Whether in software, education or any other field, open source development is central to innovation. By “open source” I mean that people are sharing their intellectual property, program design, etc with others. In the case of software, it means all the code. For schools, it’s curricula, governance documents, etc…
This is not to say that it is wrong for anyone to ever charge for access to a product or service. Obviously, in a capitalist system, ideas get monetized and the people who come up with them deserve to be rewarded. And there are times when the creators of an idea may feel it is more responsible to control the extent to which the details behind that idea are shared (for example, it miiight be a bad idea to openly share the information necessary to construct a nuclear bomb…). But it stands to reason that when things become proprietary, collaboration and innovation are reduced. Put another way, more people sharing more information allows for more advances to be made more quickly.
That’s a theory. But whether or not an open source approach is the most productive, it is definitely a right that I believe every person, organization and company should possess. If I want to share ideas, code, or material I have developed, I should be able to do that, right?
Not according to copyright lobbyists.
According to this recent article on the Guardian’s website, the International Intellectual Property Alliance (a U.S.-based copyright lobbying group) is pushing the U.S. government to place countries that encourage the use of open source software on a “special 301 watchlist.” The premise being that it is anti-capitalist for someone who creates intellectual product to give it away for free, if there’s someone else trying to make money off a similar product… That’s crazy! It’s like saying Lil Wayne can’t give away his mixtapes because other artists are trying to sell albums and it’s not fair to them if he’s sharing his stuff for free. As Bobbie Johnson (the writer for the Guardian) asks:
“Would you ever accuse Google, which gives its main product away for free, of being anti-capitalist?”
If some knucklehead decided to try to charge for a social networking site that allowed users to keep in touch with friends, should he or she be able to sue Facebook for giving away such a service?
According to Andres Guadamuz of the blog, Technollama, whose research was cited in the Guardian article, the IIPA is going after the government of Indonesia for simply encouraging their central and provincial offices to consider using open source software, which would be cheaper and more adaptable.
The IIPA claims that the Indonesian government’s suggestion, “weakens the software industry and undermines its long-term competitiveness…”
Okaaay… That’s unfortunate for software companies, but it’s great for the development of technologies that help the government of Indonesia serve the people. I hope the U.S. government does not allow the IIPA to convince them to harass countries for participating in sharing ideas and tools. Even when that sharing does “amount to a significant market access barrier for the software industry.”
The type of manipulation the IIPA is trying to engage the U.S. government in is tacky and they should be “taught a lesson.”