Open source shrugs at EU liability plans

Lawyers and insurance companies have been dealing with liability issues for centuries. I'm sure they'll say that if your customer sees what they have gotten, and can fix what they have gotten, you've got better legal defenses than when they haven't and can't.

Open source writers who are also market players, like our Matt Asay and Infoworld's Savio Rodrigues, are dumping on a European Commission (EC) proposal to make software sellers liable for the problems in their code, just as dishwasher makers are liable for problems.

The EC should be careful to avoid hurting the software industry, and minimizing its benefits

Is the above quote from Steve Ballmer? From Larry Ellison? Nope, it's Matt, threatening to go Galt at the first sign of a lawyer letter.

That's crazy talk, is his argument. Everyone knows software can't be made foolproof. It's in every Microsoft EULA.

(Ayn Rand was writing bad prose a generation before Dan Brown thought of it. Atlas Shrugs, from which the idea of "going Galt" originates, is available at Amazon.com.)

But there are already software makers being held liable in this way. The Clue is in my first paragraph. If the software in your dishwasher goes kerblooey and causes your home to flood, the dishwasher maker can't just say "software problem" and walk away.

Software, embedded in hardware, is already subject to liability law.

Bruce Schneier notes that open source code, when given away, gets a pass on this. It's only open source companies, like Red Hat (and Alfresco) that will need liability insurance. Just as CBS, which owns ZDNet, has liability insurance against what Katie Couric might say.

This does not satisfy Matt. He doesn't like being held liable for mistakes. We've all gotten along very well without lawyers poking around our broken code. This is what happens "when bureaucrats, not common sense, rule."

Maybe. But this is also happens when industries grow up, and become vital to the general economy.

Lawyers and insurance companies have been dealing with liability issues for centuries. I'm sure they'll say that if your customer sees what they have gotten, and can fix what they have gotten, you've got better legal defenses than when they haven't and can't.

The advantage in this, in other words, goes to open source.