Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

Open Source

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.

Copyright Notice: We don't think much of copyright, so you can do what you want with the content on this blog. Of course we are hungry for publicity, so we would be pleased if you avoided plagiarism and gave us credit for what we have written. We encourage you not to impose copyright restrictions on your "derivative" works, but we won't try to stop you. For the legally or statist minded, you can consider yourself subject to a Creative Commons Attribution License.

Patent Free Pharmaceuticals?

Joseph Jackson draws our attention to Project Marilyn a crowd funded effort to develop a promising anti-cancer drug unencumbered by patents. Check it out, and think about contributing. Often missing from our thinking is that the beneficiaries of a drug are not just those people that use it - but also all us who might use it.

The French say: if it is not Windows, it must have been pirated

The French government intends to slap a tax of 12 euros on any tablet unless it runs with Windows. One might wonder why France wants to pander Microsoft, but the logic is apparently that anything that is not Windows must be pirated, and that includes Android, Linux and even MacOS. The most bizarre is that a French company, Archos, would be hurt to the benefit of an American company.

Hat-tip: Numerama via TechEYE.net.

Those who cannot learn from the past are doomed to repeat it

There is an interesting article in today's Business Section of the New York Times that asks the question of whether Apple's business culture with respect to the iPhone is taking it down the same path it went down with respect to the Macintosh which saw it eventually lose out to Microsoft in the market for home computing. This question refers, of course, to Apple's culture of control over the market for apps on the iPhone, which is reminiscent of its demands in the 1980's and '90's that application developers wishing to write code for the Macintosh had to apply for and pay for licenses from Apple before Apple would release the necessary application program interface code to the developer.

It would seem natural to conjecture that the openness of the Android operating system could eventually lead to the same kind of market tipping phenomenon that saw the Mac lose out to the PC for business adoption. That said, it isn't clear where the needed network externalities are coming from in this case, since wireless communication technology is pretty standard.

The New York Times discovers open source and likes it

Ashlee Vance writes in today's New York Times Sunday Business section about the problems open source software has with enforcing the agreement of users to publish the source code with the the actual software, so that it can be further developed link here. I don't think the article explained the issue very well; it says only that the agreement with the open source community has been violated.

The point of the open general license is that software which finds new uses or builds on the underlying code and alters it then becomes available to the rest of the open source community. Hopefully, the accumulation of applications will in time be a highly competitive rival to the big profit making software suppliers like Microsoft and Apple. It is also a way to reduce the high cost of profit-seeking software makers that retain their software monopolies for long periods.

The article makes a point that financial penalties for failing to abide by the standard open software agreement have been modest if not nil. This no doubt softens the reluctance of users, as evidence by the rapid spread of such applications to new gadgets that are now pouring into the market.

Finally, the article sends readers to the Linux Foundation for more information; to Hewlett-Packard, which has helped develop a standardized inventory list for software so that companies can keep track of their code and licenses," and to a website, "Gpl-violations.org, an organization named after a popular open-source license, [which] receives an e-mail complaint from someone who suspects that a product may use open-source software without adhering to the rules" and checks it out.

Letter to MacBreak's Scott Bourne about Open Source and the Free Market

Dear Mr. Bourne,

I've been enjoying your commentary on various Twit network podcasts for a while now. On the recent MacBreak Weekly, I found your exchange with Merlin Mann about open source interesting. I detect a whiff of libertarianism in your remark about the force of the state being used to enforce taxes--which I appreciate, as I'm a libertarian myself. I'm also a patent attorney and have written extensively about why patent and copyright law are anti-free market and unlibertarian (my reasons may be found at The Case Against IP: A Concise Guide, available at http://www.stephankinsella.com/publications/#IP).

You are right, in a way, that the free market will come into play here--but the power of patent and copyright holders is not a free market power. It is an artificial and unjust monopoly given to them by the state, which they then use in the courts to get the force of the state (as with tax collection) to extort money from third parties. So, given this monopoly power, yes, the free market will temper somewhat how much they can extort from people, but still, it's unjust and greatly distorts the market. It also leads to hostility against the free market when people wrongly identify this state monopoly granting practice as part of the free market.

That said, I agree with you that there is no "religious" reason for a given individual or firm to use open source over non-open -- whatever works better and is the better deal for you, of course. And in fact the "open source" model is not without problems: it also relies on copyright, and has insidious aspects -- that's one reason I, as an anti-copyright type, prefer public domain or creative commons attribution only instead of the share-alike/GNU type model (which I explain in Copyright is very sticky!, Eben Moglen and Leftist Opposition to Intellectual Property, and Leftist Attacks on the Google Book Settlement).


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