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?

US Supreme Court looks like one of the biggest losers here


I have just read an excellent account of the events around the US Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act (aka ‘Obamacare’).

English: West face of the United States Suprem...
English: West face of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. Español: Edificio de la Corte Suprema de Estados Unidos en Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

If you love news and journalism it’s a ripping tale and one in which CNN and Fox News both end up with egg over their faces (though at least CNN admitted their mistake – Fox never did).

But both journalistic organisations were principally guilty of trying too hard, not of a worse crime.

But what are we to make of the Supreme Court itself:

The Supreme Court will not grant SCOTUSblog a press credential. 

This is despite the fact that literally millions read it and other media organisations and the White House are relying on it to interpret the ruling.

The Court’s own technical staff prepares to load the opinion on to the Court’s website.  In years past, the Court would have emailed copies of the decision to the Solicitor General and the parties’ lawyers once it was announced.  But now it relies only on its website, where opinions are released approximately two minutes later.  The week before, the Court declined our request that it distribute this opinion to the press by email; it has complete faith in the exceptional effort it has made to ensure that the website will not fail.

But it does.  At this moment, the website is the subject of perhaps greater demand than any other site on the Internet – ever.  It is the one and only place where anyone in the country not at the building – including not just the public, but press editors and the White House – can get the ruling.  And millions of people are now on the site anxiously looking for the decision.  They multiply the burden of their individual visits many times over – hitting refresh again, and again, and again.  In the face of the crushing demand, the Court cannot publish its own decision.

The opinion will not appear on the website for a half-hour.  So everyone in the country not personally at 1 First St., NE in Washington, DC is completely dependent on the press to get the decision right.

Not good.

OK, not my country, but it looks like the court is struggling to update its approach to communications.