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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Code =/= A Story

Computer code is not a story.

When it comes to written text in the King's English (or other spoken language) there are certain rules about plagiarizing. These are set in place to make sure that creative works are not claimed by someone else or using them for some reason that was not given permission. But computer code is not a creative work. They are not the same thing.

Sure, there are issues regarding copyright and piracy, but that's really only for software packages. Generally, you pay for those, and by claiming them as your own or pirating them, you are depriving someone of funds they would have otherwise received for their work. And even if they're free or open-source packages, it is wrong to pretend you wrote them.

But just like music and movies, people use other people's code and incorporate it into their own ALL THE TIME. You can't compare someone passing off a story as their own as someone passing off code as their own. Because it's not a story, it's instructions for a computer to do something. It's a recipe. And no one cares about who made a recipe unless it's the very best at what it does. And at that point, you probably are selling it, either in a restaurant or on a CD. Code does what it does behind the scenes. It's the effect that the code has what makes the difference. There's lots of ways to make the computer say "hello world". There's lots of ways to make macaroni and cheese.

There's a difference between a short story and a page worth of code. And there's also issues of fair use. Most code snippets are no more than a page in length. You have to have 25 pages of code before you can apply for a patent for it. A macro is not software, it's not something you have to pay for. So if you post something on your website, you have to expect people are going to take it and improve it, and make it their own. You must accept the consequences of that action.

For example, I wrote this, and one day, while googling myself, I found it on this web page. Now, granted, it gives me credit, but when I first published it many many years ago on AOL, I stated that it could be distributed, provided that no alterations to the file are made. Clearly, there were alterations to the file. Do I care? No, not a whit.

And that's my pledge to you. The whole point of providing the writing macros was so that you could take and use them to improve your own writing. To do that inevitably means you have to copy and paste the code in a way that it can be edited. In fact, I encourage the use of editing--adding your own words to the exclusions or inclusions lists.

And furthermore, you can take the code and alter it anyway you want, anyway that suits your needs. I don't need credit, I just need improved writing. My only request is that you tell me how you improved the code so I can add a corrected version on my site. I'm not a VB programmer, so I'm sure my code is junky in lots of places. If I had wanted credit, I would have put my name at the top of the file, along with all sorts of garbage about copyrights, rights reserved, patent pending, and so on.

I really don't care about that. I want this information to be free. And I know the hivemind out there is much better at improving what I wrote than myself alone. Credit just gets in the way, people's pride is what hinders civilization. Everyone's swelled head is what gets in the way. Did you see "And The Band Played On" where a vaccine for the AIDS virus was held up because two scientists created it at the same time and both wanted credit? How about these stories? Or the Hitler meme takedown that occurred about a year too late and was totally ineffectual? There's a lawsuit between a guy who wrote a song called "five minutes of silence"--which is just that--who's being sued for plagiarism by a guy who claims to have wrote the same thing on a previous album. It's silence! Get over it.

So take the macros and make them your own. Please. Use them in the spirit their intended. They are a gift. And gifts have no no strings attached.
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