Should governmnet software be Open Source?

Brice, Richard BriceR at WSDOT.WA.GOV
Wed Mar 8 19:17:18 UTC 2000

I would contend that if any level or branch of government has the right to
copyright software, then it is in the best interest of the public to use an
open source license. I say this for all the same reasons one might prefer to
use GPL over not-copyrighting. The benefits of an open source license are
greater than public domain. As a tax payer, I want to maximize my investment
in this nation. If Evil-company makes something I own better, I want access
to the better version so my employees (civil servants) can then make it
better to better serve me and my fellow investor.

Slightly off topic, where would one go about making and FOIA request...

And one last thing... I should have said this up front... I am employed by
the government of the State of Washington. I am a strong proponent of Open
Source Software for government. I develop bridge engineering software, and
have applied an Open Source license to it. I thought that info might be
relevant or at least give you a better picture of where I'm coming from.

	-----Original Message-----
	From:	Derek J. Balling [SMTP:dredd at]
	Sent:	Wednesday, March 08, 2000 11:05 AM
	To:	Brice, Richard
	Cc:	'license-discuss at'
	Subject:	RE: Should governmnet software be Open Source?

	At 10:52 AM 3/8/00 -0800, Brice, Richard wrote:
	>Public domain and Open Source are not the same thing... No problem
	>that. However, I've seen government agencies exercise their right
	>copyright material (at least I assume it is their right because it
is done

	It would be interesting to challenge the copyright. :)  As far as I
	the government didn't have any ability to DO that.

	>As a specific example, the Pennsylvania Department of
Transportation has
	>written some bridge design software that they refuse to share the
	>code and charge non-government agencies upwards of $1500 per copy
for the
	>executables. Please refer to sections 4 and 5 of their license
agreement as
	>it asserts their copyright and position of
	><> .

	I don't know about State gov't's, but I'm almost positive the US
	can't do things like that.

	Considering that the code is paid for by tax dollars, I would
suspect an 
	FOIA request would still yield the source code, since it IS public

	>Public domain is a legal term that means "not copyrighted". Anyone
can take
	>public domain software, tweak it, call it their own, and copyright
it. From
	>that point on, the software might not be "free" at all. If
government wants
	>to provide the maximum benefit of its assets to its citizens, then
an Open
	>Source license is the only way to go. Once a private individual or
	>copyrights and restricts the use and further distribution of
software that
	>was originally created by government, the remaining citizens are
denied the
	>maximum benefit of their investment.

	Open Source requires the ability to copyright and "protect" the
data, which 
	to my recollection the US gov't at least cannot do. To use your
	let's say the gov't create Widget-Software-1.0, which does something

	"neat". Evil-Company (located in a Seattle suburb) gets WS1.0 and
tries to 
	copyright it. They CAN'T copyright 1.0, it's already in the public
	They can take it, tweak it a little, call it 1.1, and copyright THAT
	they want. That's their legal right. They have taken what
their/your/my tax 
	dollars paid for and modified it to their needs. The changed version
	THEIR modifications, which they are free to deny you. You can still
	the original 1.0 "from the source" and do whatever you like with it 
	(possible creating a more open version of 1.1 to compete with 
	Evil-Company's product).


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