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Thread: Free software? You can't just give it away

  1. #1
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    Free software? You can't just give it away

    That's the rather wonderful headline of a story, over at Times Online, relating how a lady Trading Standards official couldn't get her head around the idea of free software.

    The piece, written by the Mozilla Foundation's Gervase Markham, relates how he'd been contacted by said Trading Standards official, wanting to know if companies selling copies of Mozilla's free web browser Firefox were in violation of licence agreements. If they were, seemingly, they were going to get jumped on from a great height.

    I wrote back, politely explaining the principles of copyleft – that the software was free, both as in speech and as in price, and that people copying and redistributing it was a feature, not a bug. I said that selling verbatim copies of Firefox on physical media was absolutely fine with us, and we would like her to return any confiscated CDs...

    Her reply was incredulous:

    "I can't believe that your company would allow people to make money from something that you allow people to have free access to. Is this really the case?" she asked.

    "If Mozilla permit the sale of copied versions of its software, it makes it virtually impossible for us, from a practical point of view, to enforce UK anti-piracy legislation, as it is difficult for us to give general advice to businesses over what is/is not permitted."
    Do check out the full article - it's most entertaining.
    Last edited by Bob Crabtree; 24-02-2006 at 12:47 PM. Reason: Add Mozilla URL

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    Getting older teachmech's Avatar
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    What a jobswerth!

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    daft ideas inc. scottyman's Avatar
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    that makes me laugh.
    I was trying to explain a similar thing to one of my clients - I've installed a couple of open source (or open sores) applications on his servers, and I sell them support for those products - he was trying to understand why he couldn't just buy a license for the software (PHP and Apache running on Linux)

    I don't think it's about being a jobsworth - it's just more of a cultural and economic mind shift. A lot of these guys can use firefox, mozilla and other applications to showcase their skills, give something back to the community at large, or just want help with an otherwise non-commerical product (or a product with so little commercial interest it's considered non-viable)

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    Medic... I need a medic.. Donny John's Avatar
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    Heh, made me laugh

    It makes you wonder why they recruited someone for that post who obviously has no insight or knowledge in this area
    <sig removed by Agent - You should know better mate! >

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    Pronounced: NO-lee NO-teece per-mee-TAIR-ray TEH tuh-RAIR-ay!

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    It is, I know, a silly situation - and her email does make her look daft - but it's always worth putting yourself in the other person's shoes.

    Most of the time - I'm guessing - she's trying to stop people flogging pirated software.

    She knows (I think) that the software in question is free thus, she reasons, if someone is selling it, they must be having a laugh.

    The subtleties of the licensing terms were, I guess, something she didn't even consider - and when you know about them, at first they make no sense.

    Highly amusing, nonetheless!


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    Senior Member chrestomanci's Avatar
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    I see their problem

    I can see where the trading standards officer is coming from, and how this will make their job harder.

    Suppose someone sets up a market stall advertising cheap software, with posters for popular games, Windows etc.

    If trading standards come raiding then only Linux discs are in stock.

    If someone (who does not look like the law) asks about the latest games, office or pirate DVDs, then they are given a phone number for an accomplice who will sell them what they want from a Van round the corner.

    The Pirates get the benefit of a high profile market stall without the risk of getting raided.

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