2 Jan 2005 simosx   » (Journeyer)

Learning from BSA (Asia)

Quite often you see people supporting a view and makes you wonder how they can do it with a straight face.

Mark MacGann from EICTA issued a press release expressing his dissapointment that the legislation on software patents did not pass during a European Union Agricultural(sic) Council meeting on December 21, 2004.

Karl-Friedrich Lenz has a diary entry on his blog questioning the EICTA reaction and motivation.

At another part of the world, BSA (Asia) and GOH Seow Hiong have been quite active against open-source software since his appointment of the latter as Director of Software Policy in Asia (BSA).

BSA is the company that normally uses questionable methods to identify and collect license fees for pirated software belonging to the set of companies it is funded by. It is quite confusing to understand their role by visiting their Website, as you will read things like "Promoting a safe and legal digital world", "BSA educates consumers on software management and copyright protection, cyber security, trade, e-commerce and other Internet-related issues."

To state the obvious, not following the license of the software you are using is illegal; that's the same for products based on either proprietary or open-source software. However, you should choose products based on open-source software as it offers you a safer legal digital world.

BSA (Asia) has surpassed the role of just doing the essential money collection job for the companies it represents and now attacks open-source software efforts in South-East Asia.

BSA (Asia) and GOH Seow Hiong use misleadingly (page 23) the term commercial software to describe proprietary source code. One can have commercial software products based on proprietary software but also commercial software products based on open-source software. A third option is that one also has the freedom to be self-sufficient by choosing directly open-source software.

The open-source policy in Malaysia says [GoogleCache] that "in situations where advantages and disadvantages of OSS and proprietary software are equal, preference shall be given to OSS". It looks quite modest to me, as the preference clause is invoked only in the extreme case of equality of advantages and disadvantages between the two. However, BSA (Asia) and GOH Seow Hiong issue a polemic [GoogleCache] against "OSS procurement preference".

BSA (Asia) and GOH Seow Hiong maintain that "any preference for any model of software, open source or proprietary, could disturb the balance in the industry". The current balance in the industry is that proprietary software is used almost exclusively in any aspect of the industry. My idea of a balance is something towards 50-50.

BSA (Asia) and GOH Seow Hiong are unhappy with the work that IOSN is doing in South-East Asia on advocating about open-source software to developing countries. IOSN has been producing a set of Primers to help developing countries on open-source software. BSA sent a letter showing their discomfort. Perhaps the BSA line does not work well in South-East Asia anymore? In this letter, they include editorial comments for some of the primers although the public feedback period has already passed on each of them.

In addition, on the subject of security, BSA (Asia) tries to add that proprietary vendors offer "source code sharing initiatives", probably as a plug to the Shared Source program by Microsoft. It is quite interesting to see that what you get with Shared Source is not even close to being enough to conduct a security review. Once you sign up to the special Government Security Program, you only get to view and search the source code through your Web browser. The Windows XP source code consists of around 40 million lines of code. Assume this gets printed to 60 lines per page, binded to one thousand page volumes, and you get in total around 666 huge volumes. If this was a story book, you might be able to follow the first few volumes. However, it's not a linear story; it's source code, interconnected in a complex mesh structure. With open-source, you get the full source code files, you are able to compile, run visualisation and analysis tools, debug, test, verify, compare. With Shared-source, you can only peak through your Web browser; no chance to analyse, compile, run visualisation tools, test, verify... Initiatives such as "Shared Source" are a gimmick.

Furthermore, BSA cannot see why teaching proprietary tools/software quite often results to piracy, as each student is unable to pay for the license. BSA says that since a student buys the hardware, they should be able financially to shell out money for any expensive proprietary software, for their homework and assignments.

Finally, BSA appears to firmly believe that software patents are good for developing countries (the primary audience of IOSN is developing countries).

In another article, BSA (Asia) and GOH Seow Hiong claim that software patents not bad. In particular, "software patents do not necessarily benefit bigger players" (perhaps in the same way that BSA wants primarily to educate consumers). Also, "software patents benefit start-ups or small companies more because it encourages innovation". Does this make sense? Is this the education the developing countries of Asia should receive?

You should voice your concerns on all these.

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