Should governmnet software be Open Source?

Derek J. Balling dredd at
Wed Mar 8 19:39:22 UTC 2000

OK, now, to counter that viewpoint.

What license should they use? There are many who argue philosophically 
(for|against) the GPL, BSD license, Perl Artistic License, etc.   If the 
gov't uses one of those licenses, they are choosing a set of philosophical 
values YOU, the end user, have to accept in order to use the source code.

I'm sorry that I'd HAVE to disagree. Public Domain *IS* where gov't code 

[playing devils advocate here]

The gov't has no right to put conditions-of-use on the source code the 
tax-dollars paid for. If I take Widget-Software-1.0, and I make some REALLY 
NEAT changes to it, you don't have some legal right to those changes just 
because I'm better at fixing gov't code than you are. If you want to take 
the PD-Gov't-Code and make yourself something and release it as Open 
Source, that's YOUR privilege and right to do so. The Gov't, however, has 
no business telling me that if *I* want to use the code (which my taxes 
also paid for) that I have to agree to give MY (later) work away for free.

Everyone has an equal right to exploit the taxpayer-produced resource. You 
can take it modify it and give it away if you like, and Evil Company take 
it modify it and sell it for thousands of dollars.  For the government to 
do OTHERWISE is an unfair restraint-of-trade on Evil Company.

Think of it like the Interstates... you're free to use the interstate to 
run a non-profit bus company helping elderly people to and from their 
friends' houses. I'm also free to use the interstate to drive my taxi cab 
on, charging people for the service of taking them from one location to the 
other. Both are valid uses. If the gov't was to come along and say "ONLY 
people who are willing to help others for free can use the interstates", 
you would have a big problem with that, I think (and so would I).


At 11:17 AM 3/8/00 -0800, Brice, Richard wrote:
>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
>         >frequently).
>         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
>         >ownership(
>         ><> .
>         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).
>         D

More information about the License-discuss mailing list