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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. It is included here as an
expression of support for the League on the part of the Free
Apple and Lotus are trying to create a new form of legal monopoly: a
copyright on a class of user interfaces. These monopolies would cause
serious problems for users and developers of computer software and
systems. Xerox, too, has tried to make a monopoly for itself on window
systems; their suit against Apple was thrown out on a technicality, but
Xerox has not said anything to indicate it wouldn't try again.
Until a few years ago, the law seemed clear: no one could restrict
others from using a user interface; programmers were free to implement
any interface they chose. Imitating interfaces, sometimes with changes,
was standard practice in the computer field. The interfaces we know
evolved gradually in this way; for example, the Macintosh user interface
drew ideas from the Xerox interface, which in turn drew on work done at
Stanford and SRI. 1-2-3 imitated VisiCalc, and dBase imitated a
database program from JPL.
Most computer companies, and nearly all computer users, were happy
with this state of affairs. The companies that are suing say it does
not offer "enough incentive" to develop their products, but they must
have considered it "enough" when they made their decision to do so. It
seems they are not satisfied with the opportunity to continue to compete
in the marketplace--not even with a head start.
If companies like Xerox, Lotus, and Apple are permitted to make law
through the courts, the precedent will hobble the software industry:
* Gratuitous incompatibilities will burden users. Imagine if each
car manufacturer had to arrange the pedals in a different order.
* Software will become and remain more expensive. Users will be
"locked in" to proprietary interfaces, for which there is no real
* Large companies have an unfair advantage wherever lawsuits become
commonplace. Since they can easily afford to sue, they can
intimidate small companies with threats even when they don't
really have a case.
* User interface improvements will come slower, since incremental
evolution through creative imitation will no longer be permitted.
* Even Apple, etc., will find it harder to make improvements if they
can no longer adapt the good ideas that others introduce, for fear
of weakening their own legal positions. Some users suggest that
this stagnation may already have started.
* If you use GNU software, you might find it of some concern that
user interface copyright will make it hard for the Free Software
Foundation to develop programs compatible with the interfaces that
you already know.
To protect our freedom from lawsuits like these, a group of
programmers and users have formed a new grass-roots political
organization, the League for Programming Freedom.
The purpose of the League is to oppose new monopolistic practices
such as user-interface copyright and software patents; it calls for a
return to the legal policies of the recent past, in which these
practices were not allowed. The League is not concerned with free
software as an issue, and not affiliated with the Free Software
The League's membership rolls include John McCarthy, inventor of
Lisp, Marvin Minsky, founder of the 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
The League needs both activist members and members who only pay their
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 `firstname.lastname@example.org'.
Here are some suggestions from the League for things you can do to
protect your freedom to write programs:
* Don't buy from Xerox, Lotus or Apple. Buy from their competitors
or from the defendants they are suing.
* Don't develop software to work with the systems made by these
* Port your existing software to competing systems, so that you
encourage users to switch.
* Write letters to company presidents to let them know their conduct
* Tell your friends and colleagues about this issue and how it
threatens to ruin the computer industry.
* Above all, don't work for the look-and-feel plaintiffs, and don't
accept contracts from them.
* Write to Congress to explain the importance of this issue.
House Subcommittee on Intellectual Property
2137 Rayburn Bldg
Washington, DC 20515
Senate Subcommittee on Patents, Trademarks and Copyrights
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
(These committees have received lots of mail already; let's give
them even more.)
Express your opinion! You can make a difference.
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