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Author Topic: Block a FOSS release because being free interferes with commercial interests?  (Read 3281 times)
40hz
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« on: August 02, 2011, 02:45:37 PM »

Only in Switzerland... Grin

This in from the folks over at HeiseOnline's HOpen website. Once again demonstrating the truth of the old adage: If you can't compete or innovate - litigate!

Quote
Swiss proprietary companies block government open source release

Reports from Switzerland say that proprietary software companies are complaining about government plans to release open source solutions it has developed on the grounds of cross subsidy. A report from OSOR.EU says the issue emerged early in July as the IT department of the Swiss federal court was planning to release OpenJustitia.

In 2007, the Swiss federal court began development of its own internal document management system, OpenJustitia, designed to make it more efficient to search through court decisions. In 2009, the court's IT department announced it would release the system as open source under the GPLv3. This summer, it was expected that OpenJustitia would be released to allow other courts to make use of it.

But in a surprising intervention, proprietary software makers have called for the release to be delayed, claiming that the state is interfering in the market.

Interesting wrinkle. Almost a cousin to Steve Ballmer's famous argument GPL was in violation of US law because (according to him) the concept of requiring "free" and "open"code was undermining the commercial interests that copyright and patent laws were set up to protect.

Love it! undecided

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Renegade
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« Reply #1 on: August 02, 2011, 02:53:56 PM »

Oh god...

 mad

I just don't know what to say.
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Shades
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« Reply #2 on: August 02, 2011, 04:10:45 PM »

If the software created by the government improves the workflow in their departments, hence lift the financial burden these departments have on society then the government did what these closed source companies couldn't/wouldn't do.

And these companies go to court over this? Sue each of those companies for obstructing the law and freeze their assets until proven otherwise.
Hey, if it is about a pissing contest,

As society already has paid the salaries, work environments etc. for the ones who created the software it appears to me that making the software open source is the only correct path to follow.

Go Swiss government!  Thmbsup
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Deozaan
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« Reply #3 on: August 02, 2011, 06:02:49 PM »

So why not make the software developer(s) a non-government programming studio. That way it won't be the government that is interfering with the markets.

As society already has paid the salaries, work environments etc. for the ones who created the software it appears to me that making the software open source is the only correct path to follow.

That seems to me to be a great logical conclusion. Thmbsup
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EĆ³in
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« Reply #4 on: August 02, 2011, 06:47:57 PM »

This story sounds a lot more complex than the usual patent/copyright farces we often hear about. I'm going to reserve judgement for now.
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40hz
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« Reply #5 on: August 02, 2011, 09:30:25 PM »

More details in this article.

What it seems to come down to is the court could not find a product that met its needs. So it developed its own:

Quote
The federal court (Bundesgericht) began development of its internal document management system in 2007. The IT department decided to develop OpenJustitia "after finding that none of the existing solutions on the market satisfied met the technological and quality needs" of the court.

Two years later it decided to make the source code available as open source, under the GPLv3, planned for this summer. It also started to present the DMS to interested courts in the country. OpenJustitia offers courts an efficient way to search through court decisions, the Bundesgericht explains in a statement.

At this point, a software publisher with a similar product complained:

Quote
Swiss newspapers on 1 July wrote how this caused one Swiss IT vendor, Weblaw, to fear that it will lose a number of bids with such courts for its own, proprietary search engine. The vendor, in a statement sent to Inside IT: "Instead of operating an oversized IT department funded by tax-payers, the Federal Court should investigate the existing products available on the market. This would be sustainable and cost effective."

What is interesting is how the publisher neatly ducked the issue of whether or not its product was superior or more effective, Instead it immediately resorted to the usual accusations of "bloated government" and the imperative to go with a privately provided solution whenever a government requirement is identified.

The local industry group (surprise!) immediately closed ranks behind this publisher:

Quote
The vendor is supported by Swiss ICT, an IT trade group. The Neue ZĆ¼rcher Zeitung on 1 July quoted Swiss ICT's chairman Thomas Flatt: "It is incomprehensible that a state institution interferes in a market where several competitors are active. This is not about open source or proprietary solutions, but about using the term open source to conceal cross subsidization."

But again - there's nothing about how any of the commercial offerings are superior or equal to the system developed by the court. They (like the publisher) again toss out one of those vaguely socialistic yet paradoxically 'free market' statements so beloved by trade groups whenever they encounter some creditable outside competition.

The argument boils down to one simple thing: An established trade group has members whose products are now being jeopardized by the appearance of a new and arguably superior one. Further compounding the problem is that it will be provided to interested institutions at no charge under the GPL. And the parties to the complaint don't like it. Not one  little bit.

Perhaps the most telling sign of the degree of fear and desperation the Swiss ICT member firms are feeling can be seen by the fact that Swiss politicians are now entering the fray. One member of the Swiss Parliament has even raise a novel question about why the court could possibly not be allowed to share the software it developed (emphasis added):

Quote
Whether or not Swiss public administrations can share their software applications as open source, is made a question for the Swiss parliament.  Free Democratic Party parliament member Hans Hess is taking the unwrapping of OpenJustitia to the Federal Court's control committee in the parliament (GeschƤftsprĆ¼fungskommission), reported ZDnet. "Commercial services are not on the list of tasks of the Federal Court. This will be clarified and possibly prevented", it cites the MP.

I'm not sure (apparently something got lost in translation) which side of the question Mssr. Hans Hess is coming down on. But it is interesting that some people might try to argue for the court not releasing its software because software development, publication and distribution is not part of the court's charter and by releasing its software, the court has exceeded its authority!

Awesome!...

Can't wait to see how this one plays out. Wonder if it's too early to put a bet down? tongue

-------

Note: links to some of the original filings and statements can be at the bottom of this article. My German isn't good enough for me to feel comfortable about commenting on, or translating them. But perhaps somebody else's is?


« Last Edit: August 03, 2011, 12:31:04 AM by 40hz » Logged

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EĆ³in
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« Reply #6 on: August 02, 2011, 09:59:51 PM »

Is not the issue here that a government has produced a product which happens to be directly competing with a company and the government is now going to completely undercut that companies prices? That companies taxes are directly funding it's competitor.
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40hz
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« Reply #7 on: August 02, 2011, 10:14:26 PM »

That companies taxes are directly funding it's competitor.

So are the taxes of all the people, institutions, and other companies that stand to benefit from it.

That's the problem with arguments for protectionism in the name of the "greater good." Most times, they don't hold up. smiley

Of course said businesses (who make a living off indexing what are public records) might consider reimbursing the government for the underlying "raw materials" (funded by taxes) they make their living from.

Hmm..not a bad idea in this era of government deficits. Grin

« Last Edit: August 02, 2011, 10:18:14 PM by 40hz » Logged

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« Reply #8 on: August 02, 2011, 10:21:57 PM »

Can't wait to see how this one plays out. Wonder if it's too early to put a bet down? tongue

I bet 5 DC credits that complete insanity will prevail~! tongue Grin
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rgdot
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« Reply #9 on: August 02, 2011, 11:45:33 PM »

Taxes are for the benefit society at large not a government agency or office or individual entity. What is being suggested by EĆ³in (not saying you support the idea) is catastrophic if it holds up.

Governments being seen as corporations (and therefore automatically in competition with other corporations) is a disastrous notion.

EDIT:
A perhaps exaggerated example:
Tobacco companies paying taxes but then complaining when it is used to fund quit smoking programs. I say exaggerated because you may dismiss this as being different (health care vs software) but all it takes is one lawyer cheesy

« Last Edit: August 02, 2011, 11:49:03 PM by rgdot » Logged
40hz
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« Reply #10 on: August 03, 2011, 12:21:24 AM »

A government's primary function is to provide necessary services it doesn't make economic sense (as in 'not profitable') for a business to provide. These services include things such as public safety, assistance to the needy and aged, and public education.

This is one of the reasons the endless mantra about "privatization" is so misguided. As is the argument that government should be run "just like a business." Because there are many necessary things that need to be done, or made available, if you want to live in a largely benevolent and just society. The only problem is, there's no money to be made providing them.

That's where government comes in. It's our publicly supported "loss leader." And hardly anybody who thinks responsibly would want it any other way.

Otherwise you run into such perversions as cable companies and telcos bringing municipalities to court for providing broadband and wireless services that these very same companies (most of which were granted effective monopolies and are receiving ongoing favorable tax treatments) are simply unwilling to provide to their markets. And this despite all the promises made by the industry in exchange for being allowed to do it "their way" with minimal governmental regulation and oversight.

And guess what? It doesn't work! It's a FAIL.

Check out this blog for some related stories.

 smiley

« Last Edit: August 03, 2011, 12:46:00 AM by 40hz » Logged

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40hz
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« Reply #11 on: August 03, 2011, 12:32:19 AM »

Can't wait to see how this one plays out. Wonder if it's too early to put a bet down? tongue

I bet 5 DC credits that complete insanity will prevail~! tongue Grin

That's what I call a "smart money" bet. Thmbsup Cool

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EĆ³in
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« Reply #12 on: August 03, 2011, 10:28:44 AM »

What is being suggested by EĆ³in (not saying you support the idea) is catastrophic if it holds up.

Indeed I don't support it, I'm socialist at heart smiley Also, in this case it's the source code the gov want to release, couldn't anyone just put in a freedom of information claim for it anyway? Though that wouldn't sort the GPLv3 bit.
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40hz
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« Reply #13 on: August 03, 2011, 11:25:58 AM »

I'm socialist at heart

No shame in that. Most people with a strong sense of personal morality and social responsibility are.  smiley Thmbsup

The only problem with socialism is the same one that plagues every other sociopolitical theory: the vast difference between theory and its implementation once the opportunistic politicos get hold of it.

"Schade!" as Goethe used to say.  Grin



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