Definition of open source

'Arnoud Engelfriet' galactus at
Sat Nov 6 15:35:45 UTC 2004

Alan Rihm wrote:
> The assumption here is that forking is an acceptable solution. It may
> not be. It causes more work, and ultimately does not completely protect
> the originator from a company with deeper pockets and more resources
> from out-pacing them in the market.

The whole point of open source is that there is no one who can claim
ownership or control. You'll have to compete on the merits of your
service, not on the basis of copyright or patent ownership.

And if a big company comes along, forks the code and provides a
better version, what's the harm? Everyone benefits from the better
version, even the originator of the earlier version.

> This is my point. If someone else distributes the originators code, why
> should it be a requirement that the originator not get paid. For
> instance, in this new world of "on-demand" software", or "software as a
> service", the major obstacle for new entrants in open source is the
> definition, and the current licenses. 

Why _should_ the originator get paid if I distribute software to
my friend? 

Open source software doesn't have an owner. 

> Example: Open source your software (assuming you don't want to manage a
> new fork), then try to charge for the hosted version of the same. What
> is to stop 100 other companies from doing the same. What happens if a
> company with more money and resources starts to compete? 

I don't see the problem. You open source if you think there is
more to be gained by doing so than by exercising proprietary
control. So MS shouldn't open source Windows, since it would kill
millions in profit for them. But IBM came to the conclusion that 
Eclipse was worth more open than closed.

> The originator
> just became a worthless entity. Their shareholders get no value in the
> company launching the open source project. They risk revenue, and
> shareholder value. This can't be the objective of open source.

Indeed, if you want to make money by selling copies, open
sourcing the software is not a good idea. Unless you're a
"cheapbytes" kind of shop that sells shovelware.

But basing a service on an open source software package is
a very good idea. The underlying software is maintained and
improved by the community, your customers have a lower TCO
compared to your competitors's proprietary solution and you
can sell your service to anyone.

It's not the (an) objective of open source, but it is an
interesting side-effect: selling software becomes much less
attractive compared to providing services using software.

> You had me right up until you said "there is no owner". I agree that
> there are reasons for certain projects to make a donation to the
> community, but for-profit companies clearly struggle with this concept.
> I've seen countless threaded discussions on this topic, many of which
> were on this list. That indicates to me that the issue is not so cut and
> dry.

It's a hard thing to get your head around. Even in my company
many people struggle with this, although we're making good
progress. But as long as you think you "own" code that you
make available as open source, you're not going to benefit
most from open source. 

You don't own the code anymore. It's part of the community,
of the public commons. It's (out in the) open. 

If you don't want that, or if it hurts your bottom line, don't
open source it. 

You don't open source to get free maintenance or updates, or
to let end-users play with it. It's about giving as much as it is
about getting. And what you give is the right to use, adapt,
distribute and improve the program. 

Distribution is essential in this gift. How can I use a gift
if I cannot distribute it without getting your permission
every time?

> Killing a project does not kill derivatives, nor does it kill
> distribution rights already granted....does it? Thus the owner simply
> gave up some code to the community.

Now I do not understand you anymore. I thought you wanted
to allow originators to restrict and revoke distribution
rights. Apparently not. So what is your proposed change
regarding distribution?


Arnoud Engelfriet, Dutch patent attorney - Speaking only for myself
Patents, copyright and IPR explained for techies:

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