Interesting Approach to Quashing Open Source

April 19, 2013

Like many legal terms burdened with inconvenient meanings, the word “predatory” is being redefined. According to Microsoft, Oracle, and other FairSearch members, giving away free software is a predatory move, one that justifies hauling a competitor to court. Ars Technica posts: “Opinion: Antitrust Complaint Against Android is an Attack on Open Source.”

Yes, the anti-Googlers at FairSearch object to the inclusion of free Google apps on Android phones. Writer Timothy B. Lee objects to their position:

“That stance would have sweeping implications for the software industry because so many software companies distribute software for free. Red Hat gives away its version of Linux (in source code form, at least) as a way to generate interest in its subscriptions and support services. Other popular software packages, such as the Eclipse development environment and the OpenOffice productivity suite, have been maintained at times by commercial sponsors. Indeed, Oracle itself is a major distributor of free software.”

Indeed. Lee goes on to point out that Microsoft, with its history of lukewarm support for open-source projects, has the most to gain from a ruling against software largess. However, the rest of the industry would suffer; releasing free software is a standard, and crucial, practice that promotes brand recognition and attracts paying customers.

The article concludes:

“Competition laws are supposed to benefit consumers, not a company’s competitors. It’s easy to see how Microsoft and Nokia might have been harmed by Google’s decision to price its mobile operating system at zero. But there’s no reason to think the strategy is harmful to consumers.”

I hope the courts will keep that distinction in mind as they consider this complaint.

Cynthia Murrell, April 19, 2013

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