This blog entry is being typed using Open Office. When I bought my macbook in 2008, I was both too lazy and too cheap to download Microsoft Office (I was also at the stage where I was rejecting Microsoft and the thought of a windows application for a mac was a bit unnerving). Open Office looked like Microsoft Office down to the file menus and fonts, but it still took time to get used to. Besides, it had a tendency to crash sporadically (Read: every day), which since then has been fixed in OpenOffice3.2.
Since then, I’ve been trying to advocate the use of Open Office to many of my friends. I’m usually met with skepticism followed by a request for the link to download Microsoft Office through Yale. Well, I truthfully don’t even like Open Office that much. But I believe that open source programs are the future of the internet sharing community.
First developed in 1998 by such individuals that later took over the Linux systems and Netscape, open-source programs are different from their closed-source predecessors in many ways. These programs are usually free and open to download for the entire public (though in some cases, donations are encouraged). Websited like sourceforge.net also provide the entirety of the code that goes into the development of the infrastructures and also allows third parties to develop and build upon the concepts. Most importantly, few open-source are copyrighted, giving the public free reign over the use and distribution of this software.
Such software such as Open Office, Firefox (which was debuted in 2005 by Mozilla Inc. and in August of 2010 accounts for 45% of all web traffic), WordPress, and Ubuntu has become almost ubiquitous in everyday life. However, the concept of Open Source is still yet to reach the general public. Many download Firefox without thinking much about it; others think that operating systems such as Ubuntu are for tech geeks and can’t be used by the general public.
Now that’s all fun and good, but what does open-source software have to do with copyright and the law? Am I just using this blog to shamelessly spread my affection for this type of programs?
But there is also a fundamental debate taking place about the legitimacy of such software. One of the founding principle of open-source is that it will provide a free alternative to familiar software and allow others to build upon their ideas free of charge. And they’re pretty successful at what they do. According to the Standish Group of Boston, Open source programs take away an approximate $60 billion in revenue from companies annually . This figure is significant enough for the US Trade Representatives (USTR) to put such countries as Canada, Brazil, and Indonesia on the Priority Watch List merely for their support of open-source software.The USTR is, in fact, comparing the downloading of completely legal free programs equivalent to pirating licensed software.
The RIAA and the MPAA have already declared that Open source is equivalent to Piracy. They believe that new works are only to be distributed as for-a-fee, closed-source software, as the opposing side “weakens the software industry and undermines its long-term competitiveness by creating an artificial preference for companies offering open source software and related services, even as it denies many legitimate companies access to the government market” (They are basically angry that their money is not put into their own pocket).
Many companies are already investing significant capital and resources into battling piracy through the illegal downloading of their software. Now, they’re targeting companies that offer free alternatives to their own brands. And not only this, the USTR is saying that merely promoting open-source as the choice for software is enough to encourage piracy and that giving preference to these companies stifles innovation.
Now, back up a second. Copyright laws were created to be finite in order to promote competition and the creation of new ideas. They’ve since been abused into being laws that keep profit in the hands of a select few. The International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) has its own agenda. One of its business organizations, the Business Software Alliance, is complaining over the lost revenue that open-source software brings.
Most of the market of the software produced by prominent companies comes from the trust and power of the brand name associated with them. People are reluctant to let go of their allegiance to software and venture into an unknown territory of new and little known developers. However, as the media revolution of the internet continues, many are breaking away from the norm and downloading free open-source in the stead of the more known brands. This is the threat that copyright-heavy corporations are trying to combat.
This of course makes me realize that I should stop using OS X and opt out for Ubuntu from that free disk that I got. But another part of me is reluctant. I also have a way to go before I learn.