Ethical Considerations in Open-Source Software Usage

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Ethical Considerations in Open-Source Software Usage

  1. 1. I. Name Ahmad Atiq<br /> ACSG575<br /> Essay #2 – Ethical Considerations in Open-Source Software Usage<br /> <br />II. Introduction<br />The Open Source software movement came about in 1983 with the launch of the GNU project. Open sourced software was a radical idea to combat over priced and bloated proprietary software that was available at the time. The basic premise behind open sourced software was an individual or community of people who would all volunteer time and would work on software or components of software, and then they would make the source code widely available to the internet. At this point other interested programmers, would download the source code and contribute to the project for free. Often times, open source software will get bug fixes, and security patches much faster than propriety software. This was a major advantaged for open sourced software. It was also getting to the point were open sourced projects were better made and supported. This is because of the large community of people that worked together to roll out fixes and support the software. <br />Soon after several large open sourced projects gained attention and success all over the Internet for example the Firefox project. Larger companies began to take notice of the open source movement and recognized how lucrative it can be for their market. After the larger organizations wanted to add open sourced software into their own proprietary software this began to open a whole range of licensing problems. Some of these problems included not giving credit to the original programmers as well as not posting the source code of the software they used. According to the GNU project there are four rules a person must following when using open sourced software they are as followed: 1.) The freedom to run the program, for any purpose 2.) The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish 3.) The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor 4.) The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. (www.gnu.org) After large companies began to violate the basic rules of the GNU project the same open sourced programmers created a watch group for open sourced software. Everyone in this group was volunteers who want to protect open sourced projects from large organizations who do not want to follow the rules. The big issue is what are the moral responsibilities of companies, and the developers who work for them when using open sourced software that they may modify? Should larger companies have to formerly inform users that they are including free software components to their whole software package that they could find free on the internet? What does this mean for profits and the future of proprietary software?<br />III. Stakeholders<br />The major stakeholders in this moral issue are the developers, companies, and users. Developers of open sourced software have the most to gain and lose. They risk losing personal credit to the software they create as well as losing the actual software they have worked on to a larger entity that is trying to profit of their hard work. All programmers of open sourced software do not want their software to be picked off, and sold as it goes against the whole idea of having free software for use. Organizations are the next major stakeholders. Companies that develop proprietary software risk lost profits, and business to open sourced software if they fail to figure out a way to keep competitive. The best way for them to do this is to include open sourced software in their packages as a way to absorb the open sourced movement. Larger companies also risk problems when using open sourced software if they do not follow the GNU guidelines. One major problem is lawsuits from watch dog groups. Many times, the open source guidelines might go against the general goal of the company so often times they attempt to hide the source of their software from the developers as well as the users. Users are another stakeholder because they ultimately use the product that contains the software. Users have the right to know where the source of the software they are using is coming from. Also, they have the right to know that they have other options when it comes to software sources. The software that they are paying for that has been slightly modified for example could be found for free in its original form. <br />IV. Utilitarian Analysis<br />Utilitarian’s would always try and maximize utility in all situations. In general a Utilitarian school of thought would go for the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people. They feel that if the majority of people are happy then that is enough balance even though the minority tends to be over looked in some cases. The ethical question we are asking here is what are the general responsibilities of software companies when including open sourced software in there productions? We also ask the question of what moral rights do the developers who created this open sourced software have? As we apply a Utilitarian analysis to the first ethical question what are the general responsibilities of software companies when dealing with open sourced software? A Utilitarian would handle the situation as followed. Since the open source developers coded the programs, and make up a huge community they are therefore the majority. Companies are generally ran by people that do not know how to code, and so they make up the minority and are dependent on the open source community. The companies should have to keep the developers happy in the open source community if they continue to want to use their free software. No open sourced developer wants a large company to use free software that they created and package it off. A Utilitarian would have to release the source code and give credit to the open sourced developer namely because this would increase utility. A utilitarian is just concerned with keeping utility high in all situations. If companies do not want to risk being sued by watch groups, and possibly losing some of their own reputation as well then they are going to follow the rules of source sourced development. If they do this it would keep the developers happy, and the companies would still profit from using the software anyway. Utility as a whole is increased on both sides.<br />V. Deontological Analysis<br />When the Kantian view point is applied to this ethical situation one must remember that there needs to be a motive as well as a duty or obligation to something. The Deontological view point is much straight forward then the Utilitarian view point. Utilitarian’s concern themselves with the consequences of the action while anyone Kantian address the motive of the action as well as the duty the actor has to the action itself. If software companies pick up open sourced software they must abide by all rules regardless. The motive behind them using open sourced software is that they want to cut costs by using software that is widely available, and the quality of the program is just the same as proprietary software if not even better. Not only does the company save money, but the quality of the product is enhanced even more with costs staying virtually the same. All businesses want to increase profit while decreasing the amount of money they lose while developing. The perfect solution to this problem is just to pick up open sourced software they are not going to be charged for. Now the software companies are obligated to follow these binding rules, because they have a duty to follow the rules of the open sourced community as they willing made the choice to use them. The reason why they are bound by these rules is, because as soon as they decided to use the open sourced software it’s like they are signing an invisible contract that states a party must keep the code widely available to the public as well as letting people know its open sourced. Once the company does not follow these rules they have broken the contract and they are not fulfilling their obligations. <br />In both conclusions, I came to the same end results. Both theories have directed me to believe that companies must give credit when credit is due as this is only the fair and moral thing to do. In the Utilitarian argument by logically going through the argument and doing a cost-benefit analysis one begins to see the benefit for everyone if credit is given, and the code is made public as it was originally intended for. The risk of not following the rules of the open sourced community not only lowers the utility of both parties, but they also risk being sued as well. Not only does this mean monetary loss, but it can also mean reputation too. As for the Deontological view point I came to the same conclusion as the Utilitarian argument because the Kantian view point is pretty straight forward in its dealings. Once the motive and duty is figured out it’s a matter of being obligated to doing the right thing regardless of the situation. Arriving to this conclusion was easier then the Utilitarian view point. <br />As for the open sourced code of conduct let us being with the users and how they are to be treated and treat open source software. Users must be able to download and use open sourced software freely at all times. The users must also be able to use the fully functioning software and not get a trial version. Users who modified open source software and make their version available to the public must post the source code and follow the same rules of not charging people. Organizations that use open source software must also post source codes and give credit to the open source community at all times. Organizations follow these rules or risk the consequences. Developers must create programs that are not malicious in intend, post all source codes, and contribute to the open sourced community. Developers of open sourced software should not sell their software off, but leave it free for all. If all of these rules are followed then it is very possible for open source communities and large organizations to coexist and benefit from each other. <br />Works Cited<br />"The Free Software Definition - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation (FSF)." The GNU Operating System. Web. 22 Nov. 2010. <http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html>.<br />"IPL Local Logo." American Bar Association - Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice. Web. 22 Nov. 2010. <http://www.abanet.org/intelprop/opensource.html>.<br />"Open-Source as an Alternative to Commercial Software." Scribd. Web. 25 Nov. 2010. <http://www.scribd.com/doc/38918604/Open-Source-as-an-Alternative-to-Commercial-Software>.<br />Web. 28 Nov. 2010. <http://gpl-violations.org/>.<br />

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