MFA Thesis – Excerpt 22

“Open source has been labeled communism and socialism.* It is called this by the same people who depend on commercial profit for their existence. Yet, in the 1960’s to 70’s when key systems of computers were developed in academic settings as much as in corporations it was commonplace for developers to share code and transmission protocols widely. Currently, commercial vendors provide the object or binary code only to the users. Software development companies release their source code to other firms, like peripheral manufacturers, only under strict licenses that restrict the use of that source code and maintain the original company’s ownership rights.**

When the internet was made available to academia and the public by the Department of Defense, the initial intent was for the internet to be a free access tool for information.*** The open network, and the open source movement that came about before the 1980’s created the opportunity for the commercial industries to develop. AT&T led the charge in creating proprietary software in a tumultuous fashion. Prior to the 1980’s there was little effort to control rights or place restrictions on software distribution and sharing. AT&T started enforcing what it considered intellectual property rights related to UNIX, an operating system (OS). The problem was that academia and other corporate researchers made significant contributions to the UNIX OS.**** It was like a child trying to kill her parent. Commercial industries in the computer world owe their existence to open source.

The economic impact open source has is curious. In Table 1, one can see the estimated cost of the Debian/Linux distribution.***** Growth by a factor of ten in ten years is rather significant. The scale of growth is the result of the fact that 110 thousand person-years of combined programming effort was put into the development of Debian. It is estimated that proprietary software companies would have had to pay well over $300 billion to support this development. This is where cooperation and open development of source code becomes relevant to the the struggle for equality. The open source model is evidence that cooperative solution development is viable. Moreover, open source renders racial, socio-economic, religious or any other labeling of differences among contributors irrelevant to the outcome by removing the price barrier to participation.

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Chris Webb, “Of Pirates, Pixels, and Politics.” Canadian Dimension, (2009) : 42.

** Josh Lerner and Jean Tirole, “The Economics of Technology Sharing: Open Source and Beyond,” The Journal of Economic Perspectives 19, no. 2 (2005) : 101.

*** Raphael Cohen-Almagor, “Internet History:” International Journal of Technoethics 2, no. 2 (32 2011) : 45–64. doi:10.4018/jte.2011040104.

**** Lerner, “The Economics of Technology,” 101.

***** Roberts. “Against the ‘Networked Economy,’” 389.