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Golden's Rules: It was my party and I'll sue if I want to

In a bewildering attempt to snatch the award for most ludicrous open source lawsuit away from the SCO Group, an individual named Daniel Wallace has sued the Free Software Foundation. His suit asserts that the FSF's General Public License (GPL) is used to fix prices for software, and thereby deprives Wallace of his ability to compete in the free market by creating and selling software.

When I hear about things like this, I just shake my head. What is it about open source that brings out the zealots and crackpots? This lawsuit is so misguided it's not clear where to begin discussing it, because there are so many wrong-headed aspects to it. Here are a few problems:

  1. This must the first time in history a price-fixing allegation has been based on the price-fixers keeping prices too low. Generally, price-fixing agreements are formed so that the participants can earn larger-than-appropriate profits.

  2. The GPL addresses copyright and licensing, not pricing. You are free to charge whatever you want for your GPL-licensed software. Since GPL license conditions dictate that you must distribute your source code, along with the binaries, and anyone is free to redistribute your product, the typical effect is that the price of your software is set at zero. On the other hand, you are free to charge whatever you want for services surrounding the software. It seems to me that Red Hat and JBoss make a pretty good living this way; perhaps Wallace should watch and learn.

  3. Nobody is forced to use the GPL. Many companies choose to use other open source licenses or commercial licenses. Price-fixing usually requires an oligopoly that imposes the price regime on market participants. This must be a really ineffective cabal -- the gang that couldn't price-fix straight!

  4. Just because someone chooses to make their efforts available at no cost does not mean they are doing something illegal. Otherwise, nursing homes would be suing children who care for their parents when they get old.

Still, I have to feel sorry for Wallace. His lawsuit is a long wail, crying for a return to the good old days when the ability to sling code meant you could make a lot of money selling your product. He doesn't recognize the fact that cheap hardware and global connectivity means that a fleeting market advantage available to folks like him is disappearing. More importantly, he overlooks the historic examples of inexpensive products and services opening up incredible market opportunities. Think freeways and fast food. Think cable TV and Ted Turner.

This lawsuit will be looked back on as a quaint artifact of a turbulent era
Bernard Golden

Golden's Rule: Wallace's lawsuit -- Sinking like a (Pet) Rock

As for the rest of us just trying to do our jobs, and considering using open source as part of that work, my advice is that we should keep our heads down and go full speed ahead. This lawsuit will be looked back on as a quaint artifact of a turbulent era. Large companies like IBM and Novell have staked their strategy on GPL-based open source. Believe me, they will ensure that this lawsuit will disappear into the mists of time like the Pet Rock.

For mroe information:

Face-off: GNU GPL versus Sun's new open source license

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