Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 15th Sep 2017 21:20 UTC
GNU, GPL, Open Source

Digital services offered and used by public administrations are the critical infrastructure of 21st-century democratic nations. To establish trustworthy systems, government agencies must ensure they have full control over systems at the core of our digital infrastructure. This is rarely the case today due to restrictive software licences.

Today, 31 organisations are publishing an open letter in which they call for lawmakers to advance legislation requiring publicly financed software developed for the public sector be made available under a Free and Open Source Software licence.

Good initiative, and a complete and utter no-brainer. Public money, public code.

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RE: utter no-brainer? no
by Alfman on Mon 18th Sep 2017 13:55 UTC in reply to "utter no-brainer? no"
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Even without such requirements sometimes is still hard to get substantial contributions from such companies, especially if they are in the business of building and bringing solutions to market - which hopefully they are, otherwise their participation wouldn't bring much to any table.

Many private companies will fight it tooth and nail, however you could argue from a utilitarian perspective that A) the government has every right (and reason) to demand it from it's contractors and B) contractors who don't want to agree to the terms will be loosing their business (and profits) as the government replaces them with contractors who do. The rules of supply and demand still apply even with FOSS: as the demand for proprietary software drops, then private corporations will need to start embracing open source in order to continue getting the lucrative government contracts.

Also, some projects having at least partial public funding can have secret outputs, especially defence- or force protection-related ones.

Technically this requirement doesn't conflict with open source licenses like GPL (*). The government, as the software recipient would explicitly have rights to the source code, but the GPL doesn't create an obligation for the government to release it themselves. So there's no conflict here.

* I'm not suggesting GPL would be the best license to use, but just using it as an example here.

Now I can imagine the US government not wanting foreign military allies to have the source code. They could prohibit private US companies from selling military equipment under open source licenses to other governments, which breaks the spirit of open source. I'm not sure how much merit there is to this since, if we're being honest, it would be pretty stupid to assume that anyone buying the military systems couldn't reverse engineer them anyways.

Ultimately while this is an interesting debate, I don't believe the public interests are sufficiently represented in government to actually pull it off. For better or worse, many politicians are corrupted by ties to the business world and continue to represent private companies even in public office.

Edited 2017-09-18 14:05 UTC

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