social sciences software licence madness

The insanity of greed

The day before yesterday an entry called GABEK was posted to ethno::log announcing a new qualitative research method, additionally a link was placed to ‘the method’s website’ It was stated that the method could well be of use for the practitioners of sociocultural anthropology, and the readers were wished to have fun in learning more about the method at said website. Marked as a ‘plus’ it was said that ‘we’ could invite the method’s creator for giving a lecture at my institute. At first glance this kind of posts is an instance of what the blogosphere is good for, the ethno::log put to use as we intended it when we put it online years ago. Very quickly in the comments-section a discussion on the matter started to unfold. In consequence I took a li’l look into the matter myself. What I found made me post a longish comment. After having posted the comment my mind somehow wasn’t able to let drop the issue and more thoughts upon it crept up. So I decided to revise, rewrite and enlarge yesterday’s comment and to post the beefed-up version here. Let’s rock.

The acronym GABEK stands for GAnzheitliche BEwältigung von Komplexität” [Holistic Processing of linguistic Complexity]. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? It does, here is a description:

Diffuse, particular knowledge is not solely found in organizations, but is nowadays sprawling all over the Internet. In our project we will show how scattered linguistic knowledge can be processed, structured, selected and presented with the aid of the software WINRELAN according the method GABEK to promote a holistic understanding of complex social phenomena and to facilitate decision-making that is accepted and supported by those concerned.

On this problem-oriented background the method GABEK® (GAnzheitliche BEwältigung von Komplexität—holistic processing of complexity) was developed by Josef Zelger and implemented in the software program WINRELAN® (Windows[®?] Relation Analysis) by Josef Schönegger and Josef Zelger, to facilitate the analysis of large unstructured and controversial everyday language data samples. According to a specific philosophical concept of understanding and explanation, verbal data are at first represented as a formal indexing system by GABEK and then processed by means of a multidimensional content analysis. Automated, computerized steps of data processing are accompanied by the semantical work of the researcher.

The indexing system allows different guises of (graphical) representation of linguistic knowledge, all of which can be used for interactive inquiries on the PC and can be exported into Word for Windows[®].

Definitely interesting. Not the MS-Word®-exporting thingie, but the overall concept more concretely described like that: “GABEK® translates experiences and opinions into conceptual knowledge systems in the form of hierarchically organized gestalten trees, association graphs, causal networks, evaluation profiles, relevancy lists etc. for systematic selection procedures.” To be honest, methods like that wouldn’t be my first choice in anthropological work, and I wouldn’t rely solely on them, or worse: on just one of them, but I definitely do have nothing against quantitative, or quantifying, and highly systematized methods. For eyample I deem the ethnographical census or certain kinds of actor network analysis to be great and necessary tools, at least to gain an overview, access, and ideas for the right kind of questions. At Ethnographic Methods there are according manuals and tools —for free, as the project’s mission statement is:

Ethnographic Methods publishes a series of methodological material for anthropologists. At the moment it contains two types of publications. The methodological volumes (currently in German only) give detailed introductions to specific methods of data collection and analysis. They are practical guides, and are suited as teaching material. The data collection tools are a growing compilation of ethnographic questionnaires, observation sheets and other material used for data gathering. We publish these “first hand” tools to enable future researchers to profit from the work that has already been done. We seek data collection tools where the results of the analysis have already been published. It is the purpose of these publications to make ethnography a more transparent enterprise. To submit please take a look at the instruction page.

That’s academia 21st-century-style! Reciprocity, gift-economy, idealism and all. And there are more examples, take e.g. community express. Yes, John Burton wants to make some money from the software he created—read his information on that. Sensible, right? Right. And there’s a fully functionable freeware version as well.

But back on topic, back to GABEK®. To set the record straight from the beginning: I did not have my hands on the software itself, nor did I read everything on the according website. I read around the site to a certain extent, but honestly couldn’t yet make heads nor tails about the softwares actual workings, what it exactly does, as I somewhat got lost in a heap of sales-desk style text. Maybe this article would enlighten me, if I’d read it from the first to the last line. But beforehand I already stumbled over a series of things which prevented me from reading the article … so this is some kind of very subjective account of someone who claims to have some insight into anthropology, academia, software and licences attached to the latter. Enough of the prolegomena, now it’s time for some slapping around with a large trout.

To be honest, what struck me first and intuitively let me shy away from the software package, was the (R) symbol attached to GABEK and WinRelan. In the case of knowledge or even ‘products’ stemming from academia I deem a (CC) way more healthier. Way more. That may well be the prejudice of someone who has hung out on the Net for too long, so I read on till I reached the licences. There are two of them, one for academical use (English version | German version) of the software and one for commercial use (English version | German version).

The commercial licence doesn’t give a figure for the “Lisence fees” [no typo from my side], but states that they’re subject to negotiation. The rest of the licence is a heap of terribly restrictive babble, among which some goodies feature really prominent, like: “L[icencee] has no right to make any changes of any sort to G[ABEK]. Should he/she wish to do so, he/she must inform Z[elger] without delay. L has no rights to reverse engineer, decompil or disassembl the software WinRelan.” [again no typos from my side] All of that in a way is perfectly all right with me, as the victims will be from the corporate world—milk ’em, or suck ’em dry, or whatever is to your taste. Or better: try to do so. But believe me, you won’t be able to pull a fast one on those guys. Two of my close acquaintances are quite some calibres within the managements of Oracle and Hewlett Packard. Them guys tie their ties way more neatly than we do [pun terribly intented].

But now for something completely different, or at least something which should be something completely different, the licence for academical use. Let’s start with the seemingly unavoidable: The minimum fee for using the software for academical purposes amounts to 192,- Euros. *plonk* Usage duration is limited to a maximum of one year. :o Do I get this right? I pay onehundredandninetytwo Euros and am allowed to use the software for one year only? Not even the MPAA goes as far with their IP-craze. Just two days ago I bought “I, Robot” on DVD and had to lay just 12,99 Euros upon the counter. And guess what? Twentieth Century Fox now allows me to watch the movie over and over again until I die. And my heirs, and their heirs, and so on, are allowed to do so, too. But just wait a sec and hold your breath, I’ll reveal the licence’s real goodies in a moment. Please allow me to quote part 3 (“Obligations of the licensee” [It’s licencee, for Christ’s sake!]) in full:

L[icencee] keeps Z[elger] informed about the progress and the results of the application of G[ABEK]. L reports on essential experiences (errors, suggested improvements, etc.) and particularly on type and scope of verbal data, especially on:
– problems and background of the situation
– analytical steps implemented and methods of evaluation
– questions that have arisen during implementation, difficulties and their solutions
– a summary of results and experiences gained during realisation
– new and improved application possibilities.
In the case of errors that may occur in the project work L undertakes to document any discrepancies or errors in such a way that a technical revision of the program may be done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Normally the submission of the relevant WinRelan files saved before and after the error and the applicable log-file with a written description of the problem is sufficient Z will receive the final WinRelan-file by e-mail or on disc, the summary on hard copy in quotable form, the final title of the project and possible publications connected with GABEK[6reg;].
Provided there are no express contradictions, the projects can be entered by Z in the list of GABEK[®]-applications under the name of L, title, and assignment area.

In research reports and publications the copyright is to be quoted by L on first mention (i.e. “GABEK[®] and WinRelan[®] © Josef Zelger, Innsbruck”).

I mean, c’mon, r u serious … or insane?

Do you really want me to pay you 192,- Euros in order to gain the right to work for you as a beta-tester for one year? Or is it an alpha, you released? And furthermore I have to give you all my research results, documented research steps, and publications? Who do you think I am? I mean even Mother Theresa would have laughed straight into your face because of that proposal.

The copyright holders of GABEK® aim at a certain academical group as potential customers. As GABEK® is to be used for “a thesis (e.g. master thesis etc)”, and the project has to be “no larger in scope than a dissertation”. Well, till some years ago I was within that group, too, and I wrote a doctoral thesis. Interested in the results? Well, go and buy the book, 395 pages of glossy paper, containing a juicy story of anthropology, sex, drugs, magick, and rock’n’roll. For 19,- Euros, 13,- Euros if you are a student. If you have bought the book, it’s your property, you can do with it whatever you want to. You can read it until you die, you can put it below your table-leg if that one happens to be exactly 2,1 cm too short, or you can make a bonfire of it. As you wish, it’s your property then. No interest in spending nineteen Euros? Then, the fuck, download the whole piece of shit. The exact .pdf-file from which the printer made the book is online for free, CC-licenced. Welcome to the 21st century.

No offence to the initial poster at ethno::log, whoever you are—I refrain from some IP-tracking, but I’ve got a vague idea where this process would lead me to, topographically—are you really asking me to invite GABEK®’s sales representative to give a lecture at my institute? And in the end I shall ask the university to cover her/his travel expenses and accomodation? Well, I am making a fool of myself all the time, confessed, but I won’t drive it thus far.

Personally I wouldn’t go as far as Richard Stallman does and state, that software is a human right, but GABEK®’s above quoted licence for academical use goes way too far into the other direction. Yes, information wants to be free, especially information and knowledge generated within academia. And academical knowledge that I am generating—if I ever really will, that is—for sure doesn’t want to be the property of the maker of the tools I used to generate it. Adobe never asked me to send them one of my books for free, just because I used software they created to make a .pdf of my text.

Slap a CC-licence onto your product and write some sane terms of use for academics and I may, I may, have a look into the usability of your software for the noble discipline of sociocultural anthropology. Welcome to the Internet, to the blogosphere, and again to the 21st century.

Now you may ask why I am enraged like that. It’s because of the maldevelopment called the economization of academia. What happens around here in terms of budget- and personnel-structure collapse is worse enough, now add what’s currently happening in the U.S. [↑follow-up by CK]. Those are pressures more or less from the outside. But trying to pull a fast one on your academical peers is the evil of economization from within.

Once upon a time my li’l cybergang over here attented a lecture by cyberpunk-chief-ideologist Bruce Sterling. Mr. Sterling delivered a great rant on spimes, great show, and conjured up a perfect dystopia instilled by overeconomization and corporate ideology going havoc. 2R, who was sitting next to me leaned over to me and offered me 10,- Euros if I stood up, ran out of the room panic-stricken, while shouting “We’re all gonna die! We’re all gonna die!” Back then I declined the offer. Now I somehow have got the idea that a performance like that is well overdue.

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