Asay points approvingly to a 2006 article by John Mark Walker, a self-described "community dude," who wrote a post (and now an ongoing blog with the same title) called "There is no open source community." Walker argued that the notion that open source software is controlled by a core group of "ideological believers" pushes away commercial customers "who are afraid of running afoul of the 'open source community.'"
And Navica CEO Bernard Golden expresses some impatience with those who complain about freeloading. "If a license says anyone can use it, that's what they have to live with. Presumably they made an informed choice [to use a particular license]."
Like it or not, open source companies are embracing parts of the commercial model, offering paid, enterprise versions of their software. And that can lead to nasty disputes like the old beef between SugarCRM and vTiger, or the more current matchup involving Bascula Systems and Zmanda.
Hardware makers: The new open source scofflaws
With open source adoption on the rise in the enterprise, the community (if there is such a thing) is struggling to adapt to a different set of rules. "When it comes to open source communities, individuals are much better citizens than institutions. The enlightened self-interest that causes individuals to send back bug fixes, contribute ideas for new features, and write documentation is much harder to find in institutions," Dan Woods, CTO of Evolved Media, wrote in Forbes earlier this year.
True enough. There are companies that pay little attention to the GNU General Public License (GPL) commonly used by open source applications -- though others are embracing it -- and its requirement that open source code be attributed and enhancements to it made public.
[ A federal court decision protecting open source code is good for developers, but it could open the floodgates of litigation. ]
Why that happens isn't simply a matter of corporate villainy. "Of the small minority of companies that don't comply [with the GPL], it's generally a case of laziness or ignorance, rather than a malicious attempt to get around the license," says Brad Kuhn, technology director of the Software Freedom Law Center.
Although Kuhn says he prefers education to litigation, the SFLC has waged several important lawsuits defending the GPL. Increasingly they involve embedded software in routers and other relatively inexpensive devices. Given the complexities of global commerce, it's not hard to see why the hardware business lends itself to open source abuse.
In 2007, the SFLC filed a lawsuit against Verizon on behalf of open source software developer BusyBox. The complaint alleged that Verizon infringed on BusyBox's copyrights by distributing Actiontec wireless routers to Verizon's broadband customers without properly making the BusyBox code available.