Respecting licenses goes both ways

Summary:As one might imagine, I occasionally disagree with fellow ZDNet blogger and Microsoft employee John Carroll, on topics like software patents, DRM and other issues. However, I'm mostly in agreement with Carroll on this one.

As one might imagine, I occasionally disagree with fellow ZDNet blogger and Microsoft employee John Carroll, on topics like software patents, DRM and other issues.

However, I'm mostly in agreement with Carroll on this one. (For the record, I'm also sick of Tom Cruise.)

While I don't care for the "religious movements" comment, (never mind the fact that proprietary software folks tend to get a hellfire and brimstone tone when discussing "pirated" software) I agree with Carroll that open source developers and advocates need to close ranks with Microsoft in expecting users and others to respect licensing terms set by Microsoft and open source projects alike. As I wrote the other day, if you don't want to pay the price Microsoft sets for Windows, then don't use Windows. If you must use Windows, however, then be prepared to pay the piper.

If Microsoft were to violate the GPL, they'd hear about it -- loudly -- from the free software community. (And rightly so.) By the same token, however, FOSS advocates should be just as quick to condemn users who violate proprietary licenses, for a few reasons. One, just because it's fair. Whether you agree with the terms of Microsoft's licenses or not, they have the same rights that we do with regards to control of code. If it's wrong for a company to use GPL'ed code without honoring the terms of the license, it's wrong for users to subvert Genuine Advantage authentication to get Windows updates when they haven't paid for the privilege.

If Microsoft wants to charge $19.99 or $1,999.00 for a license for Windows XP, that's their right. I tend to think $19.99 would be a lot more reasonable than what they're charging, and they might see fewer users trying to "pirate" Windows if it were more reasonably-priced -- but that's a totally different discussion. The bottom line is that they get to set the price tag, and the choice should be between paying the license fee or choosing a different product. Choosing to use Windows without paying for it is no more acceptable than it would be for a company to use GPL'ed software in a program without abiding by the terms of that license -- and FOSS advocates should be clear on that point. Yes, it is a bit amusing that Microsoft's "Genuine Advantage" system is so easily bamboozled, but we should discourge users from doing so. Of course, this works both ways -- so I expect to hear Carroll and the other folks on the proprietary side of the fence speaking up when corporations fail to live up to the terms of the GPL and other open source licenses.

This is also a good way to bring users into the debate about proprietary software and open source software. Many users will tell you that licensing doesn't matter to them -- and of course it doesn't, when they just ignore the terms of the license. For all that most people know, Microsoft's EULA could require their first-born child in exchange for a single-seat license -- they don't abide by the terms of the license, so they don't care what the terms are.

On the other hand, if users were forced to abide by the license and actually pay the license fee, they'd be much more likely to weigh the benefits of the FOSS licenses versus the proprietary licenses. Granted, we can't force users to abide by proprietary licenses -- but we could at least try to make it less socially acceptable to ignore the licensing terms. And I'm not saying that users should or would choose software based on price alone -- but the current practice for many users is to treat all software as "free as in beer" when it is not. That's wrong, and we should say so.

Topics: Legal

About

Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is the community manager for openSUSE, a community Linux distro sponsored by Novell. Prior to joining Novell, Brockmeier worked as a technology journalist primarily covering the Linux and FOSS beat, and wrote for a number of publications, such as Linux Magazine, Linux.com, Sys Admin, UnixReview.com, IBM developer... Full Bio

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