21.3 Other Professions

Free For All. Go to the Table of Contents. Vist the Gifcom.

This comparison doesn't have to be limited to the car guys in the garage. Many other professions freely share ideas and operate without the very restrictive covenants of the software industry. The legal business is a great example of a world where people are free to beg, borrow, and steal ideas from others. If someone finds a neat loophole, they can't patent it or prevent others from exploiting it. Once other lawyers hear about it, they'll be filing their own lawsuits for their own clients. [^14]

[14]: 1The legal system is not perfect. Too many cases are now filed under seal, and the courts are too willing to act as private dispute agencies for big corporations. When the law is locked up in this way, it is not a great example for the free software world. Consider the world of tobacco liability. Once one state advanced the legal opinion that the tobacco companies were liable for the cost of treating any disease that might emerge from smoking cigarettes, the other states and plenty of lawyers were able to jump on board. Once they settled, the lawyers turned their sights on the gun companies. By the time you read this, they'll probably have moved on to the fat delivery vehicle manufacturers in the fast-food industry and the stress induction groups, aka your employer. The exercise reduction industry, made up of a megalomaniacal consortium of moviemakers, television producers, and, yes, book writers, must be on someone's list.[^15]
[15]: The author recommends that you read this on the Stairmaster or a stationary bike, but only after checking with a registered doctor and consulting with a licensed exercise specialist who is thoroughly familiar with your medical history. These medical specialists will be able to tune your workout to provide the optimal fitness benefits so you can live long enough to get Alzheimer's disease. Free source folks are just as free to share ideas. Many of the rival Linux and BSD distributions often borrow code from each other. While they compete for the hearts and minds of buyers, they're forced by the free source rules to share the code. If someone writes one device driver for one platform, it is quickly modified for another.
The proprietary software world moves slowly in comparison. They keep their ideas secret and people spend thousands of lawyer years on projects just keeping the various licenses straight. Code is shared, but only after lawyers vet the contracts.

The legal industry is also a good example of how the free sharing of ideas, techniques, and strategies does not hurt the income of the practitioners. In fact, lawyers have managed to carve themselves a very nice slice of the nation's income. Most are not as rich as the lucky few who beat the tobacco companies, but they do all right.