Don Marti

Sun 17 Apr 2005 08:33:51 PM PDT

Community help for non-free software?

Doc's friend has a problem with a proprietary mailer, and Doc is appealing for help.

Not that Doc isn't trying to be a nice guy, but if you really think about it, this is an uncouth and unfair request. When the user accepted the proprietary mailer's end-user license agreement (EULA), he or she agreed not to, as Richard Stallman would say, help his or her neighbors.

The EULA isn't there to keep the user from copying the mailer and selling the copies. Copyright law already prohibits that. What the EULA purports to do is to prevent the user from sharing information about the mailer, even the information that would be needed to make other programs interoperate with it.

I could understand asking for community support for a program that was copyrighted but not freely redistributable, since in the case of such a program the person seeking help has not deliberately cut himself or herself off from being able to help others. But when a user first agrees to withhold helpful information from others, and then asks others to provide helpful information, that's just not right.

Proprietary software companies rely on hobbyists and the "office computer guy" to answer questions from their programs' users. I'm not going to be an unpaid part of their support team. When someone asks me, in effect, "Hi, I've entered into a contract not to help you. Can you help me?" then my answer has to be, "No. Ask the other party to that contract."