Is President Obama Even Losing Support in Open Source Community?

Dennis Byron

To keep up with the changing tides of the open source software movement, there is no better read than the Open Source Initiative (OSI) license-discuss and license-review lists. You'll find commentary and heated debate among the movement leaders such as Behlendorf, DiBona, Labourey, Milinkovich, Nelson, Perens, Phipps, Rosen, Tiemann, and even the soon to be former Microsoft open source mover and shaker Sam Ramji. And you can join the fray as well.


(Remember I am referring to the open source movement in this post, not the free software movement, in case anyone wonders why I didn't list Stallman.)


Given the OSI lists' titles (discuss and review), the e-mail traffic is supposed to be about licenses, of course. But that's too much to ask of what is mostly a bunch of programmers. So I was intrigued by this recent request from Anton:


"I have a couple of Open Source projects, licensed under BSD but for which I have the complete copyright. I am contemplating to change the license into something (that) prevents U.S. citizens and/or interests, directly or indirectly from using my software."


BSD is the classic Berkeley license, possibly the first open source license. In fact, I think it has been in existence in some form since before both the OSI and the free software movement.


Anton says he "is *not* a troll, and please do not try to argue, that I shouldn't do this, the decision has been made, it is merely a matter of "how to do this?", not "should I do this?" or "is this right or wrong?""


Naturally of course, that last statement was an invitation to argue with him and the list was off and running when I last checked. The discussion is both specific to Anton and as broad as the entire enterprise software movement and international geopolitics. I'm on record already as being pretty vehemently against anything that associates software with a nationality. So I guess I'm equally against excluding a nationality or its citizens, especially when it involves the U.S. and Americans.


The idea is pretty un-open-source-movement-like, as well. In fact, John Cowan pointed out that Anton's idea:


"directly contravenes OSI Open source Definition (OSD) principle #5, which says there should by "No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups."


This is key area where the OSI differs from Stallman's Free Software Foundation.


Ben Tilly adds that


"historically, attempts to create such restrictions have lead to bad results. A classic example is that at one point it was quite popular to incorporate license terms saying that software could not be used in South Africa. Then apartheid fell, and there was a lot of useful software that still couldn't be used in South Africa, for which the authors were difficult to track down."


Ben has some practical advice against mixing software development and politics as well:


"It is trivial to create (such a license). But (because) any attempt to do so will not meet OSD #5 such software is unlikely to be adopted. For example it will not meet the Debian Free Software guidelines (same reason) so can't be included in Debian. Other Linux distributions and the various BSDs are likely to not wish to carry the software for various practical reasons. Furthermore you may be surprised at how many US citizens live (and work) abroad, and therefore how many non-US companies would find it difficult to use your software. Said employees are frequently not in agreement with the actions of the USA, and their employers are not political entities, but still there is an impact."


I had already assumed that Anton's request was some kind of political statement. Getting back at Dick Cheney, no doubt? Or Bill Clinton's bombing of Afghani villages? Or Reagan butting in in Nicaragua?


But Anton tells me by e-mail that I was right about the purpose but wrong about the U.S. politician:


"Obama's recent (September 22) speech in New York (about climate change) was so disheartening, that I felt now was my time to give my 2 euro-cents towards pushing the US into a position more aligned towards a responsible position."


Americans pay little attention to the give and take in politics and the ups and downs all politicians go through in the polls. But if President Obama is losing the open source movement in Europe, that might be a bellwether.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Sep 23, 2009 6:40 PM matt matt  says:

This is a joke right? One disgruntled European open source developer does not represent either an entire continent or an entire development model.

Sep 30, 2009 11:18 AM Marsha D Marsha D  says: in response to matt

It's a good thing we got a stimulus package update. I'm sure many will be glad about this since it is meant to rescue American households. The recovery.gov website was and is supposed to keep all of us informed about just what all of our stimulus dollars are doing, if anything.  It sure doesn't look like much at this point, but the website promises to be far more interactive and user friendly.  So far the Department of Health and Human Services has paid out the most money.  The website does report projects and contracts paid out for, so we have some sort of knowledge that the taxpayer funded payday loans no faxing have gone somewhere other than to Wall Street, that is if the reporting of recovery.gov is accurate.


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