Bobbie Johnson of the Guardian has written an interesting, and disturbing, piece on the US copyright lobby’s efforts to squelch the use of open source technologies in the developing world.
It turns out that the International Intellectual Property Alliance, an umbrella group for organisations including the MPAA and RIAA, has requested with the US Trade Representative to consider countries like Indonesia, Brazil and India for its “Special 301 watchlist” because they use open source software.
What’s Special 301? It’s a report that examines the “adequacy and effectiveness of intellectual property rights” around the planet – effectively the list of countries that the US government considers enemies of capitalism. It often gets wheeled out as a form of trading pressure – often around pharmaceuticals and counterfeited goods – to try and force governments to change their behaviours.
So why should free market conservatives care?
I know open source has a tendency to be linked to socialist ideals, but I also think it’s an example of the free market in action. When companies can’t compete with huge, crushing competitors, they route around it and find another way to reduce costs and compete. Most FOSS isn’t state-owned: it just takes price elasticity to its logical conclusion and uses free as a stick to beat its competitors with (would you ever accuse Google, which gives its main product away for free, of being anti-capitalist?).
Still, in countries where the government has legislated the adoption of FOSS, the position makes some sense because it hurts businesses like Microsoft. But that’s not the end of it.
No, the really interesting thing that Guadamuz found was that governments don’t even need to pass legislation. Even a recommendation can be enough.
Basically, a handful of large corporations are trying to use the power of the US government to limit the ability of other firms, large and small, that are built around OSS business models.
To understand how and why OSS resonates with core libertarian principles, I recommend reading Tim Lee and Cord Blomquist.