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The American Prospect: A Conversation with Lawrence Lessig

May 07, 2000, 14:57 (1 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Lindsay Sobel)

"Q: You write powerfully in The American Prospect about the necessity of well-constructed government regulation to support open-source software. What makes open-source a good worth protecting?"

"A: I think what is significant about open-source software is not so much that it is great software or that it is more powerful or more efficient than other software, but that it commits itself to a type of intellectual or public commons so that anybody can take this software and understand it and develop it and build it into their own applications the way that they want. In that way, it makes the software like scientific knowledge or like cases decided by courts. The software becomes a resource for other people to use and to build upon; it's long been the tradition of our intellectual property law to encourage ideas and information and inventions and writings to be turned over to the public in a kind of commons like this."

"Q: Since we live in a profit-driven economy, why would programmers spend their time developing software when they have to make its code available?"

"A: Well, certainly nobody should be forced to work for free. So if open-source software meant that people couldn't make money, then very few people would be investing time and energy in developing open-source software. But the fact is that many businesses have demonstrated that in fact, open-source software does have an economic return. And in addition to the many companies that are producing versions of Linux . . . there are also companies that are developing applications or modifications of open-source software for specialized business environments that are themselves open-source software. They are not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. And the reason they can make money is that the value provided by their businesses is service and support."

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