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Argentine football, squatters, and the rule of law

I attended a somewhat scary football match today that got me thinking about open source and its views on IP.

I watched Argentinia smack Chile down tonight (2-0), and found the experience of attending the match fascinating, and a little scary. I've been to a lot of games over in England, where things can get a bit dicey, but this was the first time that I actually feared for my safety.

Why? Because the crowd didn't seem to abide by any particular laws. I watched this man get shouted out of the stadium. Why? Because he bought a ticket for himself and his wife and tried to sit in his seats. When he asked the squatters who occupied his seats to move, he was jeered and booed until he gave up his seats.

In fact, no one (including us, since when we arrived people were in our seats) seemed to sit in their assigned seats. I was scared to use the restroom because I figured doing so would be tantamount to surrendering my seats. Other fans had it worse: they were separated from the field by razor wire which was intended to keep them from attacking visiting fans. It felt a bit like the Wild West....

I think sometimes Microsoft and the proprietary world think that open-source developers think like the seat-squatters in Argentina. I suspect that this is one reason that Ballmer can make claims about patent infringement with a straight face, as if open-source developers flaunt IP laws casually. But he, and those who think like him, are wrong.

Open-source developers, including both individual developers and commercial developers, care deeply about intellectual property. It is the foundation for everything we do. Without copyright law, there is no copyleft. Without IP, there is nothing to contribute. There is no freedom to protect.

What the proprietary world doesn't seem to grasp is that one can care deeply about IP and still give it away. Intentionally. Either out of philosophical principle or out of competitive, capitalist strategy.

The proprietary world seems to want to say, "There's only one way to play this game. It's the way it's always been played." But the open-source world, as can be seen in this picture of my daughter watching a game of calle (street soccer) in the Boca barrio of Buenos Aires, wants to play roughly the same game (software), but in a different context.

Sometimes open-source developers are interested in just playing the game in a friendly, calle fashion. Other times, it's pure business. In either case, Microsoft and its ilk don't seem to grok the nuances of the open-source game and so castigate it as lawless or simply disrespectful of IP (like my seat squatters).

We may choose to emphasize different rules over others, but open source depends on rules, just like the proprietary world does. We don't want to operate in an anarchic industry where people steal code any more than Microsoft does. Open source respects intellectual property, and creates a tremendous amount of it. We, too, want to pay for a seat (develop our code) and know that we can sit down in it (contribute it back and protect it).

We're really no different, except that we choose to share rather than horde. But we can only share on the same foundation of law that proprietary vendors use to horde. There are no seat squatters here.