The Ten Commandments of software manufacturers fighting FLOSS

If you read a recent CNet news.com article by Eric J. Sinrod titled Perspective: The Ten Commandments of fighting software pirates you will see one of the problems in the industry. This list that claims to be about fighting software "pirates", but it equally targets the major competition to software manufacturing which is FLOSS.

As you go through the list, think of how the same advise attempts to encourage people to avoid legal FLOSS software, and where the "problems" that software manufacturers have simply do not apply to freely legally redistributable FLOSS.


  • Trust your instincts.

    Software has a marginal cost to the author of zero, so it is quite reasonable for them to increasingly pass that pricing on to you. Suggesting that if the price is too good to be true that this is likely a problem is false with software.

As an extreme example, if you go to Ubuntu.com, click on "Shipit - Free CDs", this company will ship you free CDs of Ubuntu Linux as well as some key FLOSS applications such as OpenOffice.org that you can install on Windows. This is all perfectly legal, and not only are you being given the software for free (which doesn't cost the author anything) but the installation media is being shipped to you for free (at a cost to this company).

  • Make sure it's authentic.

    Only a limited amount of software comes with manuals, with most FLOSS encouraging people to purchase from a wide variety of choices of learning material at your local book store or free online. I am unaware of any software that doesn't disclaim all warranties that are possible to disclaim under the law, so asking for warranties rules out most software. If there are warranties it is for defects in the physical media, something that is not necessary for FLOSS which primarily uses peer distribution (friends sharing media, sharing via the Internet, etc) and thus media defects are not an issue that is worth providing a warranty for.
  • Read the label.

    While you can buy a boxed set from a distribution company that provides commercial support for the software, most FLOSS is legally shared on media created by fellow software enthusiasts. Handwritten labels are common, and not at all a legal problem. I hand out copies of TheOpenCD.org which are all labels printed on my B&W lazer printer and indicate that I am the person distributing them.
  • Beware of backups.

    This is a non-issue for FLOSS as people are legally allowed to and encouraged to make as many copies of the media as they want and distribute as widely as they can.
  • Steer clear of compilations.

    Most FLOSS comes in the form of a compilation, whether it be TheOpenCD.org or a Linux distribution like Ubuntu or Fedora Core Linux (Which are the two distributions I personally use most often).
  • Look for the trust mark.

    FLOSS trust comes not from trademarks that are on physical media, but in the accountability and transparency of the software and software projects. You should know the source of your software, and know that what you have is what was distributed by the FLOSS project or from a well known distribution (IE: creator of a verified compilation - compilations in FLOSS are beneficial, not a problem).
  • Do your homework.

    I agree with this, although part of doing your homework is to reject the false claims of the software manufacturing subset of the software sector who are trying to frighten you against using competing software from the FLOSS sector.
  • Get the seller's address, if possible.

    This is part of the trust and knowing where you got the software from. When I hand out CDs I give out my business card, and recommend that everyone else redistributing FLOSS software do the same. This way if there are problems with the software then you can track the problem.
  • Once people are more familiar with FLOSS they will be able to receive updates to the software from the source projects or from distribution organizations, and will have fewer hands that the software is going through. While this is the ideal, most people are first introduced to FLOSS when a friend legally shares this type of software with them.

  • Keep receipts.

    While support contracts for software are purchased, FLOSS software is not often purchased so would not have a receipt.
  • Be careful when crossing the border.

    FLOSS is international in scope, and other than a few countries with backwards laws which favour our software manufacturing competitors (Such as the USA) there is not going to be a problem. The countries that represent the majority of the worlds population (The so-called BRIC countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China) are not only aware of FLOSS but are adopting FLOSS-preference policies given the benefits of this way of producing, distributing and funding software. These are countries where the only way that their citizens can afford software is if it is royalty-free and the development costs are one-time and denominated in the local currency at local labour rates.
  • Comment viewing options

    Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

    Ten Commandments --- intimidating and offensive

    As an employee of a large 'professional services' organisation ... I develop software, sometimes my employer sells the software with a guarantee that he will service it, sometimes he gives the software away, source code and all, as a kind of marketing novelty ... I find the Cnet article intimidating and offensive.

    It tends to make people believe either that they should not write software; or that they should not give away copies of software that they write. That makes about as much sense as saying that they should not take photos when on holiday, and should not give copies of their holiday snaps to friends.

    Very profitable to the purveyors of the software in question, but somewhat short-term in these days of Internet, Linux, OpenOffice.org, and so on. The 'global brains trust' that gives us Linux and OOo will take the wind out of the sails of anyone who sells undifferentiated commodity software as if it was theatre tickets or Star Wars DVDs. Good for entertainment value, but not for anything more.

    Is this kind of intimidation illegal, and if so are there any relevant authorities that we can report it to ? Or do we just ignore it and move on.

    Or do we just ignore it and move on?

    I believe they are trying to mis-educate people, and that we shouldn't ignore it but try to properly educate people. I don't think there are government authorities that can help us yet given far too many in government are already captured by the misinformation. Much of my own time is spent trying to adequately expose government bureaucrats, agencies, and elected representatives to the truth.


    Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) consultant.