A little essay on Open Source

1 Introduction
Open Source and Creative Commons licences provide a means for the dissem-
ination of material be that code, art or scientific research. The reasons for
using such a licence are many, in this paper we consider both the advantages
and disadvantages of doing so.
The Open Source Initiative (http://www.opensource.org/) provides a definition for
what they term as Open Source. A key necessity for them to class a licence
as being compatible with their definition is the requirement for ’free redistribution’
meaning other parties are permitted to redistribute source code.
Creative Commons (http://creativecommons.org/) provide six main licences
which vary from being very liberal to being slightly more restrictive.

2 Problems with copyright
“A report produced by the Congressional Research Service indicates that
only about two percent of works between fifty-five and seventy-five years
of age retain commercial value” [5] this means 98% of works are still under
copyright even though they are unlikely to hold any value. Open Source goes
some way to solving the lack fine-grained granularity in the copyright system,
enabling work to be freely distributed even though it is still copyrighted.
Copyright aims to protect works by preventing unfair duplication which may
cause a loss of earnings – the problem with this system is that not everyone
wants to sell their copyrighted works. Some may instead want to permit
redistribution under specific conditions – which is where Open Source and
Creative Commons is very useful. Interestingly “unlike many other types of
property ownership, an owner of intellectual property has no responsibility
to the public to care for the property” [5] this can make the process of
tracking the current owner of a copyrighted work very difficult and potentially
infeasible, meaning people may risk the use of works which may still be
copyrighted.

3 Open Source – A new era?
Open Source gives people more freedom, with respect to the code “People
improve it, people adapt it, people fix bugs.” [1] this occurs at an unprece-
dented rate thanks to the Internet and many altruistic people.
There are a vast amount of Open Source Software (OSS) licences, in this
paper we will discuss two of the main ones: GPL and BSD.
Open Source effectively makes “users better off than they would be with
only the default copyright rule” [4] meaning the very reason OSS licences are
needed is down to limitations with current legislature.

3.1 GPL
The General Public Licence (GPL) is a very stringent licence developed by
the Free Software Foundation (FSF – http://www.fsf.org/) in that
“the source code of everything that went into the executable should be
made publicly available under terms that were compatible with the GPL.” [12].
GPL is a ’copyleft’ licence meaning any projects based upon GPL’d code,
must also release their code through the GPL or a GPL compatible licence.
Potentially copyleft may dissuade companies from using Open Source, it is
important to note not all Open Source licences are ’copyleft’ though.
GPL version 3 was released June 2007. It provides a number of interesting
additions. In respect to GPL v3 code, “if you break the DRM, you’ll be free
to distribute your own software that does that, and you won’t be threatened
by the DMCA or similar laws.”
(http://www.fsf.org/licensing/licenses/quick-guide-gplv3.html).
For instance if a hardware manufacturer incorporated DRM along with GPL
v3 code, you would have the freedom to reverse engineer that
software/hardware with indemnity from prosecution under the Digital
Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). This aims to prevent what the Free
Software Foundation term ’Tivoization’, with reference to the
Tivo, a Personal Video Recorder device, which uses Linux. It contains soft-
ware protection measures to make it difficult for 3rd parties to run additonal
software on it.

This shows the FSF to be a very technically savy institution aware of cutting
technological issues regarding the law; because of this agility they can adapt
their licences efficiently in a way that changes to state legislature simply can’t
match.

3.2 BSD
The BSD licence is not copyleft and as such it allows inclusion of BSD licenced
source code into proprietary software provided this is acknowledged. This
makes the BSD licence permissive and very similar to public domain works.
Some may feel the BSD licence as overly liberal, in that people can simply
take your code and create a commercial product based upon it, which is
exactly how OSX was created. For many companies the lack of copyleft may
seem repulsive as it means competitors can take your work and modify it
how they see fit without giving anything back.

4 Creative Commons
Creative Commons aims to provide a system for authors of creative material
to more effectively manage their content without the need to resort to in-
termediaries such as publishers. In [14] Suthersanen writes how CC licences
are now accepted as valid by the courts due to a couple of court cases. One
interesting development she mentions is that of the Science Commons, an
effort to encourage sharing of data and biological content between scientists.
According to Dusollier [3] there are 6 Creative Commons licences. The most
liberal of which being the attribution licence, where either non-commercial or
commercial usage is permitted, provided attribution is given to the rightful
author. The most restrictive is the ’attribution non-commercial no deriva-
tive’, which means the work can only be distributed in its original form with
attribution and only for non-commercial purposes. The variety of licence
choices provided by the Creative Commons gives authors the freedom to
choose one most suitable for their work. This undoubtedly gives the author
a greater freedom than the existing copyright system – which can only be a
good thing. The creative commons licence is split into three parts. ’Legal
code’ – legalese for lawyers. ’Commons deed’ – human readable licence. By
separating legal jargon out into a separate file from the commons deed, the
system is far more comprehensible. Generally if people are presented with
long licences e.g. EULAs they simply ignore it – by paraphrasing the tech-
nicalities of a licence in a simple form, the licence is far more accessible –
meaning there is less likely to be confusion. Finally ’digital code’ is used
to works under specific licences easily indexable – this very important step
means that other creatives can easily search for works that they could inte-
grate into their own, thereby serving to increase creativity something which
cannot happen under the current, potentially draconian copyright laws.
The are a number of reasons for distributing work under the creative com-
mons “Furthering the use of educational materials, culture, and informa-
tion may be one reason” [5], “Purely commercial promotional strategy might
be another” [5]. According to [5] Creative Commons licences have not yet
been tested in the court of law (as of 2007) meaning there are a number
of uncertainties. One question the pose is whether “an educational website
carries my article but requires a membership password to access it. Is their
use of my article a commercial or noncommercial use?”, such questions must
be debated in law before an answer is known.

There will always be a need for low-cost to free software, especially in de-
veloping countries, Open Source definitely goes a long way to filling such a
need – the fact there is are Open Source equivalents for all main software
applications, shows this. (See
http://www.linuxrsp.ru/win-lin-soft/table-eng.html for a list of Open Source
equivalents to proprietry applications)

5 Microsoft
The fact that companies such as Microsoft are embracing Open Source to
a limited extent shows that Open Source will certainly not whither away.
Microsoft uses what they term a Shared Source licence 6 to give prospective
customers e.g. government agencies the chance to scrutinize code for bugs.
Microsoft makes use of Open Source BSD licenced software in its own prod-
ucts e.g. “several FreeBSD volunteers combing through Microsoft products,
including the new Windows 2000 operating system, found numerous instances
where Microsoft had made use of their software”, showing Microsoft obvi-
ously deems OSS as being of a high enough standard for inclusion in its own
products. (http://news.zdnet.com/2100-9595 22-116100.html)

Shared source is an umbrella term used by Microsoft for a number of different
licences for which the source code of a program is available to people other
than Microsoft (this doesn’t necessarily mean all these licences are Open
Source though, as not all give permission for re-distribution of code).
The Microsoft Reference Licence is decidedly un-open in its design, purely de-
signed to allow companies to inspect the quality of source code as it prevents
re-distribution of source which is certainly not Open Source. The Microsoft
Community Licence on the other hand allows re-distribution of code and ac-
cording to [9] bears resemblance to the Mozilla Public Licence – making it a
true Open Source licence.

Microsoft Permissive Licence, now known as Microsoft Public Licence is com-
patible with the GPL and as such shows Microsoft to be considering seriously
the benefits of Open Source. It is unlikely Microsoft will ever Open Source
all it’s software being an IP company it would loose a vast amount of revenue
if it did so, however it definitely shows a positive change of attitude to Open
Source from Microsoft.

In [15] Valimaki writes of an interesting incident where Tatu Ylnen developed
SSH (Secure Shell), software which facilitates encrypted communication with
a remote computer for the purpose of remote-control. Originally the software
was licenced in an open fashion, Valimaki later decided to concentrate instead
on a proprietary version. Because of this a group of people created a fork now
known as OpenSSH, which is now the most prevalent SSH software in use.
This shows that because Open Source opens the marketplace for competitors,
it is possible to loose a position in the marketplace to another ’fork’ if people
feel that offers greater benefits.

6 Forking
With OSS comes the potential for a ’fork’ to develop. That is a project based
on a particular projects source, with the aims of steering the project in a
different direction. The potential for forking ensures that the project leaders
attempt to work in the interests of the users rather than solely themselves.
A fork would be bad for a project, as it divides the user base. Such an event
could not happen with proprietary software – potentially being one of the
reasons propriety software stagnates, as the users are not fully catered for.

7 Government OSS usage
“nearly every household has a PC with Microsoft Office installed, and many
students have grown up using it” (Malcolm Trobe, Association of school
and college leaders) – this presents a catch-22 situation, using this as an
excuse to avoid teaching OSS means people won’t use OSS at home, thereby
perpetuating an economy driven by proprietary software. It is therefore
necessary to break this cycle through education if OSS is to truly flourish.
The government seems slow at realising the benefits and even existence of
OSS, in one case “the Cabinet Office turned to Microsoft, which duly estab-
lished a portal that users of non-Microsoft products were unable to access.”
[7] highlighting its inability to see beyond Microsoft driven systems.
Kettell in [7] says “despite the increasing international popularity of OSS, and
despite the wide range of benefits that it provides, the lack of government
activism remains a key obstacle to overcome”. This is a definite problem
which should be tackled at the highest levels if Open Source is to succeed in
any great measures. For people to want to willingly use OSS on their personal
computers it is necessary for them to be introduced to it, their workplace or
educational establishment presents a perfect opportunity for this.

8 Economy
Open Source presents an interesting problem – how is it possible to monetize
software when its source is freely available. One company Red Hat, presents
us with a fine example – the presence of after sales support.
We believe Open Source software is more difficult to market that off-the-
shelf software as their simply isn’t the budget to advertise and it wouldn’t
generally be sold in shops, the exception being Linux distributions.
Red Hat one of the largest Linux distributions switched from a boxed retail
package to a subscriber based enterprise edition. We believe this is very wise,
as it is easy for people to simply copy the source re-compile it and provide
a system almost identical for a lower price or even for free. A subscriber
approach leads to a recurring payment in return for always having the latest
version and support.

However for a product to be successful it doesn’t need to be profitable like
Red Hat. As Chege mentions in [2] “Debian is proof that the community
model can work just as well as the commercial model”. At the time of
writing debian is the 5th most popular Linux distribution, however it also
powers Ubuntu the most popular distribution, along with with many others.
Richard Stallman in the GNU manifesto says “many people will program with
absolutely no monetary incentive” [13]. This may be true to some extent but
I can’t imagine many of the programmers for example at Microsoft suddenly
seeing the light and deciding to program for free. In a Utopian society it
would be great if people freely gave away their time in selfless endeavours –
however as we don’t yet live in a such a society it is still possible to make
money developing Open Source for instance working for a company such as
Red Hat.

9 Security
The security advantages of Open Source can no longer be simply ignored. As
the source code is easily obtainable it can be inspected for vulnerabilities very
easily. To perform a similar process with closed source is extremely difficult
requiring techniques akin to reverse engineering – a very complex and time
consuming process. The amount of malware written proprietary operating
systems is vast compared to that written for Open Source OS’s.
Eric S. Raymond in his seminal work The Cathedral and The Bazaar [11]
advised “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”. The ability for code to
be evaluated by many developers for free is a great incentive for companies
open sourcing code.

10 Community
With Open Source projects there is a community feeling, generally mailing
lists where questions can be asked, bug trackers where problems can be filed,
IRC channels for debates and real-time feedback. This connectedness with
other users enables problems to be answered and bugs fixed in a very effi-
cient manor. Reporting a bug to a company such as Microsoft is a much
more cumbersome matter, sure its possible but you may have to wait for the
next release for the fix. With Open Source it’s possible to update to the
bleeding-edge source release if necessary, provided version control systems
are used (the great majority of projects do), meaning provided a patch has
been submitted, your problem will be solved.

11 Wikipedia
Wikipedia is licenced under an Open Source licence ‘GNU Free Documenta-
tion License’, providing a freely accessible democratically edited encyclope-
dia. The fact Wikipedia works so well is likely due to it functioning under
a similar principle to Raymond’s Linus’ law. Rather than functioning like
a standard encyclopedia where there are only a limited number of editors,
Wikipedia collates information from anyone across the globe. The fact that
Wikipedia has no restrictions on its usage means it can be freely distributed.
For example the one laptop per child (OLPC) project includes on each lap-
top, static copies of specific Wikipedia articles. The fact this is even possible
is due to the copy-left licencing of Wikipedia and its anyone can be an editor
policy.

12 Why Open Source may not be the way to
go?
Open Source strangely may not always prove the cheapest option “if a system
with a higher purchase price enables an organization’s workers to be more
productive than one with a lower purchase price, the higher-priced system
may provide a quicker return on investment – and thus be more cost effective –
than the lower priced alternative.“ [16]. This is due to the fact that an Open
Source project may provide little in the means of support – although the
program may provide very complex functionality, if there is no documentation
for instance, then the program is almost worthless.

13 Conclusions
Open Source is certainly not a marginal development, with many Open
Source projects powering many websites Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP
(LAMP). It is hard to imagine Open Source fading away into the back-
ground. Sites like Sourceforge.net and Freshmeat.net (86,858 projects) host
vast amounts of Open Source projects, it is difficult to understand why Open
Source isn’t already being used more widely by companies. For instance ap-
plications available include complete Office environments, e.g. OpenOffice,
which can almost rival Microsoft Office. As a government funded survey [10]
mentioned “OSS is indeed the start of a fundamental change in the soft-
ware infrastructure marketplace, and is not a hype bubble that will burst.”,
highlighting the fact Open Source won’t simply die out.

OSS can potentially serve as a great educator to the future great programmers
of the world, providing them with ideas to learn their trade along with the
community to further their interest.

Both Open Source and Creative Commons are noble pursuits to loosen the
shackles of our overly restrictive copyright regime. It is unlikely Open Source
will ever die out. Potentially the ideas presented by the Creative Commons
licencing strategy may be integrated into the copyright system, but they too
are unlikely to disappear, just possibly take a different form.
The amount of man hours generated by Open Source projects is simply im-
mense – when one half of the world is sleeping the other is awake – meaning
the project is always alive. Something which conventional development can’t
hope to match.

Graham in his essay on the benefits of Open Source, writes “ (1) that people
work harder on stuff they like, (2) that the standard office environment is very
unproductive, and (3) that bottom-up often works better than top-down.”
[6], this is certainly very true, because of the breadth of OSS people are able
to choose projects which most interest this undoubtedly leads to an increase
to the vitality of all projects. With OSS the concentration of the project is
generally on the quality of the code rather than tight deadlines which may
result in poor quality. Therefore the greater freedom in the development of
OSS likely leads to a higher class of product.

“About 73% of CC licensors said they do not make money from their copy-
righted works at all.” [8] meaning their reasons for licencing their works are
likely therefore not for profit, showing that there is a definite desire for al-
ternate ways of licencing works which the existing copyright system doesn’t
fulfill.
As an example of the huge ammount of Creative Commons licenced con-
tent, there are currently 88,264,237 photos on flickr under various Creative
Commons licences.

We therefore envisage in the future the number of Open Source projects and
Creative Commons content will likely increase at an even greater rate than
at present. The sheer quality of some of the works available e.g. Linux, rivals
and in some cases surpasses commercial content. The question remains when,
not if, will large corporations take notice of this advancement.

References
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on Free and Open Source Software. 2005.
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