Tech Industry

Open source's new weapon: The law?

Open-source advocates will unfurl a legislative proposal next week to prohibit the state of California from buying software from companies that don't open their source code.

Open-source software advocates will unfurl a legislative proposal next week to prohibit the state of California from buying software from Microsoft or any other company that doesn't open its source code and licensing policies.

Named the "Digital Software Security Act," the proposal essentially would make California the "Live Free or Die" state when it comes to software. If enacted as written, state agencies would be able to buy software only from companies that do not place restrictions on use or access to source code. The agencies would also be given the freedom to "make and distribute copies of the software."

"The legislative intent is that for software to be acceptable to the state, it is not enough that it is technically capable of fulfilling a task, but that the contractual condition for purchase and/or licensing must satisfy a series of requirements regarding the license," the proposal states.

Programmers and other open-source fans plan to march Thursday in San Francisco during the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo to promote their argument that Linux and other open-source projects can be used to prevent abuses by proprietary software companies such as Microsoft.

"Having had great success in gaining the support of several legislators, we are making a public announcement," said Walt Pennington, a San Diego attorney specializing in tort who is the driving force behind the bill. "We have planned several Sacramento meetings to surreptitiously lobby for this legislation."

Linux seller Red Hat will be among those backing legislation, Chief Operating Officer Michael Tiemann said.

"If we can get the open-source movement as excited about modifying legal code as they are about C++ and Java, I think they lobbying will take off itself," Tiemann said.

The point of the proposal isn't to punish developers of proprietary software. Instead, advocates point out that "closed" software adds costs and creates security risks, two problems the state needs to reduce.

Pennington has been discussing the bill with legislators, but a proposal won't be delivered to the legislature until Pennington rounds up more support, he said.

"It's code, hopefully soon to be legal code, and it requires the participation of an extraordinary number of people to get it good enough that people will like it," Tiemann said.

Other supporters include IBM, MandrakeSoft and Linux International, Pennington said.

When Tiemann talks about the bill at the San Francisco City Hall on Thursday, "Microsoft is going to flood San Diego with free hardware, free software and free services," Pennington predicted.