User:Mlam19/Views on Open Source

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It is a truism that large movements and organizations tend to resist homogeneity. There may be few better demonstrations of this than the open source software world; the low barriers of entry to participate produces a bewildering conglomerate of individuals and organizations. It seems plausible that this mixture would also lead to varying views on the nature of open source. 2009's Free Software and Open Source Symposium hosted by Seneca College presented an opportunity to sample these perspectives.

To this end two of the Symposium's lectures shall be examined. A synopsis of their content will be provided, followed by an examination and comparison of the lecturers' views on open source. Finally, these findings will be used to examine my views on open source.

Lecture Synopses

Canadian copyright and the future of Open Source and Open Educational Resources

Canadian copyright and the future of Open Source and Open Educational Resources” was presented by Doctor Rory McGreal. McGreal is a professor is the Associate Vice President, Research at Athabasca University. Athabasca University provides distance learning courses and programs. The issue of Canadian copyrights, digital or otherwise, directly impacts on the university's method of operating. McGreal discussed the recent efforts by vendors to change the nature of copyright, the means this was being done, and some of the implications thereof.

Copyright is a relatively recent development. Canadian copyright law stems from the British tradition where authors have a limited time to control the expression of their work. This limitation was originally made to promote learning and research, which in turn is the basis of the modern “fair dealing” doctrine. The concept of the “public domain” was created by copyright law; the most pervasive example of the modern public domain is the Internet. Copyright law was created to protect user rights. Vendors seek to radically change the law to protect and expand vendor/author rights, while conversely limiting user rights.

To help promote their views, vendors have altered the way the arguments are psychologically perceived by changing the terms used. “Author” is used instead of “vendor” to allow vendors to claim they are acting for the “fair” treatment of artists and not just for commercial gain. The legally correct phrase “infringement on artists' copyrights”, has been replaced by “stealing artists' intellectual property.” The term “intellectual property” itself is misleading since copyright is about protecting the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves; McGreal believes a better term is “intellectual policy”. Furthermore, no distinction is made between “individual pirating” and “bootlegging”.

McGreal points out it is dubious whether vendors are acting in the interests of artists. The music industry claims sharing and “pirating” are a major source of revenue loss. This ignores the industry's risky practice of funding new artists; 90% of these artists fail and the companies are left absorbing the losses. Furthermore, music labels have also been known to illegally withhold money owed to artists. The vendor position also ignores the success of other business models, such as the examples of free downloads spurring purchases, a model used by some music artists.

Technology is already being used by vendors as a regulatory strategy and change the nature of sales. In effect, this strengthens vendor rights and weakens user rights without legislation. Increasingly users are not purchasing ownership, but conditional usage (i.e. licenses.) This conditional usage is in turn enforced by technological means; examples of these include DVD zone encoding and digital rights management. The Canadian legislation desired by vendors, Bill C-61, cements this regulatory strategy by making it illegal to produce, even academically, means to circumvent restrictions.

McGreal believes the implications of vendor-centric changes to copyright law go beyond the vendors finding new ways to make money. He sees an attack on property rights where users are denied property rights (defined as the ability to “consume, harmlessly use, transfer, and exclude others from infringing/interfering from using/enjoying”) with vendors enjoying full property rights. Furthermore, he speaks of vendor control as a form of social engineering where sharing on the whole is promoted not as desirable, but undesirable and even criminal.

McGreal is critical of Bill C-61 which reverses many previous court rulings on the nature of copyrights in Canada involving fair dealing and “contributory infringement” (currently not applicable.) C-61 gives new rights to vendors but none to users. In addition the relationship between contracts and fair dealing is changed where the former overrides the latter and established rights, instead of vice versa. It also makes Canadian copyright law inconsistent with those of most other countries.

Open Source for fun and profit: making a career out of FOSS

In contrast to “Canadian copyright”, “Open Source for fun and profit: making a career out of FOSS” came from a business perspective. Khalid Baheyeldin is the co-founder of Inc., a Drupal web content management consultant firm. Baheyeldin himself is a prolific contributor to Drupal. His presentation was based on experiences with his business and with Drupal. The presentation's content falls into three general areas: differences between open and closer development and motivations for switching from the latter, a description of open source, and strategies for open source-based businesses.

Baheyeldin identifies some general areas of open source. On the software side there are products of each project, and other projects that use the products as part of their frameworks. On the personnel side there are the communities encompassing all stake holders. The relationship between individuals in the open source ecosystem is symbiotic; mutualism, commensualism, and parasitism.

For the individual the causes for changing to an open source-based occupation are generally the same as with any other switch: dissatisfaction with the work, conditions, or politics or the previous workplace. Similar non-ideological concerns may also drive businesses to adopt open source products or business models; the costs of purchasing and entry are lower, open source is a growth market, and there is a wider range of support resources and customization options.

An open source business model revolves around selling services and solutions based on the open source products, rather than selling the open source products themselves. Attracting customers is most effective when costs, rather than ideology, are stressed. Actively contributing the open source projects the business depends on is also an effective way to raise awareness of the business; the recognition serves as another form of advertising. Since contributions means addressing some part of the project's needs, and not strictly code, there is great flexibility in this.

Individuals may join an open source-based business or, for the more ambitious, start their own. In the latter case, Baheyeldin suggests finding partners with complementary skills. Subcontracting is always an option as well.

Views on Open Source


Doctor McGreal did not speak specifically about open source software, some of his views on open source might be inferred from his position on copyrights.

While open source software also depends on licenses, these licenses tend to achieve an effect opposite to most commercial ones; the open source licenses grant users the same rights, and sometimes enhanced rights, over the author (for example, the BSD license permits users to take the modify the software and make it proprietary.) This effectively makes open source software compliant with the spirit and law of copyright as McGreal supports.

McGreal's suggests that the copyright reform desired by vendors may result in negative social engineering. In light of this, he may regard open source as, amongst other things, a social movement that may be used to promote user rights. In addition, open source may be a countervailing influence in an environment with increasingly restrictive copyright laws.


Naturally, open source as a viable economic productive force was a central concept in Baheyeldin's presentation. And not only viable, but valuable for all manners of organizations regardless of size or motivation.

In addition to “open source as business”, he also acknowledged “open source as community builder. Baheyeldin realizes the importance of community as a fundamental aspect of open source; the interdependence of individuals is intimately intertwined with the software product.


McGreal and Baheyeldin views on open source complement and overlap each other, especially in the social and community aspect. While Baheyeldin focuses on the economic aspects as the notable end result of open source communities, McGreal might point out that an equally important end result is a possible meta-community of smaller open source communities. Both aspects are mutually reinforcing and contribute to the resilience of the open source movement.


My perception of open source is dominated by an end user's perspective. In practical terms my main concern is the applicability of the software to my needs, with the actual development of the software being a distant secondary concern. Baheyeldin's presentation reaffirmed previous knowledge that end users, individuals and organizations alike, could profit from open source.

McGreal gave much more cause for thought. In the past five years I came to have an inkling of the “community of communities” that is open source; it is rare indeed for any period of time to pass without some reminder of the interdependence between projects, or some issue affecting the roots of the community like patents coming back to the fore, or an argument between notable developers or personalities. However, I never gave much thought to the extent of open source influence. In my tidy mind I fancied the limit of influence was with the use of the software by end users, and the thorns stuck in the side of certain software companies.

It did not occur to me that such a strong open source community and movement might have a role to play in influencing the values of society as a whole. It certainly did not occur to me that some sort of participation in open source may be regarded as a sort of civic duty, That open source, and by extension myself through participation, may have greater societal implication and responsibilities is something I find wondrous strange and unsettling at the same time.