FLOSS in a competitive marketplace: avoiding the "one true way" myths.

I have been complaining for years that the incumbent "software manufacturing" firms have been justifying radical FLOSS crippling changes to the law using invalid statistics. The statistical method that the BSA (and it's Canadian arm with the Orwellian double-speak name of "Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft") use largely include the use of FLOSS software as if it were "infringement".

Their methodology is simple: Count the number of computers shipped to a region and "estimate" the demand for software from BSA members. Then count the amount of software BSA members shipped, subtract the two, and declare the difference as "piracy".

The claim has always been that they adequately include FLOSS in their "estimate" of the demand for software. The problem is that this specific group is so ideologically blinded as to be incapable of having an accurate estimate.

An article by Gervase Markham of the Apache Foundation called "Free software? You can't just give it away" offers an example of the problem. When he explained to an officer in a Trading Standards department that is is perfectly legal to take FLOSS, repackage and sell it at any price, she got quite offended.

"I can't believe that your company would allow people to make money from something that you allow people to have free access to. Is this really the case?" she asked.

"If Mozilla permit the sale of copied versions of its software, it makes it virtually impossible for us, from a practical point of view, to enforce UK anti-piracy legislation, as it is difficult for us to give general advice to businesses over what is/is not permitted."

It is critical to understand this point: She was offended by the very existence of multiple business models in a free market economy made it harder for her to assume without proof that people were violating the "one true business model".

In Canada we saw the same thinking when the major record labels tried to sue people who were sharing music online (BMG Canada Inc. v. Doe) Their tunnel vision assumed that any sharing of music was unauthorized, and went to court only armed with evidence that there was sharing. What they lacked was proof of what music owned by what copyright holder was being shared, so that it can be known that the sharing was unauthorized. They had not even bothered to download and listen to a single song, and based on this lack of evidence they lost their case. The court did not judge on the legality of unauthorized sharing of music in Canada as there wasn't enough relevant evidence to proceed to that stage.

We need to fight this promotion of a "one true way" every time we see it. FLOSS depends on a free market where companies and their customers are free to choose between a wide variety of methods of production, distribution and funding of creativity -- including software. We need to ensure that our competitors are not able to use false assumptions about a "one true way" in order to harass our customers, making it less likely that people will choose our options. One of the benefits of FLOSS is that you don't need to concern yourself with "counting copies", don't need to comply with excessively complex license agreements, or be accused of copyright infringement for sharing software with other people. We need to ensure that our customers always retain these benefits.

Educating people on this issue is going to be one of the key ways in which CLUE will be able to fulfill it's vision and mission.