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filling the void

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Dangers of Open Source Software

It is as sinister as the title suggests, but not in the direction you would think. I came across this today. It's a blog post from the guy who writes Paint.NET.
Just like all of the software I write, it is Open Source. For those of you know don't know what this means, it means that you give away the source code that makes up the software for free for everyone to see. The advantages of this are many. It fosters an atmosphere of honesty, since you can't sneak nasty stuff into your software if anybody can look at what you did. It also helps other developers learn new things, by looking at how you solved a particular problem.
There are many open source projects out there. Linux is one, Apache is another, and the different BSD distributions are open source as well.
Now, the disadvantage, as Rick Brewster points out, is that people can just take your code and do whatever they want with it. In his case, this means that someone basically just stole all his code, and some code from contributers to Paint.NET and rebranded it as their own. Taking code isn't a problem, but stealing the whole application and removing the credits, copyright and license (which is illegal in almost all countries I know), is just plain wrong.
Rick could sue the person, but I doubt it would do any good. The FSF could take on the case and rally some publicity for it, but the only thing that might come of that is that this particular instance of code stealing gets punished.
The problem, of course, is that there is no way to prevent people from doing this, short of taking them all to court, which just isn't practical. The open source business model will always suffer from this. People are basically immoral and will do anything to help themselves. If this is at the expense of others, so be it.
We can hope that the world will become a better place all we want, but that won't make it so.
When I see my code reused, I'm just happy someone liked what I did, but then I don't write the kind of software that Rick does.

Rick's software might be big enough to reach a critical mass of complaint where someone will do something about it, but most people who write open source software will not have that luxury. If people would do this to Linux, heads would (and do) roll, since it's such a big thing, but most open source authors will just have to bend over and take it up the ass when things like this happens. Our only hope is that the thieves step far enough over the line so that they commit a punishable offense.



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