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B.2 User interface copyright

(This section is copied from the GCC manual, by Richard Stallman.)

This section is a political message from the League for Programming Freedom to the users of the GNU font utilities. It is included here as an expression of support for the League on my part.

Apple, Lotus and Xerox 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.

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 Xerox, Lotus, and Apple are permitted to make law through the courts, the precedent will hobble the software industry:

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