James Dixon’s Blog

James Dixon’s thoughts on commercial open source and open source business intelligence

I Never Owned Any Software To Begin With

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My thoughts on the whole Emily White/stealing music topic:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/allsongs/2012/06/16/154863819/i-never-owned-any-music-to-begin-with

http://thetrichordist.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/letter-to-emily-white-at-npr-all-songs-considered/

When she says she only bought 15 albums, I think she is talking about physical CDs. I think she did buy some of her music online. But she clearly states that she ripped music from the radio station and swapped mix CDs with her friends, and she makes it sound like she thinks this is not stealing.

Don’t Blame iTunes

Many people who complain about artist’s income people blame Apple and iTunes. Yes, iTunes propagated the old economic splits and percentages into the digital world. But Apple did not create those splits, they were agreed upon in contracts between the labels/producers and the artists. What iTunes did was to provide an alternative digital distribution medium to Napster. Apple saved artists from the prospect of getting no revenue at all. People who attack and boycott iTunes thinking that they are helping artists are deluded.

It’s Not Just Music

This whole debate also extends to movies, books, news commentary, and software – anything that can be digitally copied. In each of these arenas, the players and economic distribution is different, but the consequence of not paying is the same. If we all behaved this way, ultimately, there would be no books, or movies either. So how does this relate to proprietary software, open source software, and free software?

Proprietary Software

Just like companies that publish books, music, movies etc, proprietary software companies were the gatekeepers. They decided what software was created and made available. When the hardware and software becomes available at the consumer level, independent producers spring up. This happened with freeware software for PCs. The internet enables the distribution of the software, and methods of collecting payment. The costs of creating books, music, and movies have dropped dramatically because of the hardware and software now available. But, if no-one pays for the content created the proprietary software companies will go out of business.

Non-Proprietary

Open source and free software are other ways for creating and distributing software, the difference being that these rely on software (source and binaries) being easy to copy. Don’t steal Microsoft’s BI software and use it without permission. Use our open source BI software – we want you to.

Free Software

Free software requires that the software, and all software that is built upon it, be ‘free’. In this case ‘free’ means you can freely modify it, distribute it, and build upon it, and you give others those same rights. You can still charge for the software, but it makes no sense to (given the rights you give to your ‘customer’).

The ideals of Free Software Foundation (FSF) are based on the notion that when you think of something or invent something, it belongs to the world, you don’t own it. This is a wonderful idea, however most of the world, including many industries,and jobs, and professions, are based on the opposite principle – if you create it, you own it. To my mind I have fewer rights under the FSF view of the world, I don’t have the right to my own ideas.

Because of the freedoms that the Free Software Foundation believe in, they are against Digital Rights Management (DRM) software. DRM tries to protect the rights of artists, producers, and distributors of artistic content. In order to protect these rights, software is needed that is proprietary. If the DRM source code was open, it would make it easy for hackers to decode the content and remove the copy protection. So the Free Software Foundation is taking up the fight against DRM, calling it ‘Digital Restrictions Management’ (http://www.fsf.org/campaigns/drm.html). They call it this because, they say, DRM takes away your right to steal other people’s inventions. If you support of DRM-free software, you are choosing to fight against musicians, authors, actors.

Open Source

The Open Source movement takes a pragmatic approach on this topic. When you have an idea, it is yours. You can choose to do whatever you want with your invention. If it is a software invention, and you choose to put it into open source, that’s great. If you choose not too, that’s fine too, because it is yours. Open Source allows hybrid models – where a producer can decide to put some of their software into open source but not all of it (open core or freemium model). This model enables a software producer to provide something of value to people who would not have paid for anything anyway (this includes geographies and economies where the producer would not sell anyway). These people are willing participants and contributors in other ways. The producer also gets to sell whatever software products it wants.

Doomsday?

For some creative areas, if no-one pays for any content anymore, the creators will disappear eventually, and there will be no more content. But what happens if no-one pays for software anymore?

Proprietary software dies eventually, unless they switch to services models.

The majority of people contributing to open source/free software today are IT developers. There are two main types here: creating/extending/fixing software in the course of getting their project finished, or sponsored contributors. IT is where the majority of software developers are today, so IT/enterprise/business software is safe.

The software that would be at most risk would be software that is created by smaller software companies. Particularly software that has large up-front development costs. Games. The first, and maybe only, software segment to die would be the big-budget, realistic, immersive, loud video games. Who cares most about these games? The same demographic that is stealing all the music.

I say let Generation OMG copy and steal everything they want. All the really cool and fun careers will evaporate. Lots of the stuff they love (movies, music, games) will disappear. After they have spent a decade texting each other about how sucky everything is, they will grow up and have to re-create these industries. Hopefully with better economic structures than the current ones.

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