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This page deals with Open Source and Free Software from
an intellectual property perspective.
It covers -
is a more detailed discussion elsewhere on this site of
open source, open content and
the 'hacker ethic' as a cultural, media and economic phenomenon.
Although terms such as Free Software, Open Source, GNU
and Linux are often used interchangeably, there are differences
... which sometimes excite passion among devotees.
For a quick introduction to the theological niceties we
recommend Thomas Scoville's article
Untangling the Open Source/Free Software Debate
and Maureen O'Sullivan's 2001 paper
Making Copyright Ambidextrous: An Expose of Copyleft.
In essence both are a move away from the proprietary products
('closed source') that turns users into captives of particular
hardware, software or service vendors.
Free software, as articulated by the GNU
Project founded by Richard Stallman, involves code that
can be freely modified and redistributed in accord with
the 'copyleft' GNU General Public License (GPL).
That license implicitly blocks commercial use, requiring
those who adopt, modify and redistribute GPL code to give
users all the rights they themselves enjoyed (including
the right to see and modify the code free of charge) -
a restriction that reduces the profit on commercialisation
of the code. Stallman quipped that
I speak of free software, I'm referring to freedom,
not price. So think of free speech, not free beer.
exhortation to corporate America to abjure GPL and free
software's hellish ways is here.
Open Source software, promoted by the Open Source
under the auspices of Eric Raymond, involves somewhat
more restrictive licensing as the basis of standards for
development by commercial and other entities.
Open source licenses typically allow users to incorporate
open source code into larger packages that are then marketed
on a commercial basis as closed source.
Section 1 of the official Open Source Definition
for example indicates that open source licenses
not restrict any party from selling or giving away the
software as a component of an aggregate software distribution
containing programs from several different sources.
The license shall not require a royalty or other fee
for such sale.
has thus been able to incorporate the open source Apache
web server code into its closed source WebSphere
Linus Torvalds, aka the Big Penguin and Linux guru, was
profiled in a 1998
Wired and features in Open Sources: Voices
from the Open Source Revolution (Sebastopol: O'Reilly
& Associates 1999) edited by Chris Dibona & Mark
Mavericks Eric Raymond and Richard Stallman are also given
voice in that book, although you might want to turn to
the latter's The Cathedral & the Bazaar (Sebastopol:
O'Reilly 1999) and documents on his site. The account
of GNU/Linux is of particular interest.
A perspective is provided by Peter Salus' A Quarter
Century of UNIX (Reading: Addison-Wesley 1994) and
Ronda Hauben's more engaging account
The History of UNIX, which should be read in conjunction
with David Lancashire's 2001 paper
The Fading Altruism of Open Source Development,
Richard Barbrook's influential 1998 paper
The High-Tech Gift Economy and Steven Weber's 2000
The Political Economy of Open Source Software (PDF).
Stallman collaborated with David Diamond on the autobiographical
Just For Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary
(New York: Harper Business 2001), for us somewhat over-full
of his musings about the meaning of life and the wickedness
of intellectual property.
Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free
Software (Sebastopol: O'Reilly 2002) by Sam Williams
traverses much of the same ground. An online taste is
It was lauded
case study in classical liberal philosophy, a history
of the free software movement, and a life of that movement's
patron saint. It is also a book about a disappearing
personality type, that of the individual who stands
on principle alone, who does not bend to pressure, succumb
to convenience, or compromise his beliefs. It's an investigation
of just how viable such an ethically unyielding character
is in a morally relativist world of bargains, trades,
rebel code and corporate capture?
and Eric Raymond
have characteristically quirky homepages mixing politics,
verse, guns and code. We preferred the poetry on
Stallman's page to the guns on Raymond's.
Peter Wayner's Free For All: How Linux and the Free
Software Movement Undercut the High Tech Titans (New
York: Harper 2000) is a somewhat rose-tinted account of
the free software push.
Robert Young's Under the Radar: How Red Hat changed
the software business and beat Microsoft (New York:
Coriolis 1999) offers an account of commercializing Linux.
As yet there has been no major study of IBM's adoption
of GNU/Linux, one of the more interesting developments,
although there are insights in Lawrence Lessig's The
Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected
World (New York: Random 2001).
Glyn Moody's Rebel Code: Linux & the Open Source
Revolution (Cambridge: Perseus 2000) is drier and
perhaps more perceptive than Wayner, although understating
the extent to which all 'revolutions' are captured by
the dreaded 'establishment'.
Neal Stephenson's In the Beginning ... Was the Command
Line (New York: Avon 1999) is concise and thoughtful.
Pekka Himanen's The Hacker Ethic & the Spirit of
the Information Age (New York: Random House 2001)
is another exercise in sniffing the digital zeitgeist.
We'd suggest instead David Bretthauer's 2002 Open Source
Software: A History article
and Steve Lohr's Go To - The Story of the Math Majors,
Bridge Players, Engineers, Chess Wizards, Maverick Scientists
and Iconoclasts - The Programmers Who Created the Software
Revolution (New York: Basic Books 2001).
The latter is just a smidgin less breathless than its
title and includes treasures such as Brian Behlendorf's
edict that programming must be
to everyone. ... Not being able to program is going
to be like not being able to drive — lacking a fundamental
skill in our society.
is questioned in Thomas Streeter's paper
That Deep Romantic Chasm: Libertarianism, Neoliberalism
& the Computer Culture and other works highlighted
in discussion of the 'californian ideology' as part of
our profile on myths of
copyleft, right and centre
The intellectual property guide
on this site features writing about 'copyleft', software
patents, questions about incentives and innovation, and
Some of the more interesting papers are
Moglen's polemical Anarchism Triumphant: Free Software
& The Death of Copyright (here)
- "free software, far from being a marginal participant
in the commercial software market, is the vital first
step in the withering away of the intellectual property
Donald Rosenberg's Copyleft & the Religious Wars
of the 21st Century (here)
Dennis Kennedy's 2001 St Louis University Public
Law Review paper (PDF)
A Primer on Open Source license Legal Issues: Copyright,
Copyleft & Copyfuture
Aaron Schiff's 2002 The Economics of Open Source
Software: A Survey of the Early Literature (PDF)
and Sandeep Krishnamurthy's 2002 Cave or Community?:
An Empirical Examination of 100 Mature Open Source Projects
Margaret Elliott's Computing in a Virtual Organisational
Culture: Open Software Communities as Occupational Subcultures
Soderberg's 2002 Copyright vs Copyleft: A Marxist Critique
announces that "to oppose copyright is to oppose
capitalism" and that
is a natural starting point when challenging copyright.
Marx's concept of a 'general intellect', suggesting
that at some point a collective learning process will
surpass physical labour as a productive force, offers
a promising backdrop to understand the accomplishments
of the free software community. Furthermore, the chief
concerns of hacker philosophy, creativity and technological
empowerment, closely correspond to key Marxist concepts
of alienation, the division of labour, deskilling, and
Wershler-Henry's Free as in Speech and Beer: open source,
peer-to-peer and the economics of online revolution
(Toronto: Financial Times/Prentice Hall Canada 2002) announces
are coming to the conclusion that the death of intellectual
property as we know it is a good and laudable turn of
events, that software and other types of intellectual
property should be free -- free as in "speech," free
as in "beer," and sometimes free as in speech and beer.
is more detail about free at his "politics, poetics
and practice of digital potlatch" site.
A more nuanced analysis is provided in Lawrence Rosen's
Open Source Licensing: Software Freedom and Intellectual
Property Law (New York: Prentice Hall 2004).
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