- public money, proprietary license

Paul Boddie paul at
Thu Dec 12 18:16:23 UTC 2019

On Wednesday 11. December 2019 12.57.10 Carsten Agger wrote:
> There's one very curious thing about this product: Often, organizations
> have software made by private vendors, and the private vendors will
> retain their copyright and their right to keep it proprietary. In this
> case, it's the Agency for Digitisation *itself* that claims the
> copyright and threatens with draconian consequences to anyone who dares
> use their product e.g. on the job and not just in their spare time.

I imagine that there is a certain amount of pressure from proprietary software 
companies to prevent the wider proliferation of products like this. One might 
think that making accessibility software widely available would be a good 
thing for society, but there are vendors who make high-margin products in this 
sector, with the high prices often being paid on behalf of individuals by 
state agencies.

Certain kinds of politicians don't want the state to be doing anything that 
might interfere with the supposed "right" of people to make good money, 
especially when it is good money off the state. So with some persuasion, 
revenue streams are protected by imposing limitations on what taxpayer-funded 
works may be used for.

> So it's Danish people's tax money preventing Danish people from using,
> let alone sharing, studying and improving this software - created by
> Danish tax money - and once again, it's us as taxpayers who are
> financing the very agency that's withholding this software from the public.

Sounds like a perfect target for the Public Money Public Code campaign.

> I find it surreal and close to a textbook example of how *not* to do things.

Maybe it would be interesting to hear what their justification is for being so 
restrictive. There are usually a few excuses, none of them truly persuasive.

Sometimes, commercial partners force the agency concerned to restrict access 
to the code or technologies: this was a factor in some Norwegian e-voting 
scheme I blogged about a few years ago [1], of which I have heard nothing 
since. Sometimes, there is an ambition to commercialise some idea or 
technology internationally, which for smaller countries like Denmark and 
Norway are usually delusions of grandeur.

One might wonder how allowing commercialisation in state entities is 
compatible with keeping state entities out of the realm of business. Of 
course, the "answer" from the politicians who entertain these thoughts in 
their heads simultaneously is "privatisation". By setting the stage for those 
state entities to become private or semi-private businesses, freeing them of 
many of their obligations and, more often than not, providing some investment 
opportunities for well-connected individuals.



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