Of Open Source, Goods and Services


Open source is important not just because it is reshaping the computing landscape, but also because it prefigures broader changes throughout the whole of business. A case in point is the shift from goods – selling licences to software – to selling services for software whose licences cost nothing. This has interesting implications for the world of intellectual monopolies:

We have different systems of law to govern provision of goods or services, because they are very different in nature. Intellectual property sat uneasily between both worlds. While copyright works were sold as goods, they displayed a lot of the features of services. We even had case law which dealt precisely with the question of whether software was a good or a service.

However, digital technology has shifted that duality towards services. As we see more and more methods of providing creative works online at negligible cost, these works become services. Amazon still sells goods, but it is also providing an aggregated service through which I can download books and music (or I could, if I lived in the U.S., grumble, grumble...) When the copyright industry finally realises that we have shifted almost fully into the services economy, then we might see some real change. In the meantime, we are stuck with laughable attempts at controlling old media through outdated regulation methods, such as copyright term extension for performances, or the much-maligned ISP liability reform.