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March 17, 2004
CONTACT: David Fish
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Open Source: Unraveling a Digital Enigma
DeLong Paper Seeks to Stimulate Free Culture Movement Debate

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Should governments provide preferences for open source software? Is the open source approach a template for other products, such as music, movies, games and drugs? In “The Enigma of Open Source Software,” Progress & Freedom Foundation Senior Fellow James V. DeLong, answers both questions with a “robust” no. But, “in the best tradition of the software world,” he designates his wide-ranging study of related matters as Version 1.0.

The controversy over open source, which “has become synonymous with free distribution“ of software, “centers on the relative merits and appropriate niches in the software ecosystem” for proprietary, open source and shared source products, according to DeLong. But the broader debate includes “important issues of economics and ideology, and disputes over the proper way to ensure the production of intellectual products in the computer age…”

Creating a legal preference for open source over proprietary software “would plunge any government into a morass,” he writes. “No one can be sure where the open source movement is going or whether it will be viable in the long term...that open source is a viable model for the whole industry seems quite doubtful.” DeLong’s answer: “[L]et the models compete on a level playing field. If open source is superior it needs no preference; if it is not; it deserves none.”

The Free Culture Movement sees open source as “a pilot program for non-property-based, non-market production of other forms of intellectual property” – something DeLong rejects: “Current open source software is the product of so many idiosyncratic forces that the system producing it is an improbable model for anything, perhaps even including the future production of software.”

“Clearly, cooperative efforts have a place in economic and social life; they are not a new discovery in a society rife with volunteerism and private institutions,” he continues. “Equally clearly, the rise of the Internet creates new opportunities for cooperative ventures, and people are taking advantage of them.

“But cooperative ventures are not basic economic activities. They depend on economic activities running in the background to provide the wherewithal to fund the voluntary efforts. So to treat them as a fundamental revolution in the nation’s economic structure is a fundamental error.”

The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.



The Progress & Freedom Foundation