President Obama’s campaign and free software

It seems a row has broken out between staff on President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign over the fate of the free software it produced (the article linked President Barack Obamahere refers to it all as “open source” but on this issue I tend to side with RMS and not ESR).

Actually I do not blame the DNC at all for not wanting to release any source (if that is what they want to do – it is not entirely clear). It would simply be foolish to surrender an advantage they have over their opponents if there is no need to do so. Nor does there appear to be any ethical issue involved: the core idea of the free software movement is surely that any user of software should have access to the source code out of which it is built. If the DNC does not distribute the software then they are under no moral or any other obligation to hand out the source code.

By far the worst idea the article talks of is selling the software: that would truly be a breach of the ethics of free software – because plainly trying to use the built software as a revenue stream means keeping the software hidden or forcing users, 1970s Unix-style, to sign NDAs. Either of those is worse than keeping a piece of private software private.

There is a wider question, of course, could distributing the software help build a better world. But if the distribution helps the US republican party, then surely the answer for the DNC is no?