CyberTech Rambler

February 22, 2006

Trading Standard gets upset over free software

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 7:56 pm

There is one amusing story about UK Trading Standards (the body in charge of enforcing trade-related regulations) gets upset over Mozilla Foundation because anyone can distribute its software for a fee. In partcular, I like the following response from Trading Standards:

If Mozilla permit the sale of copied versions of its software, it makes it virtually impossible for us, from a practical point of view, to enforce UK anti-piracy legislation, as it is difficult for us to give general advice to businesses over what is/is not permitted.”

First of all, lets not be too harsh on the officer who made this comment. We should thank the officer for treating enforcement of copyrights equally across Free and Proprietory Software. Since Free Software cannot afford to finance outfit like Business Software Association to enforce its IP, we are more dependent on the good will of law enforcement officiers then proprietory software. It is great to see that they do take the trouble to protect our IP interest.
But, I would had thought that Trading Standards will be very happy that Mozilla just reduced their workload by making sales of copied versions of Mozilla software. Apparently, the situation is opposite.

I can see how a mixture of free and proprietory software in the market makes Trading Standard’s advice to business over software licensing more complicated then if there were only one type of software available. Then again, if there were only one type of software available, there is no need for Trading Standards to give any advice, is there? If I were a trading standard officier, I would be extremely happy to be able to advise businesses that they have the option of using free software if they do not want to pay for software.

However, I cannot understand how does Mozilla or other free softwares can make it “practically impossible” to enforce anti-piracy in UK. No doubt it means more work for the enforcement officers when sorting out non-infringing software from infringing software. However, isn’t that a routine work? The fact that the Trading Standard Officer decided to contact Mozilla Foundation before taking action shows that it is indeed routine work. Even in a pirate nest it is extremely likely to find non-infringing software. Mixture of legal/illegal software is usually the case with  most business outfit, even if the business outfit is using proprietory software only.

There is no doubt some retraining of Trading Standard Officers is needed to educate them about Free Software. However, it is part of routine updating of Trading Standard Officiers’ knowledge.

All in all, this case prove that besides explaining free software to the masses, it is also necessary to educate Law Enforcement about Free Software.

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