A modest proposal to give Free Software equal legal standing as proprietary.

Note: Updated to include lock-in and tying. Some changes on moral rights to clarify that

Laws are more often than not an annoyance, despite their aim to improve the legal framework in any given field. Free Software (AKA "Open Source") has thrived despite the absence of any legal recognition by the law, if not in spite of rules that clearly are shaped around proprietary software. In many jurisdictions it has passed the enforceability test. So, no laws seem necessary to make it work. Yet, can some legal principle be put forward, and included in some laws, to help?

"If it works don't fix it", so goes the common saying. But if it works now doesn't mean it will work forever. It is nevertheless upon lawyers, and legislators alike, to foresee problems ahead of their actual happening, and brace for the potential harmful event. But any laws that would regulate Free Software would likely harm some parts of it, and change the games to favor one kind over another, or impose conditions that are not welcome or productive – something that legislator, even with the best intentions, often do – and in general could cause as many troubles as they would produce benefit. "Primum non nocere" is the paradigm for medical actions, even though drugs by definition only produce a net benefit by inflicting some limited damage. Is there a medicament that has entirely good effects without any negative ones? Arguably there is not. But with laws we can achieve something closer to this optimal benefit, which economists know as "Pareto Efficiency".

So this is a call for Pareto Efficient Laws, and Pareto optimal only laws.

Free Software in Korea

me, giving a speech
Me at 2011 Korea FOSS Con

Recently the Koss (Korean Open Source Software) group has organized the first Korean Free Software conference in Seoul, in cooperation with NIPA, the governmental agency for the promotion of Information Technology industry. FSFE contributed to the organization and I, as well as a few other people, have been invited to present our views at the conference.

My speech started like "I knew I should not come to teach, but to learn, and indeed my anticipation was correct". Korea seems to have a lot to teach us. They are coming from behind, but have covered great length, and show some impressive numbers of adoption. At least they have a strategy and an agenda by which public authorities shall adopt Free Software.

Koss conference in Korea

On November 17 I will fly over to Korea to attend and speak at what seems the largest Free Software event so far in the country, under the auspices of the Korean Government, through the National IT Industry Promotion Agency (NIPA), and with the sponsoring also of the FSFE.

Dennis Ritchie

In memoriam of Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie, September 9, 1941 — October 8/9, 2011

Image from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Dennis_MacAlistair_Ritchie_.jpg (in public domain)

While the World (and I) was all concentrating on the departure of Steve Jobs, a man whose achievements have had an even greater impact on today's world is with us no more. Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie left us on 8 October 2011. It is sad, very sad, that all major press reported the two passing aways with so starkingly different emphasis. The C programming language is the foundation of all modern operating systems, and virtually of all commonly used applications and programming languages. But the reality distortion field is still on.

Nortel, Google and the value of patents

This morning I have read this article on Tech Crunch mentioning that – great news – one of the senior executives of Google has finally said it loud what we have thought for years: [most] software patents are detrimental to innovation. Only, he falls short of the point, because he asks for a "real patent reform," whereas the only suitable reform is a software patent abolition (if not an entire patent system abolition, but that is another discussion). All software patents are detrimental to innovation. Period.

But software patents are also detrimental to competition. Especially if they are used in an anticompetitive way. The Microsoft case, once again, gives us good food for thought and leads me to think that there is more than one antitrust concern over the sale of Nortel patents. May I attempt a few short answers to reasonable questions that are lingering around when I mention the antitrust issue. I plead guilty of omitting much of the necessary background.