I agreeto Idea Release government-developed unclassified software as open source software, by default
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Release government-developed unclassified software as open source software, by default

Why Is This Idea Important?: If “we the people” paid to develop it, then “we the people” should get it! I think this idea fits into the good government ideal of data transparency; after all, software is data. Currently, we have a lot of waste and unnecessary costs due to loss, re-development, and/or government-created monopolies. The government is not a venture capitalist (VC); people who need a VC should go to a VC. I think this idea easily fits into the broader ideas of transparency and open government, including the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government. Indeed, there’s a long history of U.S. laws specifically set up to make data available. Most obviously, Freedom on information act (FOIA) requests make it possible to extract information from the U.S. government. 17 USC 105 and 17 USC 101 prevents the U.S. government from claiming U.S. copyright on a work “prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties”. So this idea would be an extension of what’s already gone on. Think of all the advantages if software developed by U.S.-funded research could be reused by other research projects and commercial firms. For example, imagine if other researchers could simply extend previous work by modifying previously-developed software, instead of re-building yet another version from scratch. Anyone could take commercialize the research making it more likely that it would be commercialized instead of being lost in the archives shown at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Some argue that giving sole rights is the only way to commercialization, but that’s just not true; open source software is commercial software, so this is simply a different and fairer path to commercialization. In contrast, the current system inhibits all kinds of technical progress; Biere’s “The Evolution from LIMMAT to NANOSAT” (Apr 2004) found that “important details are often omitted in [research] publications and can only be extracted from source code... [Making source code available] is as important to the advancement of the field as publications”. If this happened, I envision a two-stage process: (1) release of the software as an archive (so it can be downloaded), and (2) some of it will get picked up and used to start an active OSS project. The second stage might not happen for many years after the first, and that’s okay. Some will ask “how will people find it”, but I think that’s the wrong question. There are many commercial search engines that can find code, but they can only find stuff that’s web-accessible; let’s give them something to find.

By default, unclassified software which the government paid to develop should be released to the public as open source software (unless there’s a good reason not to).

I’m sure there will need to be exceptions. There would need to be some sort of guidelines to figure out when to grant those exceptions, and those guidelines should be developed though lively discussion. Most obviously, if it’s a special ingredient necessary for national security, then it should be classified and not revealed in any form. Export controls would also apply. But the exceptions should be that: Exceptions.

Submitted by Unsubscribed User 4 years ago

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Comments (3)

  1. But then the burden of distribution to ANYONE that wants it, in depth education, training and documentation on how to use it to enable the MILLIONS of APPLICATIONS you describe to even be uselful to an endless "public" is RIDICULOUS.

    Plus then who is responsible for updating nd maintaining all these applications and who is really responsible if I (Joe the strwawberry picker I might add)gets one of the applications, alledgely tweeks it, sells to a million people and it BOMBS--The GOVERNMENT?

    4 years ago
    0 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  2. What?!? That's a strawman argument, having little to do with the proposal.

    First of all, the proposal does NOT suggest that the government should fund "in depth education, training and documentation" for this software. Indeed, those are tasks that can and typically would be done by the private sector - so this proposal would CREATE LOTS OF NEW JOBS.

    There is no "burden of distribution". The costs are trivial. Just put the software source code on data.gov or a similar site. With today's Internet and World Wide Web, distributing information is easy - just put it on the web, with a license that makes it legal. There are even commercial search engines that specialize in code searches (http://www.google.com/codesearch and koders.com come to mind, and I'm sure there are others). I would impose one requirement on software: The distribution must include enough information so it can be recompiled (e.g., a "makefile" or equivalent) if it must be compiled. But if the developers can't recompile it, they're already incompetent; you have to be able to do that to deliver value at all. We already distribute MASSIVE datasets via sites like data.gov; source code is smaller.

    As far as "who is responsible for updating and maintaining all these applications"... no one, unless the government decides it's in their best interest to do this maintenance. Think of it this way: We the people *PAID* to have that software developed, so we'd like to get what we paid for. If "we the people" don't pay the government to maintain it, then it's not maintained, but that's okay. I suspect in some cases it WOULD be useful to have it maintained, but that would be a decision made in specific cases.

    I'm *PARTICULARLY* interested in software developed as part of RESEARCH work. Generally, we pay to have that software developed... and then we throw it away, or allow commercial companies to obtain monopolies over work that We paid for. Which greatly inhibits both research and commercialization of research. It's time for a change.

    If you're worried about unintended consequences, we could start by requiring this on software developed as part of research. Then, once a year or so of experience has been gathered, broaden the mandate.

    As far as "who is really responsible if I (Joe the strwawberry picker I might add) gets one of the applications, alledgely tweeks it, sells to a million people and it BOMBS--The GOVERNMENT?" Well, pretty much all EULAs for commercial software disclaim responsibility, so this is nothing new. The commercial software industry already works on these grounds. The U.S. government ALREADY releases software as public domain and/or under open source software licenses, and the world has not ended. Examples include Expect (http://expect.nist.gov/) and SELinux (http://www.nsa.gov/research/selinux/index.shtml).

    Indeed, the Internet thrived in part because the U.S. government paid for the development of the TCP/IP implementation in BSD (which made the Internet plumbing widespread), and then let anyone use/build on it. Even those who didn't reuse the software could examine the software and learn how it worked. This did marvels for the Internet! Imagine what other technologies would could jumpstart, or efficiencies we could achieve, if we let "The People" use and improve the software that "They" paid to develop.

    4 years ago
    0 Agreed
    0 Disagreed
  3. Would this idea be enhanced if there were feedback mechanisms to report latent errors that have been detected, or to suggest improvements?

    4 years ago
    0 Agreed
    0 Disagreed