to use computer interfaces. Far more, in fact, than software developers invest in developing and even implementing the interfaces. Whoever can own an interface, has made its users into captives, and misappropriated their investment.

To protect our freedom from monopolies like these, a group of programmers and users have formed a grass-roots political organization, the League for Programming Freedom.

The purpose of the League is to oppose monopolistic practices such as interface copyright and software patents. The League calls for a return to the legal policies of the recent past, in which programmers could program freely. The League is not concerned with free software as an issue, and is not affiliated with the Free Software Foundation.

The League's activities include publicizing the issues, as is being done here, and filing friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of defendants sued by monopolists.

The League's membership rolls include Donald Knuth, the foremost authority on algorithms, John McCarthy, inventor of Lisp, Marvin Minsky, founder of the MIT Artificial Intelligence lab, Guy L. Steele, Jr., author of well-known books on Lisp and C, as well as Richard Stallman, the developer of GNU CC. Please join and add your name to the list. Membership dues in the League are $42 per year for programmers, managers and professionals; $10.50 for students; $21 for others.

Activist members are especially important, but members who have no time to give are also important. Surveys at major ACM conferences have indicated a vast majority of attendees agree with the League on both issues (interface copyrights and software patents). If just ten percent of the programmers who agree with the League join the League, we will probably triumph.

To join, or for more information, phone (617) 243-4091 or write to:

League for Programming Freedom
1 Kendall Square #143
P.O. Box 9171
Cambridge, MA 02139

You can also send electronic mail to lpf@uunet.uu.net.

In addition to joining the League, here are some suggestions from the League for other things you can do to protect your freedom to write programs:

Democracy means nothing if you don't use it. Stand up and be counted!

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