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ADTI: Open-Sourcers Skirt Copyrights

ADTI: Open-Sourcers Skirt Copyrights

ADTI rhetoric has become increasingly aggressive toward the open-source and free-source communities in the weeks following the publication of draft copies of Kenneth Brown's recent work, "Samizdat: And Other Issues Regarding the 'Source' of Open Source Code." That work was widely criticized for accusing Linus Torvalds of copying key elements of the Linux kernel from Minix.

By Lisa Stapleton
06/16/04 8:48 AM PT

Not content to accuse open-sourcers of stealing code and working on Linux programming on company time, the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute now implies that the open-source community rips off The Wall Street Journal. So far, though, ADTI has not suggested that its mothers wear Army boots.

In a recent posting on LinuxToday titled "Open Source Tip of the Day," ADTI contends that the open-source community doesn't like to pay to read the work of popular WSJ columnist Lee Gomes, and in fact regularly uses Google caching and link pages from such publications as LinuxToday to access online copies, which the posting suggests are illegal.

"Warning," ADTI writes, "sometimes the links go down, as the DJ [Dow Jones, which owns the WSJ] barristers comb the world for pirated Journal content."

Increasingly Aggressive Posturing

The ADTI poster quotes an unnamed source, the implication being that the source is a member of the open-source community. "'I always read Gomes off the LinuxToday links,' chirps a correspondent to ADTI's message boards," he writes.

ADTI rhetoric has become increasingly aggressive toward the open-source and free-source communities in the weeks following the publication of draft copies of Kenneth Brown's recent work, "Samizdat: And Other Issues Regarding the 'Source' of Open Source Code." That work was widely criticized for accusing Linus Torvalds of copying key elements of the Linux kernel from Minix, an earlier operating system written by Andrew Tanenbaum and published in the form of a book with diskette by Prentice Hall.

Relying on estimates of how many lines of code typical programmers write, Brown concludes in the report that Torvalds could not possibly have produced the amount of code in the original Linux kernel in about six months, as is currently believed. Andrew Tanenbaum and GNU founder Richard Stallman, both quoted in the report, say their quotes were taken out of context and misconstrued, and both have vehemently and publicly disagreed with the conclusions of the report [Lisa Stapleton, "Stallman: Accusatory Report Deliberately Confuses," May 27, 2004].

Of Thieves and Thefts

Stopping short of using the words "thief" or "theft" in the report, Brown later used the word "stolen" in interviews with the press, including those with LinuxInsider, and argued that many open-source writers and users had a two-faced, "smarmy" attitude toward theft of copyrighted code and other owned works and intellectual property. Brown contends in his report that this is a result of "hybrid source code," which he characterizes as code having roots in both the commercial, for-profit realm, where ownership is in the hands of businesses and individuals, and academic or free-source roots.

More recently, in a rebuttal to the outcry that ensued when Brown alleged that Torvalds didn't write Linux "from scratch," Brown wrote that "Linux is a leprosy; and is having a deleterious effect on the U.S. IT industry because it is steadily depreciating the value of the software industry sector. Software is also embedded in hardware, chips, printers and even consumer electronics. Should embedded software become 'free' too, it would be natural to conclude the value of hardware will spiral downward as well."

Keeping the Controversy Alive

ADTI also sent out this e-mail to its mailing list last week, which helped to keep the controversy alive:

Ken Brown continues to fight the 'cone wars' [sic] over the origins of Linux. So much has been said it's hard to link to it all -- but if you want the latest important development, we suggest you simply go to the Tocqueville home page -- www.adti.net -- and scroll down to the quotation from Eric S. Raymond. Background: Brown is under furious assault for saying, contrary to popular belief, that Linus Torvalds "probably didn't write Linux from scratch." Enter a flood of angry denunciations. One of the leading denouncers is Mr. Raymond, who in 1999 wrote, "Linus Torvalds, for example, didn't actually try to write Linux from scratch. Instead, he started by reusing code and ideas from Minix, a tiny Unix-like operating system." Hmmm. You can check out the full quotation in context at www.adti.net/open.contradictions.html. Again, all we can think of to say is, 'Gofigyuh.'

For his part, Brown says that he didn't write the latest posting on LinuxToday. "No, I didn't get involved in that one. I'm too busy writing a new report. That was Sahir, our webmaster." Brown did, however, comment that "In all the e-mails we got, people have been interested that this is something that the WSJ charges for that they can get for free."

Refuting the implication of "piracy," CNET Networks spokesperson Martha Papalia said that prior to the merging of CNET News and ZDNet, "CNET News and 'The Wall Street Journal' had a content-sharing agreement," she said. Each news outlet was permitted to publish up to five stories per day from its counterpart, she explained.

The editor of LinuxToday did not return phone calls or e-mails by deadline. Senior ADTI fellow Gregory Fossedal said that he wasn't sure who had written the posting. "We work with a lot of volunteers," he said, "and it's kind of like open source, as much as I hate to admit it."


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