LinuxQuestions.org
Visit Jeremy's Blog.
Go Back   LinuxQuestions.org > Forums > Non-*NIX Forums > General
User Name
Password
General This forum is for non-technical general discussion which can include both Linux and non-Linux topics. Have fun!

Notices



Reply
 
Search this Thread
Old 05-10-2005, 09:04 PM   #1
firefly2442
Member
 
Registered: Apr 2003
Location: USA
Distribution: Ubuntu
Posts: 95

Rep: Reputation: 15
Question Ethical Issues in Open Source


Hello all. I need to write a paper on the Ethical Issues involving Open Source for a college class. Our textbook is "Readings in CyberEthics: Second Edition". There are two articles that I read that pertain to Open Source, one is "Ethical Issues in Open Source Software" by Frances S, Grodzinsky, Keith Miller, and Marty Wolf. It gives a good overview of Open Source and the history involved. The other article is the famous, "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" by Eric Raymond. Both were very interesting to read, however, I would like to take a different approach or "spin" on the topic. The history of OSS is well known so I don't want to go the route everyone takes on the issue. Does anyone have any unique takes or suggestions for interesting topics that I could pursue? Thanks in advance.
 
Old 05-12-2005, 12:29 PM   #2
stimpsonjcat
Member
 
Registered: Apr 2005
Location: switzerland
Distribution: debian etch
Posts: 99

Rep: Reputation: 15
you could also try to point out the difference between "open source" and "free software". this should be very interesting from an ethical point of view.
 
Old 05-12-2005, 12:45 PM   #3
geomatt
Member
 
Registered: Mar 2004
Location: PA
Distribution: Slackware 12.0
Posts: 315

Rep: Reputation: 30
Sounds interesting (to me at least as a college ethics prof....). What about something having to do with the questions I always get when I tell someone who has never heard about open source software about it: "But why would anyone give away their code for free? Shouldn't you have exclusive rights to something that you created? Are these geeks so dumb (or altruistic) that they don't really ever consider making some money off of this stuff?"

good luck,
geomatt
 
Old 05-12-2005, 01:16 PM   #4
stimpsonjcat
Member
 
Registered: Apr 2005
Location: switzerland
Distribution: debian etch
Posts: 99

Rep: Reputation: 15
Quote:
Originally posted by geomatt
"But why would anyone give away their code for free?"
this is a very good question, too. as a starting point, i'd suggest Lerner & Tirole, 2002, "some simple economics of open source", journal of industrial economics 50, 2.
and
Lakhani, Wolf, Robert, 2003, "why hackers do what they do: understanding motivation and effort in free/open source software projects", MIT sloan working paper no. 4425-03

economists know the answers to so many questions...
 
Old 05-12-2005, 02:03 PM   #5
PerfectReign
Member
 
Registered: Apr 2005
Location: Los Angeles
Distribution: openSUSE / Ubuntu
Posts: 294

Rep: Reputation: 33
How's this - you start off by bringing in some examples of what challenges the OSS community is facing in terms of patents and the like. You then move into a quick history of OSS. Don't forget the evil 1976 letters from Bill Gates where he derides OSS and marks a move from OSS to closed-source.

I'd say you then need to see how business has handled the open vs. closed issue. I remember as a kid making copies of my Apple II floppies using various cracking techniques. One of my buddies in Stuttgart even ran a software "trading" ring for Amstrad (and later Amiga) programs. This type of piracy has forced closed-source businesses to act in certian ways, while the OSS community acts in a different way. For example you could point out how OSS companies are enforcing the GPL just as closed-source companies try to enforce copy protection.
 
Old 05-12-2005, 02:38 PM   #6
J.W.
LQ Veteran
 
Registered: Mar 2003
Location: Milwaukee, WI
Distribution: Mint
Posts: 6,642

Rep: Reputation: 69
Personally, I do not see how ethics and OSS intersect. If we define ethics as dealing with what is right and wrong, and someone's obligation to act towards the good side, then ethics in the context of OSS would seem to imply that people would have a duty to create OS software, and the concept of "mandatory volunteerism" seems contradictory to me. In other words OSS is done on a voluntary basis, and the work is being donated.

A much more interesting ethical question to me would be the examination of ethics within a closed source shop. If a developer *knew* (or discovered) that a certain design flaw existed, which could be exploited and consequently could harm or negatively affect its userbase, but the developer could not speak out about it publicly (due to the risk he/she would be fired), then that would be an interesting ethical dilemma. It would be analogous to an automotive designer discovering that the antilock braking system could fail entirely if a certain set of very remote conditions were present. Should a person in that scenario just keep their mouth shut and act surprised when the flaw is discovered, or should that person fight the corporate bureaucracy and try to get it fixed? And, if it's the latter, how far should the person go? To me, that's an interesting conversation. Just my 2 cents -- J.W.
 
Old 05-12-2005, 02:59 PM   #7
firefly2442
Member
 
Registered: Apr 2003
Location: USA
Distribution: Ubuntu
Posts: 95

Original Poster
Rep: Reputation: 15
Thank you for the replies everyone. Keep them coming.

@J.W.

I think the ethical issues involving this are much broader. For example, if one was taking a utilitarian standpoint, then Free Software would be the best way to go. Since it's open to everyone, lots of people benefit. OSS by some is considered a "public good".
 
Old 05-12-2005, 05:32 PM   #8
PerfectReign
Member
 
Registered: Apr 2005
Location: Los Angeles
Distribution: openSUSE / Ubuntu
Posts: 294

Rep: Reputation: 33
Quote:
Originally posted by J.W.
Personally, I do not see how ethics and OSS intersect. If we define ethics as dealing with what is right and wrong, and someone's obligation to act towards the good side, then ethics in the context of OSS would seem to imply that people would have a duty to create OS software, and the concept of "mandatory volunteerism" seems contradictory to me. In other words OSS is done on a voluntary basis, and the work is being donated.
Respectfully disagreeing, I think ethics and OSS (like many things) have many intersections.

Your arguement is valid from your POV. However, there are many other avenues that I can think of right now. For example. I write an OSS applicaiton, charge $50 for it and get a nice business going.

Someone else, takes my code (which is within their legal rights), slaps a new label on it and markets it as better than my code thus taking my business away.

Is that ethical? I'm not going to answer, I'm just pointing out that there are issues here, which may or may not need to be delt with.

Quote:
Originally posted by J.W.
A much more interesting ethical question to me would be the examination of ethics within a closed source shop. If a developer *knew* (or discovered) that a certain design flaw existed, which could be exploited and consequently could harm or negatively affect its userbase, but the developer could not speak out about it publicly (due to the risk he/she would be fired), then that would be an interesting ethical dilemma. It would be analogous to an automotive designer discovering that the antilock braking system could fail entirely if a certain set of very remote conditions were present. Should a person in that scenario just keep their mouth shut and act surprised when the flaw is discovered, or should that person fight the corporate bureaucracy and try to get it fixed? And, if it's the latter, how far should the person go? To me, that's an interesting conversation. Just my 2 cents -- J.W.
That is an interesting conversation. Also a very real possibility. Where does one draw the line between corporate secrets and averting a dangerous issue? I'm sure there have been many in this situation. Fortunately, in my short professional career (12-years) I haven't run into such an issue. I also haven't been working with any groups who have made me tight-lipped about code issues.
 
Old 05-12-2005, 05:44 PM   #9
stimpsonjcat
Member
 
Registered: Apr 2005
Location: switzerland
Distribution: debian etch
Posts: 99

Rep: Reputation: 15
Quote:
Originally posted by firefly2442
For example, if one was taking a utilitarian standpoint, then Free Software would be the best way to go.
hmm, I think it's not that simple. being an economist I supposably have no clue about ethics but this is really the crux behind the debate over copyright and patent law - would the lack or extensive violation of these laws, as bill gates put it in 1976, "prevent good software from being written"? if so, then from an utilitarian point of view the open source "production model" is inferior to the traditional proprietary model and politicians should not promote the use of copylefted software. but this is exactly what the open source initiative controverts - they say that the community produces better software. naturally, this statement is hard to prove but it has nothing to do with ethics. the only place to look for ethics in open source software development is in the programmers' individual motivations. the free software foundation takes a different approach here. they don't even care about which method produces better software. in their opinion proprietary software is simply antisocial and takes away people's freedom. so it is not just about whether a program suits your requirements and how much it costs. they have very strong social ethical values.

sorry for my language I'm not a native english speaker.
bill's letter is always a good starting point of course. if you have to quote it from a "serious" source, try "fire in the valley" by freiberger and swayne. or the original magazine if you can find it (I didn't)
stimpy
 
Old 05-12-2005, 06:39 PM   #10
geomatt
Member
 
Registered: Mar 2004
Location: PA
Distribution: Slackware 12.0
Posts: 315

Rep: Reputation: 30
Some of you seem to me to be right that Open Source per se is not an ethics issue. It's more a matter of which software development model works best. Of course what it means for software to work is exactly what's at issue - if "working" means making Software, Inc. a ton of money from delivering finished products and the upgrades needed when the finished product no longer seems so finished, then maybe closed source works. But if "working" means something more like being part of a work in progress, then I think many people who post here would agree, open source works best. I guess that's the issue - is software like a manufactured product with proprietary techniques used to produce it, or is it more like scientific research, something best pursued out in the open?

-geomatt


p.s. Hey stimpsonjcat thanks for the references to those articles.

Last edited by geomatt; 05-12-2005 at 06:41 PM.
 
Old 05-12-2005, 06:54 PM   #11
J.W.
LQ Veteran
 
Registered: Mar 2003
Location: Milwaukee, WI
Distribution: Mint
Posts: 6,642

Rep: Reputation: 69
Quote:
Originally posted by PerfectReign
For example. I write an OSS applicaiton, charge $50 for it and get a nice business going.

Someone else, takes my code (which is within their legal rights), slaps a new label on it and markets it as better than my code thus taking my business away.

Is that ethical? I'm not going to answer....
Ah, but you should. I would contend that if you build a business based on OS software that you've released, then it is a known risk that someone else could come along and improve it, regardless of whether that improvement is merely cosmetic or whether it's functional. (Heck, if you build *any* sort of business in any field at all you will have competition, that's just the way it is.) Indeed, by making your code available as OSS you are explicitly giving your permission to others to do with it what they will. In other words anything goes, and since anyone can make any change they want to the code, I would say the question of right vs wrong just doesn't apply. Consider it this way: If someone freely offers something to you, whether it's a brochure, a chocolate chip cookie, a software program, etc, etc, is there a right or wrong response? I'd say No. If I accept whatever they're handing out, that's fine, if I don't, that's fine as well, and if I accept it and then do something else with it, that's fine too. After all, they gave it to me of their own free will, and there is no ethical question that applies to this situation (sort of like asking "what's your favorite color?") Instead, ethical questions can only exist in an environment where there is good vs bad or right vs wrong, and while I completely agree that if someone is giving away something of value to the public it would be a social good, however, I still don't really see that it enters the field of ethics. That's just me though.

Certainly there are no shortage of ethical questions related to computers/software, but at least to me they exist in other areas. Suppose for example that you discover that a neighbor or business down the street has set up wireless access, but they've neglected to secure it and it appears that certain materials are exposed that probably shouldn't be. Are there ethical considerations there? (I would say Yes.) In any case, I don't mean to go off on a tangent, or to steer firefly2442's thread in another direction, so I'll keep quiet. Please carry on -- J.W.
 
Old 05-12-2005, 08:44 PM   #12
firefly2442
Member
 
Registered: Apr 2003
Location: USA
Distribution: Ubuntu
Posts: 95

Original Poster
Rep: Reputation: 15
There actually was a case where someone died or almost died because they recieved massive doses of radiation. The programmer who coded the machine to give the kemotherapy did not acount for a very specific key sequence to be pressed. When the nurse pushed these buttons all at once... well, it wasn't good. The point is, should the programmer be liable? Is the nurse liable at all? What ethical responsibilities does a programmer have to make sure his or her product works correctly?
 
Old 05-13-2005, 06:38 AM   #13
stimpsonjcat
Member
 
Registered: Apr 2005
Location: switzerland
Distribution: debian etch
Posts: 99

Rep: Reputation: 15
Quote:
Originally posted by geomatt
is software like a manufactured product with proprietary techniques used to produce it, or is it more like scientific research, something best pursued out in the open?
this is a very good analogy. especially if you compare the motivations of the programmers with those of scientists. and the rewards are similar, too. open source has been the uncontested "development model" of science for hundreds of years. so it seems that information - the output of scientific research - is best produced this way. software is just another kind of information - once produced it never depreciates and is very cheap to reproduce (like a cooking recipe or Einstein's theory of relativity). so for me it is natural to have software developed this way, without hidden source, copy protection and with prices near zero.
through the advances of computer technology some non-information goods have made a transition towards information goods in the past few years, e.g. music. but this is a different story..

firefly244, as for the programmer of that chemotherapy software I don't see why it should make a difference whether the program is open source or not.

Quote:
Originally posted by geomatt
p.s. Hey stimpsonjcat thanks for the references to those articles.
you're welcome, I wrote my thesis on a similar subject and had them at hand. I'm not a programmer but I'm very interested in topics like these.
stimpy
 
Old 05-13-2005, 08:47 AM   #14
firefly2442
Member
 
Registered: Apr 2003
Location: USA
Distribution: Ubuntu
Posts: 95

Original Poster
Rep: Reputation: 15
Quote:
Originally posted by stimpsonjcat
firefly244, as for the programmer of that chemotherapy software I don't see why it should make a difference whether the program is open source or not.
Right, I was just putting an example out there.
 
Old 05-13-2005, 01:59 PM   #15
Venefyxatu
LQ Newbie
 
Registered: May 2005
Location: Belgium
Distribution: Gentoo
Posts: 18

Rep: Reputation: 0
On a slightly off-topic note : I, for one, would be interested in reading your paper when it's done (if you want to share it, that is ).
 
  


Reply


Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off


Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
What is the best platform of Linux for ethical-hackers? maximus1u2 Linux - General 2 02-24-2005 12:09 PM
Whats the best plateform of linux for ethical hackers? maximus1u2 Linux - General 8 02-22-2005 06:35 AM
An ethical question about Mandrake Dreamcast Mandriva 5 07-15-2004 07:13 AM
Open source release - disability issues Nimoy Linux - General 1 01-14-2004 03:21 PM
Gentoo - Ethical? bkeating Linux - Distributions 17 04-15-2003 07:22 PM


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 06:12 PM.

Main Menu
Advertisement
My LQ
Write for LQ
LinuxQuestions.org is looking for people interested in writing Editorials, Articles, Reviews, and more. If you'd like to contribute content, let us know.
Main Menu
Syndicate
RSS1  Latest Threads
RSS1  LQ News
Twitter: @linuxquestions
identi.ca: @linuxquestions
Facebook: linuxquestions Google+: linuxquestions
Open Source Consulting | Domain Registration