I feel pretty strongly about copyright. For me it started because of “free” software. I’m cheap and I don’t like to pay for things if I don’t have to and I was always happy to try out a free piece of software (and open to figuring out how to use a not-so-free piece of software too). This lead me to find open source software, which at first just meant “open source = free” to me. As my understanding of the open source movement grew, so did my opinion on copyright.
Copyright and patent laws in this country are outdated, outmoded, and generally ludicrous. The fact that Microsoft can patent some of the most basic algorithms in computer science for the sole purpose of suing someone for copyright infringement if they don’t like that product is absurd to me. Copyrighting what can be considered common knowledge or fundamental knowledge in the field is just plain stupid to me and I feel like its a travesty that there are all these worthless patents and copyrights out there miring people in the terrible legality of things. This kind of thing stunts innovation and hurts the industry.
While the open source movement is relatively young and still developing, look at how much innovation has come from that sector: projects like Open Office (an office application suite), Apache (what most web servers run to host web sites), Linux (operating system), GIMP (image editing software) all open source and all very well developed projects.
Each project has a community that builds up around it, drawing more people as it becomes more popular. People report bugs, people fix bugs, the project becomes better, more people start to use it, rinse and repeat. The most insignificant person in the world has a say in the project and anybody with the know-how is capable of patching bugs. If the project wasn’t open source, would things remain this way? Look at the way Microsoft handles things with their products. Most of the time a bug is found its treated the way most of corporate America operates and that is, hush the person that found it, stick your head in the sand, and hope it goes away. There was recently a security flaw discovered in Windows that reaches back to 1993 and every operating system released by Microsoft since then up to and including Windows 7. A 17 year old vulnerability that Microsoft just pretended wasn’t there until somebody made it public. I’m not saying that every piece of closed source software is maintained in the same way, I’m just saying its harder to find and patch bugs when only your people can look at the code.
At this point I’ve made it pretty clear that I like free software and that I don’t want to have to pay for things. How then, in my Utopian world where all software is free, does a developer or company make money enough to justify creating the software in the first place? I honestly don’t know, but I think the Red Hat folks are on the right path. Red Hat creates the Red Hat Linux distribution under an open source license, so its free to use and free to be tinkered with. The way they make money is by charging enterprises for support, and a nominal fee for CD/DVDs (this isn’t required, you can download a copy for free from their site). With a support contract, you can call them up when you have a problem you can’t solve yourself and they’ll have someone help you solve it to the best of their ability. If other companies can come up with similar ways to make money and just let us poor folks have our free software, the world would be a better place.