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04/11/2004 Archived Entry: "A Pure Software Act?"

In the lamebrained naiveté department: as a solution to the spyware problem, Simson Garfinkel, in a column for Technology Review, is proposing a "Pure Software Act" modeled after the Pure Food and Drug Act. Garfinkel suggests:

Congress could pass legislation requiring that software distributed in the United States come with product labels that would reveal to consumers specific functions built into the programs.

Open source adovcates who haven't thought this through believe that this will deal a blow to Microsoft. Wake up and smell the music, guys: this proposal would be the death of open-source software.

Two words: compliance costs.

Read that quote again: all software distributed in the United States must comply with these labelling requirements. Do open source advocates have any idea how much work it is to comply with such laws? Microsoft can designate a small team for each of its software products, and laugh off the expense. "Big" open source projects like Apache and MySql will be able to comply, at the cost of talent that could otherwise improve the product. But "small" open source projects would be swamped with the required government paperwork. (It's not enough to stick some labels on your product, guys: you have to certify compliance. Repeatedly. Ask anyone in the health care industry what that's like.)

This would be the legal tool that Microsoft needs to block open source software from the U.S. market.

Look at what Microsoft is doing to Lindows, harassing them with lawsuits in a dozen countries. You can bet that Microsoft would have lawyers swarming over every project on SourceForge, launching lawsuits to demand the government regulate these insufficiently-compliant products. In most cases, it would be illegal for independent programmers to offer their works to the public.

History teaches us: federal involvment brings paperwork, taxes, and often monopoly. Since when has government meddling in any industrial enterprise made things better for the little guy?


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