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Smithsonian campaign and hacker tax credit

Here’s a twofer to give you some more reading matter over the long weekend:

A friend sent me this internet campaign to shed public light on the secret Smithsonian/Showtime contract that would give Showtime a 30 year, non-competitive stranglehold on Smithsonian (i.e. public domain!) archives. Background on the story can be found at boingboing. If you want to be added as a signatory, please send email to Carl Malamud (carl@media.org) no later than Sunday, November 25, 2006.

After, I signed the letter, I was looking around the public.resource site and came across another campaign (perhaps dated but still viable!) that Carl had put together calling for a hacker tax credit! The basic idea is that open source software, because it is the driving force behind our new information culture, should be supported publically so that more growth can happen. Check out the text of the letter below that Malamud suggests you send to your Congresspeople. This campaign, as I said earlier, may be dated (he lists Vice President Al Gore as a suggested addressee), but open source software (sometimes called FLOSS) is still something for which we should all be advocating!

Pablo Picasso once said that good art is created, but great art is stolen. On the Internet, the same holds true. Good code is created, but great code is copied over and over.

The Internet was created from open source software, code that people can freely use to build new code, to run their networks, to create a new business, or to build a service that people can use.

Take for example the work of Paul Vixie, who has placed in the public domain the software that the Domain Name System runs on. This software has been used by every major Internet Service Provider and has been bundled into the operating system products of IBM, DEC, Silicon Graphics, and Sun.

Open source software created the Internet, and created the economic boom we now see in Silicon Valley. Most of the large web sites in the world run on the open source Apache web server. The $4 billion Netscape Corporation was built from the open source Mosaic. The PERL programming language was created as open source, but now fuels over $100 million in book sales for publishers like O’Reilly & Associates.

But, we are eating our seed corn. There is no systematic national effort to create open source software and it is increasingly difficult to keep this infrastructure alive. For every success story like Apache, there are dozens of projects that languish because of the lack of formal support for open source projects.

In the global village, open source software is not an alternative to commercial software, just as in our real cities public parks are not an alternative to our commercial districts. The parks make our cities thrive, and thriving cities are a good place to do business.

It is a happy accident that we have open source software, but there are simple steps that the federal government can take to provide even more fuel for the growth of our information economy. Here is a simple algorithm for a Hacker Tax Credit that could be added to the U.S. Code:

      if {
            You produce software that is in the public domain ; 

      } andif {
            That software is used by at least 1000 people ; 

      } then {
            You may deduct your development and operational costs from your gross income for tax purposes ; } 

If the U.S. Congress could compile this simple subroutine into the U.S. Code, this simple step would have a greater effect than any cuts in capital gain taxes. I urge you to consider steps that the U.S. Congress can take to insure a strategic national reserve of open source software.


Carl Malamud

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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