Should Open Source Be An Enemy Of The State?

While governments around the world adopt open source, U.S. business groups say we should fear it.

Try to wrap your brain around this: thanks to Obama's adoption of open source to run the White House website,

the U.S. should be on the U.S. Trade Representative's "Special 301 watchlist," according to the International Intellectual Property Alliance. The watchlist calls out nations that don't honor intellectual property protections.announced last year that the website would be revamped on an open source platform (Drupal) means that it's against the free market and is evil. Or, at least, very very bad.Sure, sure, there are plenty of people who would say they didn't need any old alliance to tell them the current administration is an evil socialist empire evil, but this isn't about the economy. Or healthcare. Or jobs. Or taxes. The IIPA was formed in 1984, a coalition of trade associations that represent copyright-based U.S. industries: the Association of American Publishers (AAP), Business Software Alliance (BSA), Entertainment Software Association (ESA), Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA), Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), National Music Publishers' Association (NMPA) and the Recording Industry Association of America.

OK, that's not technically true — the United States was nowhere to be seen on the IIPA's watchlist for 2010 — but given the organization's stance on open source, the fact that the Obama Administration

In this case, the BSA's involvement would seem to have caused the IIPA to determine that any country even suggesting the use of open source software in government offices is an enemy of the state.Special 301 watchlist is drawn up annually by the IIPA in conjunction with the U.S.T.R. and other federal agencies, a list of nations whose acts, policies or practices "deny adequate and effective protection of intellectual property rights or fair and equitable market access for U.S. persons relying on intellectual property protection."Governments all over the world are looking toward OSS for its flexibility and cost.Microsoft is looking at open source. Still, some say that's so they can keep the threat of patent violations lawsuits alive.this graphic on, which points out that Benjamin Franklin (remember him? The guy on the $100 bill, which a lot of members of the IIPA probably have a more intimate relationship with than I do) donated many of his inventions to the public domain making them ... you guessed it, open source.

Guess Philadelphia's favorite son should have just kept his inventions for himself and let his descendants make a mint on bifocals and lightning rods. Take that, LensCrafters!

And so, here we have a coalition of trade groups working with a U.S. agency, basically wagging its finger at any world government that suggests open source is a good way to save on costs.


Ostensibly, the list protects intellectual property from piracy. OK, fair 'nuff and no surprise there, given the IIPA's member associations.

But tucked into the country surveys for Indonesia, the Philippines and India are concerns about the government urging or mandating the use of open-source software in government offices. Indonesia's government has circulated a memo to all state-run offices encouraging (no requirement, just encouragement) the switch to open source, citing the desire to reduce software copyright infringement, interestingly enough. While the IIPA says that one point is a lofty goal, open source is evil, it explains, because it "weakens the software industry and undermines its long-term competitiveness."

About the Philippines, merely reports that the government was considering a bill that would mandate the use of Open Source in government offices rang alarm bells. In the report on India, it's almost a footnote - indeed, the very last paragraph of the document - that notes the government is thinking about considering mandating OSS use in government offices and this needs to be closely monitored.

California likes open source, San Francisco has moved to OSS and, heck, Jordan is trying to become the open source hub of the Mideast, we've written before.

C'mon. It's not as if open source is new. Linux's roots go all the way back to the '70s, to Unix, which initially was distributed for free. Since the initial Linux kernel was released in 1991, there have been countless Linux builds. Mozilla Firefox, the second-most popular web browser, is open source, as is Internet beheamoth Google's Chrome browser.

Sure, it's not the "newness" of open source that's freaking out the IIPA, it's that this upstart business model is actually starting to have an effect on their members. Open source used to be, until pretty recently, the purview of tech geeks and DIY-ers. The average person didn't even know what open source meant. They were happy with their Microsoft Office Suite and bundled Internet Explorer, or their Mac with their Safari browser. Even if they weren't happy, they didn't really see much of an alternative.

But it's worth noting that Microsoft is a big player in the BSA and the company has potentially a lot of business to lose if government stop going proprietary and start using, say, OpenOffice instead of Microsoft Office or mySQL (an open source database with already more than 100 million downloads instead of Microsoft Access. Nevermind the potential threat Linux, Firefox and Chrome pose. If people start working on these systems and applications at work, the fear of using them at home diminishes greatly.

OpenOffice and mySQL, even, are owned by Oracle, though OO was developed by Sun Microsystems before it was taken over by Oracle. So it's not as if some guy in a garage created them.

Speaking of, even

The Special 301 report brought to mind

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.