Friday, December 02, 2005

Illegal Open source?

The title link goes to a story about recent legislation proposed in France that will effectively ban the distribution of open source software. Why do we care? The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) effects things in the US in a similar way. VideoLAN is a media player effected by this legislation because of the software it uses to circumvent restrictions on DVD's. In addition, the legislation will make every Linux distribution that plays DVD's or copy protected media illegal, at least in France. Expanding this domestically will significantly limit the expansion and development of desktop Linux. Interestingly, one federal circuit court of appeals has already held that computer code falls within the ambit of First Amendment protections. If this is the case, the government can't prohibit the production of computer code. This places copyright interests in playable formats at odds with the First Amendment protecting code. So which trumps?

It would seem that most businesses would benefit from permitting all kinds of media players to play their media. This will provide the consumer with the ability to purchase and play DVD's or CD's on any operating system. Using specific software will fundamentally limit market share because people won't buy what they can't play using software of their choice. These things won't benefit business even if they aim to protect intellectual property rights. The best bet for everyone to prosper is to criminalize distribution. This will throw open the market for media players, protect copyright law, and not criminalize hobby programming. Regardless, this idea is asinine. Government should not be in the business of picking and choosing what software people use. Moreover, the government should not support big business's abuse of the consumer.

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