Input on anticompetitive characteristic of public code

Paul Boddie paul at
Wed Jul 4 15:14:10 UTC 2018

On Wednesday 4. July 2018 16.27.52 Mat Witts wrote:
> Free Software is not exclusionary AFAIK I cannot think of any case where
> proprietary software has been refused entry to a market because of it, but
> am open to studying examples of that happening if anyone can find
> examples?

There are probably a bunch of different "concerns" raised by proprietary 
software vendors. One of which is that where the public sector obliges vendors 
to employ Free Software licences, then they feel excluded.

But given that public regulations can more or less stipulate anything that is 
in the public interest, such as adherence to genuine standards, then 
stipulating that delivered systems must be Free Software is an entirely 
reasonable thing to do. Nothing forces vendors to write proprietary software, 
and certainly not for everything they do.

Sadly, genuine standards are not widely encouraged and have been undermined by 
proprietary vendors. This is seen in the Norwegian public sector, for example, 
where public bodies make OOXML documents and even binary Microsoft Office 
documents available for public consumption, after the current administration 
rolled back the previously-introduced insistence on genuine document format 

And there are areas where standards are happily employed by proprietary 
vendors to keep a market to themselves, such as in niches where general Free 
Software development efforts are unlikely to penetrate. Institutional 
archiving is one of these areas in the Norwegian public sector, from what I 
have learned. I doubt that the entrenched vendors wish to see such standards 
loosened or dropped.

Rewinding slightly...

> The article only deals with Open Source market dominance not 'Free'. All
> references to 'free' in that article are about royalty-free software not
> the 'four freedoms'.

But Erik also wrote this:

> The point is that a main argument against publishing publicly financed
> software developments under a free licence is said to be "market
> distortion". The argument says that private actors cannot compete against
> "software offered by the state free of charge" and therewith these
> publications are to be seen anticompetitive.

Of course, this conflates the two meanings of "free", but for some vested 
interests, this slight of hand is performed to push home a particular argument 
whilst deflecting criticism of that argument. Nothing stops public bodies from 
actually making Free Software available for a fee, although that brings other 
considerations to bear.


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