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Is the Open Source Movement Libertarian?

Tags Legal SystemMonopoly and CompetitionValue and Exchange


Yesterday the president of the Open Source Initiative attempted to show how the philosophy underscoring the open-source movement and libertarianism are best pals.

But can they even be enemies?

The problem with his argument, along with everyone else that attempts to make "open source" a philosophy on par with other political philosophies, is that the level of code transparency and how it is distributed really boils down to a matter of strategic management.

In other words, in practice the development of FOSS really is not a philosophy per se but rather a business/distribution model. And its cornucopia of offerings were originally designed to work within the framework of an intellectual property (IP) regime (even if IP was not enforced, both closed proprietary software could still exist and arguably would still thrive).

As various libertarian commentators have noted, absent an IP regime, the distribution and development of software could likely be very different than the methods currently employed today.

[Note: before flaming this thread, be sure to read through my archives defending the FOSS movement]While I certainly do sympathize with the notion that "information wants to be free" one of the big problems afflicting the software industry is the IP establishment, specifically software patents and copyrights.

Furthermore, libertarianism is not a philosophy developed to justify a specific business model let alone code development/distribution. It was designed to systematically dissect what actions are justifiable (e.g., the initiation of force/coercion versus consensual exchange).

Therefore it would be fallacious to use or appeal to libertarianism in developing and distributing proprietary ingredients of foodstuffs, clothing materials, or particulates in paint. It is agnostic on these matters.


Apples and oranges

For instance, Chris DiBona (the open source manager at Google) has noted that they pick and choose how and when to develop software based on a number of issues, including the total cost of ownership. And ultimately, they use what is most flexible for their business needs (thus, they have a mix of closed and open source spliced into their systems).

It is strictly a utilitarian argument and one that boils down to the specific needs a business has. The debate surrounding IP is another issue entirely.

See also: Crowdsourcing and Open-Source Software

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