Another excellent reason why laws for software need rewriting

Alex Hudson home at
Tue Sep 9 21:58:11 UTC 2003

On Tue, 2003-09-09 at 22:33, Niall Douglas wrote:
> > Quite a fun read, but the answer seems blindingly obvious: perceived
> > cost.
> Well no - you're kinda missing the root cause of all outsourcing - 
> it's not just about maximising monetary profit. It's also about 
> maximising the flow of money up to the least number of people 
> possible

That's a slightly simplistic view of outsourcing. You seem to be using
it more as an argument against capitalism (i.e, profits make people do
bad things) rather than being a problem in and of itself. Equating
outsourcing with offshoring and globalisation is probably also

Outsourcing per se is using an external supplier for a non-core business
activity. A business is generally there to do one thing; activities that
are not that one thing are not core business and not a core competancy.
Many businesses will support non-core competancy employees - many
businesses have IT staff, for example - but this doesn't have to be the
case. For example, few companies have dedicated phone support staff,
even though phone systems are as complex and critical as computing
resources. It often just doesn't make sense for a business to attempt to
maintain service in house, when it would be better maintained by someone
else, whose core competancy presumably would be that task. 

Every business outsources. I'm not sure there ever has been a business
which hasn't. It's a question of degree.

> > The solution is also good, as Niall seems to say: change the rules of
> > the game.
> Kinda like my other simple change in economic policy - tax all 
> transport by 1000 to 10000% or more. 

Sadly, this argument will not play at all in most business and
Government circles - it's diametrically opposed to free market
principles (the principle being least distortion). 

This is why a pro-free software law is highly unlikely to ever get on
the statute in the UK (or, probably, any other country). It's Government
prescription of doing business, and most people would be opposed to
that. Personally, I would too - I don't think free software requires
that kind of help to win the argument. In fact, this kind of argument
(that free software should be mandated in some way) is one of the
easiest ways to get knocked down in any kind of serious discussion of
the topic; it's an interventionist policy, and most people in Government
or business would run screaming at the idea.

(This is not to say that I don't favour Governments taking control of
their own procurement, esp. in the areas of open standards,
interoperability and software control/rights to modify/etc.)

> Anyway, back to on topic, what annoys me is that that article will be 
> used as a reason for *increasing* IP "protection" ie; further 
> draconian "enhancements" to antique book publishing laws and I bet 
> software patents too. Ho hum! :(

Here I definitely agree with you. I think the answer has to be "IP"
enforcement, rather than protection. I guess the problem is acute with
proprietary software, in that it's difficult to show infringement, but
companies receiving this software are liable, in the same way that they
would be liable if one of these herberts had taken a piece of free
software and proprietised it. 

Sadly, in many ways, the arguments these companies make is quite
persuasive. It's not limited to software, or even digital goods - many
businesses in those areas do knock out cheap copies of goods for import
into cash-rich areas. I think it always starts this way - if you look at
guitar manufacture, in the 60s/70s they began to make guitars in the far
East. These were fairly ropey, cheap instruments. Western instruments,
like the Genuine American Fender Stratocaster, became premium quality
products. Now, though, we are beginning to see far-East companies
produce goods to quality, as well as price and compete on an equal
footing. Is there any way to learn these types of lessons and prevent
this? I don't think so. But, it only happens as industries develop in
these areas. When the industries mature, the problem goes away. Maybe we
just have to deal with it.



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