Public Money - Public Code: Helping with the campaign

Moritz Bartl moritz at
Sat Aug 26 04:30:12 UTC 2017

On 25.08.2017 19:59, hellekin wrote:
>> * Erik Albers [2017-08-01 14:09 +0200]:
>> we are preparing a campaign named "Public Money Public Code". The aim of this
>> campaign is to ask all the public authorities in Europe that develop software
>> inhouse or that pay external software development and finance or co-finance
>> the development with public funds, to release the software under a Free
>> Software licence.
> I've been working on a philosophical argument that distinguishes free
> technologies from proprietary technologies on a technical basis.  This
> offers a foundation to argue, along with the PMPC campaign, that
> European institutions, and more generally public institutions, should
> prefer open technical systems to closed technical systems [...]

This is great work, thanks! Looking forward to reading more.

I just yesterday finally picked up a copy of "The Comingled Code" by
Josh Lerner and Mark Schankerman. The subtitle of the book is "Open
Source and Economic Development", so it is not about technical
arguments, nor philosophical arguments, nor morals.

Ultimately, I believe a successful "Public Infrastructure" campaign
needs to also look at economical arguments _against_ Free Software, and
carefully dissect and refute these arguments.

To illustrate the problem, let me quote from the final section of that
book, the "Takeaways":

# Implications for Government Officials

There is no right answer. Despite the well-understood imperfections of
the software market, we find no reason to believe that market mecha-
nisms inherently favor either type of software. Under these conditions,
and given the serious hazards of governments trying to pick winners,
it is appropriate to let competition (controlled, of course, by competi-
tion law) and the decentralized choices of diverse economic agents do
their jobs.

More specifically, government officials need not—and should not—favor
either open source or proprietary software. Rather, they should maintain
a neutral stance toward the way in which software is licensed, devel-
oped, and procured. There are many reasons for encouraging com-
petition between open and proprietary software. Open source and
proprietary software differ on many dimensions, including such crite-
ria as functionality, cost, quality, and product evolution. These con-
siderations are each likely to require careful assessment. To consider
the last-mentioned criteria, for instance, open source software gives
the user access to the underlying software code—thus there is no
danger that the software will be ‘‘snatched away’’ because of the
change of a corporate strategy. But the development of future versions
of open source programs will be a function of its ability to attract the
interest of individual and corporate contributors. When encouraging
the development of a local computer industry, government officials
should let firms weigh these complex considerations and choose the
model of software development that they find most appropriate. Rec-
ommending that governments should encourage competition, how-
ever, is not the same thing as arguing that they should not be involved
in regulating the software industry.

When funding the development of software, whether for their own use or
as a more general R&D effort, government officials need to apply a
different calculus as opposed to private entities. In particular, the
same issues, such as cost and quality, should be weighted, but
government officials must also take into account the benefits to
society. This implies that different countries may make different
choices. For instance, a small country might want to take advantage of
further improvements by others to its software and would be more
inclined to fund open source projects with licenses that limit
commercial utilization, such as the General Public License. In a large
country with a dynamic software industry, government officials may wish
to make it easier for commercial firms to benefit from publicly funded
research and development. (Indeed our survey findings suggest that
countries in the real world do make different choices.)


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