Should Amazon Be Boycotted?

Last week, as the Amazon.com holiday season symphony neared its crescendo, someone sounded a sour note.

Richard Stallman, an early developer of the Linux operating system, called for a boycott of Amazon in an article posted on the Linux Today Web site.

Stallman’s call-to-action is a response to Amazon’s attempt to prevent barnesandnoble.com from using its patented 1-Click technology that allows repeat shoppers to purchase items without having to re-enter personal information each time.

Patents Restrict

Stallman, who currently heads the Free Software Foundation, objects to Amazon’s patent because “it directly affects the freedom of e-commerce.” Additionally, Stallman contends that “patents restrict everybody.”

In September, Amazon was granted the patent for 1-Click, and filed a complaint against barnesandnoble.com the following month. Amazon feels strongly that it paid a huge price to develop the technology and therefore is under no obligation to share it with its rivals or with anyone else.

Earlier this month, Amazon was granted a preliminary injunction in the dispute, keeping barnesandnoble.com from using the technology in its checkout service.

Time And Money

Amazon has reacted to the boycott by e-mailing those who have canceled their orders or affiliate relationships with Amazon. The e-mail outlines the extent of the company’s investment and explains that six months and thousands of man hours were spent working to develop a tool that would benefit its customers.

Now, while I think that it is okay for Stallman to herald Linux as the greatest thing since sliced bread, I find his call for a boycott of Amazon way out of line. Who is he to tell the investors in Amazon that they have no right to enjoy a patent, or recoup their hard work and investment capital?

Meet Pollyanna

Stallman’s proposition makes him sound like a watered-down, cyber-savvy Ralph Nader. Does he really believe that every e-tailer should give away their trade secrets for free?

If you ask me, Stallman’s boycott not only sounds childish, but it seems to miss the whole point of why companies like Amazon develop innovative technology for e-commerce in the first place. They do it to make a profit.

Furthermore, I totally disagree with Stallman’s contention that patents restrict everyone.

If companies are denied patents, they will simply stop investing billions (US$) in the research and development it takes to keep e-commerce growing.

In A Perfect World

Granted, utopia sounds mighty nice right about now. But in the real world, competition and the profit motive make things happen — a lesson that seems to be lost upon many champions of the Linux operating system.

It seems to me that Stallman would do well to stick to promoting Linux and let Amazon and other e-tailers make their own way.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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