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Free Software at Risk Under Lemon law

timothy posted more than 12 years ago | from the officialism-and-its-discontents dept.

United States 393

mpawlo writes: "Newsforge published a piece I wrote on a lemon law for software. That is - what would happen if shrinkwrap limitation of liability clauses would be banned? I think Microsoft and the GNU Project would both suffer."

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Don't you come around here no more... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3506904)

This place is not a place of honor.

No highly esteemed deed is commemorated here.

Nothing valued is here.

This post is a troll and part of a system of trolls.

Pay attention to it!

Sending this message was important to us.

We consider ourselves to be a powerful culture.

Nice job, Moderators! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3506924)

Modded down to troll in under two minutes!

Beat my new land speed record, fools!

jiggle (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3506906)


Things To Do Today (-1)

Things To Do Today (576443) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506983)

1. Divorce wife

2. Buy a cute little sheep

Re:jiggle (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3506989)

This is the best post I've ever seen.

Another opportunity for you to bash Microsoft. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3506907)

If there was such a law against open source software, you would all bitch and moan until the cows came home. But when it's gonna control Microsoft's innovations, you gotta take every opportunity to tear them down.

Really? (5, Insightful)

sheldon (2322) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506912)

I love this little quip:
"We all know that the open and distributed model for development described in Eric S. Raymond's book "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" is much better and creates more reliable products than any closed non-distributed development model. "

I'm wondering if the author can substantiate this claim with facts.

This is the primary problem with Open Source advocacy, it relies a lot upon blind faith.

Moderators on crack!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3506964)

Really, people, this guy's got a great point. Perhaps that last bit was unnecessary,b ut the rest of the post is rather inshgitful, IMHO.

Re:Really? (3, Insightful)

totallygeek (263191) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506982)

"We all know that the open and distributed model for development described in Eric S. Raymond's book "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" is much better and creates more reliable products than any closed non-distributed development model. "

I'm wondering if the author can substantiate this claim with facts.

I think that facts can be referenced by security incidents, patches, and accessibility on complete products. One of the problems with open-source systems: a lot don't go 1.0. If the program works great, but never goes 1.0 release then no one can critique its bugs because it is still in development.

To be fair to closed-source projects, you cannot group Microsoft Windows into the same catagory with something like Unicos. Both are closed-source, but Unicos is particularly designed for a specific platform on specific hardware, where Windows is designed to run on a handful of platforms (NT on MIPS, PPC, etc, and "regular" Windows on x86->P4) and on just about any hardware thrown at it. Windows would be more stable (forget security for a sec) if people would keep it running on hardware designed for Windows with proper drivers sanctioned by Microsoft.

As for open-source there are many pieces of software that just plain suck! We all need to be honest!

Re:Really? (1)

catman (1412) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507001)

Yes, really.

But it is quite characteristic of those who oppose Open Source to label all supporting evidence as "anecdotal" and pooh-pooh it. Not blind faith - experience. Don't you think we would have switched back if the OSS really wasn't better?
After all, most of us did get Windows pre-installed on the computers we bought ... I still have a legal Windows-98 partition on this computer, complete with Microsoft Office software from my employer's license pool. But I hardly ever use it - last time I booted it was to help a Win98 user who was stuck on a configuration problem.

Normally I use Windows when I'm paid to do so.

Re:Really? (2)

sheldon (2322) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507081)

But anecdotal evidence is just that, it is solely your experience.

Is GIMP really better than Photoshop? That's what this author is claiming in his quote. Are you claiming the same?

Re:Really? (2)

NoMoreNicksLeft (516230) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507118)

Gimp can do almost everything that Photoshop can. It's GUI is everey bit as intuitive (not that either are particulary so) as PS, and much more modern looking. My god, Adobe cranked those damn toolbars out in the MacOS 6 days and never updated them. Sick.

So just where does Gimp actually fail and PS suceed? Nay-sayers are always picking on Gimp, including many people who work with PS alot. Yet when it comes to specific criticisms, no one says a damn thing. You think the Gimp team wouldn't mind some honest criticisms? You could expect fixes within weeks.

Most people that rant about it, are simply pissed that they've learned to work around Adobe's cruddy flaws for years, and that experience would be useless if they switch to Gimp. Boo fucking Hoo.

And Gimp isn't even a particularly good example for OSS. If I were choosing unfairly, I could find many more favorable examples.

Re:Really? (2)

Moridineas (213502) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507135)

Well, if you're looking for criticisms for gimp, i'll say, as an intermediate user of both gimp and ps, I find gimp infinitely harder to use...unlike you, I think the interface of PS is MUCH better than gimp, and takes much much less getting used to. Just because it hasn't changed much doesn't mean it's bad--if it ain't broke don't fix it. Other than the interface, there are lots of small things I have problems with--the cut/copy/paste features of gimp aren't up there with photoshop. One small example--in PS, if I make a selection and copy, and then do new document, the new document is sized to start with the right dimension...not so in GIMP. It's the polish that I find GIMP lacking.

Can't find my way home (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3507044)

Come down from your throne, and leave your body 'lone
Somebody must change
You are the reason I've been waiting so long
Somebody holds the key

Well I'm weary and I just ain't got the time
Oh, and I'm wasted and I can't find my home

Come down on your own, and leave your body 'lone
Somebody must change
You are the reason I've been waiting all these years
Somebody holds the key

Well I'm weary and I just ain't got the time
Oh, and I'm wasted and I can't find my home

Troll? Please. He asks a serious question. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3507104)

And a question that many, many businesses will ask themselves before considering open source solutions, be they GPL or any other licensing.

I believe open source products are better than closed source proprietary products.

One word. Apache. Most widely used web server.

Two words. Open Office. Yes, not as feature laden as Microsoft Office, but MS has had a lot longer to get to that point. As it stands, Open Office is fully usable and a damned high quality piece of software.

Samba. I've seen it work better than Microsoft's own SMB implementations, and not for lack of configuration on boxes.

And those are 'big' projects, with lots of support. I'd take Apache over IIS any day, same with Samba. If I wasn't on a 56k, I'd be using Open Office instead of Microsoft Office. Why? Quality. Speed. Efficiency.

Big projects.. Everyone expects them to be great and usable. What about all the smaller projects, of which there's a few thousand running around?

I admit, many of them are bug-ridden crap.

But should we look at Microsoft operating systems?
How many programs are commercially availible for any version of Windows that don't measure up to even the lowest standards?

I think, for now at least, that open source products have a lower crap to "w00t!" ratio than commercial products. That could change, though, especially with the growing popularity of open source.

Re:Really? (1)

dirvish (574948) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507126)

Currently a mainstream open-source project that is better than its closed-source equivalent is a rare thing. But I think the open-source community is catching up (making up lost ground?). I see more and more quality open source projects all the time but if there is no funding it is hard to get a project out of development. Industry standards like Windows, Photoshop and Dreamweaver are going to be hard to beat but I think the open-source community is up to the challenge...although it is going to a while longer before there are any real challengers. For inspiration look at Mozilla, I for one would rather use it than IE and it isn't even to version 1 yet (almost).

CmdrTaco - US flag desecrator and Anti-Delawarian! (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3506919)

As noted on the Smithsonian Institution's site [] [], the first official American flag had thirteen stars and thirteen stripes, each representing one of the thirteen original states.

The flag icon for Slashdot's 'United States' section [] [] is missing its first stripe - the stripe that represents Delaware, the first state admitted to the Union. While a simple oversight could be forgiven, it should be known from here on out that Slashdot is in fact aware of the missing stripe, and even worse, refuses to do anything about it! [] []

This vulgar flag desecration and rabid anti-Delawarism must be put to a stop. Let the Slashdot crew know that we will not accept a knowingly mutilated flag or the insinuation that Delawarians deserve to be cut out of the union. I ask you, what has Delaware done to deserve this insolence, this wanton disregard, this bigotry?

This intentional disregard of a vital national symbol is unpatriotic. Why, the flippant remarks CmdrTaco made about our flag border on terrorism! I urge you to join the protest in each 'United States' story. Sacrifice your karma for your country by pointing out this injustice. Let's all work together to get our flag back. Can you give your country any less?

Re:CmdrTaco - US flag desecrator and Anti-Delawari (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3506979)

Hey, CmdrTaco, are you paid $90,000 a year to do things to irritate your users? Why can't you fix the dang flag?

Re:CmdrTaco - US flag desecrator and Anti-Delawari (-1, Troll)

Faulty Dreamer (259659) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506992)

this is not offtopic. this is a very serious thing for any proud freedom-loving american..

When you desecrate the American flag like slashdot is doing, many people will be offended. The flag is an important symbol of freedom and rememberance of those who sacrificed their lives for it. And for Taco would blithely ignore it shows what an ignorant ass he is. He surely wouldn't display a cross or Star of David symbol incorrectly.

Or this could be a way for them to show how anti-america they are. Considering this site's hate America crowd, I'm not surprised.

any law like this would be stupid (1)

NotAnotherReboot (262125) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506923)

given the nature of software and hardware today, it would be impossible to have a law that would do any good to anyone that would make them liable for your problems.

the only way I could see it EVER possibly working is by saying that the manufacturer must make both the hardware AND the software, otherwise there's no reason in blaming them for every problem you have. The only thing I'd see coming out of this is microsoft taking over all aspects of computer sales.

I seriously hope no one is serious about something like this.

Free Software - Refund the purchase price. (1)

Joe U (443617) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506930)

Lets apply this to Linux for a sec. Most distros are free, and those you pay for are usually just the CD charge.

If it fell under lemon laws, what would be the return price?

(You could always come up with really good warranty info too. Such as, 'this program is designed to destroy your computer, install at your own risk.' Then get vague on the destroy part.)

Re:Free Software - Refund the purchase price. (1)

DarkSkiesAhead (562955) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506985)

If it fell under lemon laws, what would be the return price?
It's not about the return price. It's about liability. Imagine if your code caused a web server for a commercial site to crash and they sued you for damages incurred from the down time.

But really... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3506931)

...why should the software industry be able to screw-up and just walk away?

Anyone else has to be responsible for their products and so should we.

This applies to both commercial and open source software.

anonymous coders (1)

Economist (466965) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506933)

I would suspect that there were gonna be a whole lot of anonymous coders in the Open Source Community. That way they still have their beloved Open Source, and they do not risk the liability charges.

Re:anonymous coders (2)

sydb (176695) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506975)

Yes but all Free software would have to be public domain; no GPL, which relies on copyright, as you can't have an anonymous copyright holder.

In fact I don't see how you can clearly submit a work to be in the public domain unless you identify yourself as it's author. Remember, all works are automatically protected under copyright upon creation, whether you add the magical Copyright (c) sydb 2002 or not.

Re:anonymous coders (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3507111)

Microsoft is into its blitzkriege trying to screw with everyone and now they have got some fuckers that they bribed to try to push a plan at just the right time to influence the trial Judge and the DOJ. I find it well sic that this pattern if shit has a strong lets say smell from Bill Gates Ass. Divide and conquer yep ole Bill Gates is really a cunning old Son of A Bitch. Prepare for more breaking news to come until the Federal Judge orders the Bastard Bill Gates to behave. For a laugh read Microsofts EULA that says NO Warranty at All, ASIS, ect... It looks like to me that people have more protections and rights under GPL then Microsofts EULA. Yeah Bill Gates you suck trying to get more money from the schools by extortion counting linux boxes as windows boxes what a fucking joke sic.....

Responsibility (1)

JanusFury (452699) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506939)

Software developers have long been completely irresponsible in testing and securing their products, a move like this would truly revolutionize the software industry.

Gone would be the crappy software like Windows 9x, RealPlayer, AOL, etc. Riddled with holes and bugs, corrupting system installations and destroying data. When developers are finally held responsible for their own mistakes and screwups, the software industry will be a better place.

We might finally see a version of Windows that doesn't suck, and that would be a good thing for EVERYONE. Not to mention that crappy software like RealPlayer would be forced to improve, benefitting consumers AND media developers.

Re:Responsibility (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3507053)

Or you might see no new software at all...

There *is* software that is written for maximum stability - used in aerospace, medical applications, etc.

Usually it:

- runs as a closed box and doesn't communicate with anything it wasn't specified for at the outset. A new interface needs coding and testing by the developers on *both* sides. Oh and any CPU upgrade needs to be planned, specified and tested.

- has an antediluvian user interface - see airline CRS's for instance

- has around 10 times as many bureaucrats as programmers employed in its development

So you'd be running DOS12.0 - a stable, solid DOS, every instruction checked and rechecked, never crashes. Wouldn't support any machine beyound a 386 though. Any software would have to be licensed by agreement (ironically with MS). RealPlayer / Windows - forget it!!

Re:Responsibility (1)

DarkSkiesAhead (562955) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507079)

Gone would be the crappy software like Windows 9x, RealPlayer, AOL, etc. Riddled with holes and bugs, corrupting system installations and destroying data. When developers are finally held responsible for their own mistakes and screwups, the software industry will be a better place.
You are obviously not a programmer. You have no idea of how monumental a task it is to create a perfect, bug-free application.

I myself spend much time griping about the bugs in Windows and other crappy MS products. MS is careless and their software has far to many bugs. But, as much as I dislike MS I also understand how impossible it would be for their code to be released 100% bug-free. No product testing group in the world could find all the bugs in a product as large and complicated as an operating system that consists of millions of lines of code. We would have to test a product for years before releasing it. Some Windows bugs aren't found for years even with millions of people using it.

I love linux partly because it is has far fewer bugs than Windows. But, linux still has bugs. It will never be 100% bug-free either. That's what user feedback is all about. Then the bugs are fixed. This system works pretty well.

No large scale development project will ever be completely free of bugs. Don't expect some silly law to change this.

FUCK ASS FUXX (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3506941)

do it to your ass n0w. better than l4t3r.

Again with the weird grammar (-1, Offtopic)

Mrdzone (562353) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506942)

Does anyone else think that the capitalization in the title is mighty random.

Re:Again with the weird grammar (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3506974)

No, but you missed off the question mark on your post.

How does GNU suffer ? (4, Insightful)

blakestah (91866) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506949)

I am not sure the author of this thought it through. Consider the 2 cases - the GPL software, and Microsoft software.

GPL software liability would be born by the distributors, and not by the authors (as the article claims). Distributors of software merely need to be reasonably accurate as to the capabilities of their software. Authors of software have no real issues.

Microsoft has a lot of its retail sales go through OEM manufacturers. Those OEMs would bear a heavy liability. So you can predict that the OEMs would rapidly reconfigure Windows to turn off all the nasties like ActiveX, auto-execution of attachments, automatic installation of servers like IIS, macro executable capabilities in Office, etc. Essentially, they would make Windows secure by default.

But I think reasonable liability for software sellers is a good thing.

Re:How does GNU suffer ? (1)

oPless (63249) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506984)

And you think M$ would allow an OEM to unbundle items like this?

They've already said "You cant remove the browser"


Re:How does GNU suffer ? (2, Insightful)

Surak (18578) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507038)

GPL software liability would be born by the distributors, and not by the authors (as the article claims). Distributors of software merely need to be reasonably accurate as to the capabilities of their software. Authors of software have no real issues.

Yep. IANAL, but liability attorneys aren't likely to sue Open Source authors because A) there was no money actually paid to them by customers, and B) Open Source authors aren't likely to have as much in the way of financial resources as the software publishers. When you sue in a liability case, you go for the deep pockets.

Re:How does GNU suffer ? (2)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507116)

Yep. IANAL, but liability attorneys aren't likely to sue Open Source authors because A) there was no money actually paid to them by customers, and B) Open Source authors aren't likely to have as much in the way of financial resources as the software publishers. When you sue in a liability case, you go for the deep pockets.

How about corporations that contributed to thr free software codebase? They may just hav ethe deep pockets or insurance to cover a claim. In addiotn, with enough people writing code, *someone* may just have enough assets to cover a claim. I guess, in theory, someone could name everyone involved with the development of the code and then collect from homever has the assets. Even if you have no money, the threat of being sued may be enough to stifle development. As for companies, they'd have to think before getting involved with free software about the liability danger.

Re:How does GNU suffer ? (3, Insightful)

Ooblek (544753) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507121)

Well that just solves everything! Oh, wait, without distributors, how is OS software disseminated to the general public on the scale it needs to be in order to get any market share? Oh, that would be the distributors!

I'm going to now go out and make a distributing company! Yes, now not only do I have to peer review EVERY line of code that goes into what I distribute, but I have to accept liability for it if it screws up! Yeah, I'm sure VC would be totally into that.

Re:How does GNU suffer ? (3, Insightful)

mjh (57755) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507127)

GPL software liability would be born by the distributors, and not by the authors (as the article claims). Distributors of software merely need to be reasonably accurate as to the capabilities of their software. Authors of software have no real issues.

I disagree with this. All it would take to put the fear of a lawsuit into all developers considering releasing code under GPL is one large organization who had a vested intersest in shutting down GPL code. [] I wonder if anyone like that exists.

Re:How does GNU suffer ? (2)

sheldon (2322) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507140)

How does GNU suffer?

Simple. I go to my boss and say I want to do X, and package Y suits our needs. Boss runs the Software License by legal(which is standard practice in most companies) and legal tells us we can't use it because of the liability disclaimer.

Right now everybody has one of those disclaimers, but if the law changes... that makes the commercial software all the more attractive.

Is that so? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3506950)

"We all know that the open and distributed model for development described in Eric S. Raymond's book "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" is much better and creates more reliable products than any closed non-distributed development model."

Ok, honestly, how many _completed_ open source projects do you know of?

I'm not saying open source software is wrong or anything but there aren't really many open source projects that ever reaches a usable level. It's to a high degree hobby projects and people just don't like spending a year or so debugging, doing usability research and stuff, thats boring.

OSS: Not necessarily like cars (1)

kirwin (71594) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506951)

Open source software is more comparable to the parts of the car, as opposed to the finished product itself. If the onus is placed on the consumer to build the sofware package (car), would it be possible to claim the supplier of the source (parts)? I don't think so. Now if the finished product is packaged and sold, then I can understand possible suits.

Imported software (2)

totallygeek (263191) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506954)

If a company incorporated out of the country, would this then be nullified, or is the foreign software company subject to US laws on products sold here from there?

Re:Imported software (1)

JanneM (7445) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506976)

The importer would be shouldering the responsibility, probably.


No warranty anyway (0, Offtopic)

sydb (176695) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506956)

What makes anyone think they're entitled to a warranty on a copyrighted work anyway? If I buy a book called "The Ringworld Probes" imagining it to be a further episode in the ongoing Known Universe saga of Larry Niven and co-authors, and it turns out to be ascii renderings of a fuck-machine victim [] , then am I entitled to sue, based on some notional warranty?

No. So why should it apply to software?

Re:No warranty anyway (1)

jon787 (512497) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507018)

What makes anyone think they're entitled to a warranty on a copyrighted work anyway?

Well that is the real issue then isn't it? Should software be like books and be copyrighted or should it be like hardware and be patented?

Re:No warranty anyway (2)

sydb (176695) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507029)

But I thought everyone had decided that software IS like books.

That's why I raise the point.

Re:No warranty anyway (2, Interesting)

jon787 (512497) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507097)

I think they have too. But really software comes in two forms, source code and compiled code.
Source code is like the plans for a car. Are plans copyrightable? Patentable?
Compiled code is like the car itself. Same question as above.

Re:No warranty anyway (2)

sydb (176695) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507037)

Interesting that I should be modded as a troll while making a serious point. Obviously the moderator doesn't like sweary words.

Re:No warranty anyway (-1)

Serial Troller (556155) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507123)

You linked to That site is Taco's dirty little secret; he does NOT like people posting copies of it. Reminds him of what can happen when he refuses to feed CowBoiKneel 9 times a day.

The solution is in the market (1)

BlueFall (141123) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506959)

This kind of law will obviously lead to trouble for a lot of people. What would be a better situation is for consumers to demand reliability. This would force propriety vendors to do a better job with their software and would open a market for open source/free software vendors to take on that liability for a price.

Unfortunately, there are at least two barriers to this: (1) The commercial software market is at the will of a few large players, so consumers have little leverage to demand anything and (2) the average consumer seems to prefer functionality to reliability (if consumers were more like conservative sysadmins, we might be in a better situation).

One would think that all of the negative PR for security and reliability would help, but...

Not true... (2)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506960)

Free software only has to change it's modal slightly.

a disclaimer that states "This is beta software only and is not to be used for anything important. We guarentee that it will break, lose all your data, and possibly burn down your house and several near it. DO NOT USE THIS SOFTWARE"

that will instantly make it immune to any "lemon law"

Re:Not true... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3506980)

Next, a gun manufacturer makes a new gun, labelled "This gun will kill people if you shoot them with it. Do not shoot people with this gun." and then proceeds to give it out to little kids. They're completely free of any legal hassles as the dangers of the gun are clearly stated... right?

Re:Not true... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3507080)


(Yet Another Stupid Assclown Unapplicable Analogy)

Re:Not true... (1)

damien_kane (519267) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507092)

No, they are not in the clear. They still had to give the guns to the kids. In Canada and the US anyways, to legally buy a gun, you must be of a certain age. In Canada you even need a license.
Of course, there are other ways to get a gun, but if you get them in those ways the the manufacturer is already absolved of any legal obligations, as the product was acquired in an illegal method.
IANAL, But you can't steal a car then sue Ford because you got hurt when you crashed into a tree in a high speed chase. Although maybe in this day and age you could... has anyone tried this?

free software is protected by copyright law (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3506966)

The GPL's strength comes from copyright law, and no lemon law is going to change that.

If it every does become a problem you could just distribute everything in source form only, that way the user is liable since they built the binaries.

Somehow I think we might be okay... (1)

abatkin (246575) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506967)

IANAL, but since open source software is just that, open, a very good case could probably be made that if the person really wanted to, they could just read the source to verify that it works properly...If it then doesn't work as "advertised" it is their own fault. The GPL can use this, Microsoft cannot. The GPL wins. Just a thought.

Interesting comment - not by me (5, Interesting)

oPless (63249) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506972)

huge difference (#13146)
by Anonymous Reader on 2002.05.11 13:21

I am not a lawyer (thankfully), but I do know that if I pay for something, and it fails, I am entitled to compensation. If it fails from negligence or designed error, then there can be punitive damages. But let's examine the case of a Linux/BSD web server, running Apache, MySQL, and PostNuke.

To be safe, I download for free a non-commercial Linux such as Debian, or FreeBSD. I might be mistaken, but both are developed by groups of people, and anyone is allowed entry if they are competent enough coders. But a group is not a company. The whole corporation/private/public/IPO thing. I acquire, freely and legally, a copy of their work. They might have benefactors and patrons, but that isn't the same as employers.

So I download Apache, MySQL, and PostNuke. All fall under the same category. Maybe MySQL doesn't, then just replace MySQL/PostNuke with Perl/DBI.

So now a huge bug develops, a hole so large, it had to be coded in Redmond. I lose all my data, my competitors get my secrets, and I'm on unemployment line next to Enron execs. Who do I have to blame?

Let's see, someone or some people worked on a project that was supposed to do some particular task. They made it freely available, source and all, so that others might work on it as well. They made no claims about it's security, stability, etc. Others may have, but they did not misrepresent the software in any way.

I did not contribute, but I saw an opportunity to use their work. So I did. They received nothing from me, not money, not anything. And, the whole time, the company kept no secrets about the product, and in fact, by making the source available, does just the opposite.

There was no intent to decieve, nor any misrepresentation. By not purchasing the product nor any sort of service contract, I entered into no agreement with the group.

Going in, I understand the risks. I assume the responsibility if problems occur. This is 180 degrees different from microsoft, since they make plenty of claims, and since there is a legal agreement between a company and microsoft, and because they are marketing a product with known liabilities.

No, free/open source software doesn't stand to be shut down, rather it stands to gain tremendously. The problem is for companies like RedHat which sell and service open source software. So, form the commercial standpoint, it hurts linux companies who don't have billions to spend on lawyers, like er um, microsoft. But it doesn;t hurt open source software.

rob mandel
^^^----- Posted anonymously here []

In fact Software ARE material goods (1, Interesting)

murat (262137) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506978)

Computer programs are not material goods and cannot be dealt with in the same way consumer advocates wants the legislature to deal with cars, electric appliances and toys. Computer programs are developed incrementally, and the users are always used as dummies.

In fact computer programs are very similar to material goods. (Not like in "Volkswagen Beetle vs Microsoft Windows", though.) Users of cars, electric appliances, cellulars, etc. are also used as dummies in a sense. Money is what counts. If you pay for something, you can ask something in return. (Read: Liability)

I guess, companies like which _sell_ products or services like Mandrakesoft, Redhat and Microsoft will suffer a lot, whereas groups such as Debian will not.

Not a lot of sense here... (5, Insightful)

JoshuaDFranklin (147726) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506993)

The legislation would skyrocket production costs for Microsoft if the company were forced to release foolproof products.

Why would this happen? Car manufacturers used the same "skyrocket production costs" argument with the lemon law with cars. But it just doesn't mean that everything needs to be perfect. Instead it just ensures some basic quality control such as practiced in Japan [] .

As for free software, it would just mean that some of the legal entities that support a packaged product (i.e., Red Hat) would be held to the same standards. IANAL, but if the FSF says 'this isn't a complete product' they can't be held liable any more than a tire company could be for some idiot putting the wrong tire on their car.

Re:Not a lot of sense here... (1)

Octal (310) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507070)

I've had just about enough of you and the Japanese. Will you please shut up about the Japanese?

Lemon Laws would kill software (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3506995)

I think it's a statistically provable fact that you can never find and fix all the bugs in a software program. I find it hard to imagine this "panel of experts" from the National Academy of Sciences want to enact legislation that punishes a software maker for all bugs. While I can understand the frustration from using software which advertises itself as "secure", "compatable", or "reliable", and perhaps punishing companies which are blatant about bad software, I cannot agree that we should allow a company (or any producer of software) to be liable for flaws in their software.

Does anyone have the original recommendation made by the panel?

Re:Lemon Laws would kill software (-1)

Serial Troller (556155) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507119)

"Lemon Laws would kill software"

So in other words, your industry is so blazingly incompetent that it literally could not survive if asked to take responsibility for its own products.

Unfortunately, it's needed (3, Interesting)

mikethegeek (257172) | more than 12 years ago | (#3506996)

While I don't favor turning the sharks loose on software companies, it is obvious there NEEDS to be some sort of liability and responsibility for bugs.

Some sort of "lemon law" that would REQUIRE the publisher to either correct bugs, and distribute patches for free, or else refund the purchase price IS needed.

What needs to stop is companies like MS being able to leave gaping holes in their products, then correct some of them, and releasing them as "upgrades", ala Windows 98 SE and ME... Those were not really "new" OS's, they were service releases that increased the stability of `98...

In all honesty, the commercial software publishers have brought this on themselves. Sure, MS distributes patches for free for the worst holes (ala, the ones that make Code Red, Nimda, and Klez work), but the fact is, they let their products LEAVE the house with those bugs in the first place.

I see bad consequences for free software out of this, created for it by the closed source companies. Perhaps there can be an exception written in for companies that release source, and in effect, have industry wide peer review of their code.

Eventually, if such a law isn't passed, sooner or later the sharks are going to class action sue and crack away ALL such limitations in the EULA's.

There is too much money and lost productivity happening right now due to software defects.

What we need is a defined list of responsibilities, passed into law, that can't be EULA'ed away.

Re:Unfortunately, it's needed (2)

mikefoley (51521) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507105)

>Those were not really "new" OS's, they were service releases that increased the stability of 98...

That's VERY debatable... They added new!

QA (1)

QuodEratDemonstratum (569501) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507003)

"we need a lot of the IT equivalent of crash test dummies"

It's called QA.

This is another advantage that non-free software has over free software (the first being that they can afford the lawyers to handled the claims).
QA doesn't find all the bugs, nothing can, but it finds a lot.
I wouldn't be surprised that if a company can demonstrate to a court that it has a rigourous QA program in place then liability might be reduced (Nb. I totally unfamiliar with product liability). I would be more sympathetic to a company which can prove it tried as hard as it could to find bugs than one which just released a product and let the users find them (as the article suggests happens).

Lemon Laws == no more computer industry (1)

p24t (312611) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507010)

Imagine, if there had been lemon laws in place on software from the start. The early software that some companies produced may have put them out of business. Imagine if Microsoft's MS-DOS ended up costing them money. They didn't start out with much, and they would have folded up before anyone had ever even heard of Windows. Imagine what something like that would have done to the computer industry. Yah, a lot of us don't like MS, but you have to admit, they've helped sell a lot of computers. If not for Windows, or another similar OS at a somewhat decent price (debatable I know), then where would your PC manufacturers be today? Would anyone but geeks have a PC in their home? Would the average end-user buy a $4000-5000 box that they have to blow another $1000-2000 for just the operating system?

And what about the other end of the spectrum? Businesses lose enormous amounts of money if their servers go out. Would IBM be around today if they lost a bank a half a billion dollars every once in a while? Or would the businesses even buy something that would cost 5-10x or more over what they pay today? Just ask your IT manager how hard it is to get his budget.

And yes, Open Source. People writing code for the commmon good. Like losing the Good Samaritan laws, people trying to do nothing other than help would end up bankrupt, in jail, or worse. Besides, its not like most of them are geting paid, or have any other incentive to write code for hours on end.

No, Lemon Laws for computer software would be bad for everyone. I'm not sure that even MS would survive the consequences. Though I feel that a company should be liable for gross neglience. We're not gonna sue MS for my server crashing, but I'd like to if it got hacked and destroyed because of a gaping security flaw. At least give me my money back.

Re:Lemon Laws == no more computer industry (-1)

Serial Troller (556155) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507108)

"Lemon Laws == no more computer industry"

So in other words, your industry is so blazingly incompetent that it literally could not survive if asked to take responsibility for its own products.

Free Software *does* stand to benefit (1)

reparteeist (533894) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507011)

A consumer has a choice when buying a product. Either he can choose to roll out software which is available at no cost (or at very little from the charge resulting with distribution), or he can spend thousands of dollars on an expensive solution from a corporation receiving millions of dollars in software sales. Even if a law is implemented, the odds of a suing an individual or small shop with very little money are less than a closed source shop with positive cashflow for two simple reasons:

1) The negative PR generated by suing an individual or small group could only hurt the plaintiff's own revenue.
2) The amount of damages a company would recover from the open source shop would not be worth the effort involved in suing them.

So in the end, Free and Open Source sof tware will come out the winner.

How many times do I have to say it? (3, Informative)

adam_megacz (155700) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507012)

Neither the federal government nor any state has ever had any sort of warranty/liability law that would affect gifts (transactions involving no payment or consideration), unless the defect was willful and intentional (ie trojans). There is no negligence protection for gifts. I highly doubt that any such software lemon law would break with this ancient precedent.

The GPL clause disclaiming only nondisclaimable warranties exists solely for severability purposes; the "unless prohibited by law" clause appears in almost every warranty disclaimer.

Easy fix. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3507014)

Only make a lemon law applicable for when money is charged for a license or if source is withheld (close the IE loophole). That's only fair--why should an entity incur liability when giving something away?

Of course, since those sitting in governemnt are bought and paid for, this means that free software development will have to go underground.

Re:Easy fix. (1)

QuodEratDemonstratum (569501) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507033)

or if source is withheld

To extend an analogy ... woulkd that mean the Lemon Laws would only apply to your shiny new SUV if the manufacturer also released the blueprints?

The law only needs some refinement, but it's good. (2)

dnaumov (453672) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507019)

Don't hurry to modify me as a troll, but listen up. The whole point of this law is to cause software developers to pay more attention to the software they develop their software and especially QA it. If there is a Hospital or a goverment database running on software that fails, the developers SHOULD be prosecuted by LAW for this.

The only little detail the law is missing is that people should be expecting what they pay for. If you pay hundreds of thouthands of dollars for lots of software licenses that is ment to be run doing mission-critical operations, the developer should be held liable for his work, because he's getting quite a sum of money. This shall not applicate to Free Software, since it's duh, FREE. You don't go around asking for support for a 10-year old TV set you got for free from a friend.

Does anyone even know for sure what exactly does this law look like ? How many revisions is it supposed to go through ?

Limits? (2, Insightful)

etesla (578110) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507086)

If there is a Hospital or a goverment database running on software that fails, the developers SHOULD be prosecuted by LAW for this. But what about the hospital or government? Shouldn't they bear a good deal of the responsibility for either selecting solid software, or hiring someone to select such? In what manner is the liability to be limited? If I install RandomLittleUtilityX and it runs fine, and then install BigCorporateAndGenerallyTrustedProgramY and it breaks all over the place but runs fine on computers that don't have RLUX installed, is that RLUX's designer's fault, BCAGTPY's designer's/distributor's fault, or mine? If I write up a quick little utility to do something on my computer and it gets onto other computers through some P2P utility unintentionally and causes problems, should I have to pay for damages?

Re:The law only needs some refinement, but it's go (-1)

Serial Troller (556155) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507093)

"Free Software" isn't free of charge. You've heard of RedHat [] , perhaps?

heh (2)

Andrewkov (140579) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507021)

No problem, just blame the crash on the library developers and kernel hackers.

Wouldn't Affect Free/Open Source Software (3, Interesting)

rubinson (207525) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507026)

Even assuming that such a "lemon law" could be passed (which is, to my mind, a dubious proposition in and of itself), it wouldn't affect Free/Open Source Software (or even proprietary freeware) at all because there's no contract between the the author/distributor of the software and the user.

While IANAL, I did consult one about this once - when you give something away, you have no obligation to the recipient. Specifically, the recipient can't sue you if the product is defective in some manner.

Re:Wouldn't Affect Free/Open Source Software (2)

leviramsey (248057) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507045)

You are a moron.

Free and Open Source software is distributed under a contract [] . The only software that's not distributed under a contract is public domain software.

Re:Wouldn't Affect Free/Open Source Software (-1)

Serial Troller (556155) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507073)

By Serial Troller []

Myth: Open Source is written by heterosexuals.

Fact: All Open Source development is done by raging homosexuals. The more flaming examples include Anal Cox, Linus Turdballs, Eric Ass-Reaming Raymond, and the entire Slashdot crew. The ringleader of the slashdotters, a man named CmdrTaco, engages in a practice known as Taco-snotting, along with his faggot-buddies Jeff Homos Bates and CowBoiKneel.

Myth: Open Source is written for heterosexuals.

Fact: Using Open Source software can cause suppressed homosexual fantasies to surface, leading to all out flaming faggotry within 6-8 weeks. Anecdotes of otherwise hetero men turning queer are far too numerous to count, but a few examples stand out. In one case, a man was arrested loitering outside an elementary school and making sexual overtures to several children: he quickly confessed that shortly after installing the Mozilla browser on his computer, he began to have uncontrollable urges to, to put it simply, have his cock sucked off by little boys. He soon met several other like-minded men through discussions on the Bugger Zilla mailing list (all already homosexuals), who together kidnapped a total of seven children whom they brought back to their apartment and sodomized. The other two men are still at large and believed to still be using Mozilla.

Myth: Open Source is multicultural.

Fact: Open Source is openly racist [] .

Myth: Open Source is democratic.

Fact: Open Source is controlled by a few narrow-minded zealots (mentioned throughout this post), most of whom are either Communists, Stalinists, Nazis, or Fascists. Additionally, Open Source supports terrorism.

Myth: Open Source is tolerant of religious preferences.

Fact: Open Source developers regularly engage in holy wars over the superiority of various Open Source projects, such as the Emacs program (preferred by Christians) versus vi (used mostly by neo-pagans and Satanists); or the KDE desktop (a favorite among Muslims) versus the GNOME project (particularly favored by Jews). Posts initiating crusades or jihads against other developers can be found regularly throughout the newsgroups and mailing lists.

Myth: Open Source is tolerant of sexual preference.

Fact: See above. Either you are a homo, you become a homo, or you never visit Richard Stallman alone in his office and hope to God you never meet him on the street at night.

Myth: Open Source is tolerant of political differences.

Fact: Open Source is an anarcho-communist philosophy bent on the destruction of capitalism. The very same Richard Stallman, a man whose name is disturbingly reminiscent of Stalin, has stated several times in public that his vision includes the subjugation of all who own intellectual properties under the jackboot of the GPL. The GPL is a pernicious piece of literature lifted straight from Karl Marxs Communist Manifesto, and is fortunately banned in many democratic nations.

* * * * * UPDATE * * * * *

Myth: Open Source programming is a harlmess, healthy activity.

Fact: Open Source programming has been known to lead to massive obesity [] , violent tendencies with an obsession with handguns [] , paranoid-delusional ranting [] , and in severe cases, complete insanity [] . If anyone you know is thinking about going Open Source, stop them before its too late!

* * * * * UPDATE * * * * *


© 2002 Serial Troller. Permission to reproduce this document is granted provided that you send all the bukkake porn you can find to [mailto] .

Re:Wouldn't Affect Free/Open Source Software (3, Informative)

Shabazz (29233) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507129)

And you sir are an imbecil! :)

I am a lawyer, and as such I know what a contract is. Last time I checked, it requires mutual consideration. If you allow people to download your software for fee, it's a gift, not a contract.

Maybe you should check your facts before calling someone a moron.


Treeluvinhippy (545814) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507028)

Since I download my linux isos.

Hah! (-1)

Serial Troller (556155) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507034)

To all you people saying, "If we had a Lemon Law, it would be the end of the software industry," think of what this is actually SAYING about your industry. "We couldn't exist if we're expected to take responsibiility for the blazingly incompetent code we write. We're THAT BAD at what we do."

Re:Hah! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3507058)

reminds me of the idiot politicians you have in the usa. there was a quote from one of your political parties saying that that new campaign finance reform law banning bribery would be the "destruction of their party."

Stupid is as stupid does!!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3507035)

Alternativley countries who do not accept these agreements can have hardware without copy protection - if only a few countries require it they will not get the up-to date hardware. They will fall behind and the countries without the leglislation will be able to use the most powerful computers. Suddley the US will not have access to a computer more powerful thatn a Japenese games console.

Would you prefer to design a working chip or a cripeled peice of crap which somebody can imitate and it's you're fault. or companies get sued when their server is hacked and someone puts a system onto a FPGA to access the secure content.

Besides isn't it discrimination to say because you cant afford a computer 5 times as expensive to play a holywood movie because a resistor is on a circuit board (nice margins for a 10K SMD resistor!!)

OK so what happens when you try to use the microchip on a military system in a area where it was not approved to be used by columbia pictures the M1 tank sight won't work !! I klnow tanks a re steel cophins but that's taking the P*$s

Even better the NSA and the line in the US will have to have chips without the protection otherwise it would be impossible for them to crack the systems without it or those implemented to only run on certain machines. so the two families would exist but for a production run of 100 P8 processors without the protection it's so expensive you could have probably bought a ICBM.

Crap leglislation will not stop coming but inthis case public awareness and buying power (or not for a cripeled system) may well win the day if the people are informed!

Besides unless they enforce a system where overnite everyting is obselete how do they intend for a system not to be hacked when there are systems out there which will not comply.

Already we cannot agree on a universal standard for DAB sow now each country will need a chip for it's different copy protection system. compuiters from abroad will be illegal adn exporting the protection system to another country would be illegal. so now how long untill it's illegal to E-mail another person because you're not in the same DVD zone??

a bit lengthy adn tangential but hopefully some of the absurdity will appeal. P.S. it was written to quickly!

Lemon laws have limits too (1)

Ydna (32354) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507043)

I ain't no lawyer. Even with Lemon Laws, there are limits to liability. If I drive my new car off a cliff and now the cup holder fails to hold my cup, I don't really have a case. The same can apply to software. Create use restrictions on that software to limit in what cases liability would apply. Even the legislators would see the wisdom in this and would have to craft these limits into any software lemon law. And if they don't, it will be left to the courts to decide. It will not be one-sided. There will be some semblance of balance.

The lemon law doesn't apply with source (2)

crovira (10242) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507046)

The lemon law applies if you have no recourse but expensive repairs at you own expense to a product which doesn't function as advertised.

Granted Apache should serve up web pages and FTP should transfer files and php should work on the server to generate HTML pages or whatever else you programmed it for. AS ADVERSITED...

But, with open source code, you get the source code, you get access to the entire open source community.

With open source, you get to roll you own on if you want a particular product to something nobody ever thought of making that product do.

With M$ or anyother canned software company, you'd better be able to convince them that its in their interest ($) to provide it.

With open source, you get to take out features you don't want in the product.

With M$ or anyother canned software company, you're fucked . Features NEVER disappear regardless of how stupid, downright bug-riggen, security hole prone or outright nefarious they are.

GPL'ed software comes with the source. Feeling screwed? You can DO something about it.

Americans should remember how they destroyed ... (4, Interesting)

Tim Ward (514198) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507049)

... their lightplane industry before inventing any new product liability laws.

It got so that anyone who flew whilst drunk and crashed a plane that he hadn't maintained for years could sue the manufacturer for many millions with a fair chance of winning. And even if the manufacturer won their legal costs would wipe out the profit on many aircraft. So basically the US lightplane industry closed down. (It has since started up again, as a shadow of its former self, following some law changes.)

OK, that didn't affect all that many people. Closing down the software industry would be a different game altogether.

What about failing components? (2, Interesting)

randombit (87792) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507057)

Let's say I write some super-important thing using the ABC and XYZ toolkits. My program fails and bad stuff happens. Do the people suing me have to prove that it was my code, and not in ABC or XYZ, that failed? Do I have to prove that it was not my code? And finally, how the hell could you prove something like that, anyway? [Especially if it was not repeatable - what if it was the OS, or the hardware, or something else entirely?]

I really don't understand why this is called a lemon law, actually. A car that's a lemon doesn't work, or works for a while and then throws a rod or something. I don't quite see the analouge between that and software.

In fact, someone mentioned a web server dying at some important moment, and the users of that web server losing a lot of money (ebay or amazon or something). Does this qualify under a lemon law? If I have to get somewhere important, and my car doesn't start, can I actually sue the makers of the car?

Computer Configuration (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3507061)

This law will force application developers' to license their work for some particular computer configuration. If user decides to install or remove any application on this computer the warranty will be nullified, similar to removing cover from you TV Set nullifies any warranty supplied by the manufacturer of this TV. So the question is: Do you really would like to have a computer where you cannot install any other application but the ones installed by the manufacturer? In fact this can bring a new type of license, the same one, which comes with a used car, you know, "AS-IS, NO WARRANTY".

Disclaimers OK if you publish the source (1)

Frodo420024 (557006) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507064)

Uhh, this sounds hard for your innovative startup who cannot risk major liability lawsuits...

I think publishing the source should allow the disclaimers to be in force. MS does publish the source to some customers, and GNU to everybody. With the source you can (in principle) verify the functionality and absence of backdoors, and you can (in real life) fix problems yourself instead of having to wait for a Service Pack or other official upgrade.

That should permit the current market to proceed without too much disruption, and still allow small companies to market great ideas without risk of getting sued off the planet in case of a critical bug.

The difference... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3507067) that Microsoft spends a lot on marketing to tell you that their stuff will streamline your business, keep your toilet from clogging, and whiten your teeth while you sleep.

Meanwhile, their EULA practically says that you're better off playing Russian Roulette with five bullets and only one empty chamber, than to trust their software in a mission/enterprise-critical environment. We can't get access to their source code to check it for bugs ourselves, which would shift liability to us if we could do so, did, and then okayed it for use-- we just have to take them at their word, and hope that the server farm doesn't melt down and bankrupt our company.

Free software, on the other hand, is just 'out there'-- it's like finding a still-wrapped condom on the street. Sure, you can pick it up and use it, but if bad things happen, well, how is that anyone's fault but your own?

Liability-eliminating EULAs are an affront to any kind of truth-in-advertising regulations. A software company should definitely be able to be held financially liable for losses caused by failings in its products-- not to a degree that would instantly put them out of business, but a fair amount. Say, equal to their annual marketing/advertising budget?

Let's look at it with the car company analogy. Suppose Ford's commercials said that the airbags in their cars would save you and your family's lives? Okay, now suppose someone dear to you was killed in a head-on collision while driving a Ford. How would you feel if, when you tried to sue, Ford said, "But wait, your loved one agreed to the EULA by deploying the airbag... let me read you this paragraph from it that says, if the airbag does not work as we said it would, we aren't liable."

market forces change not laws (1)

mattfair (243412) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507071)

This law will not do anything more than what market forces does. If companies/people put out bad code with lots of bugs, people will just stop using them and look for better solutions. Hense Linux! We don't need any more laws and the government telling us more what to do.

Its the implementation... (2, Interesting)

damien_kane (519267) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507074)

Many of you are discussing this and saying it doesn't apply to OSS.
Technically, under thet respect, it doesn't apply to Microsoft either.
If you buy a uesd car, and in the next couple months have to put a lot of money into it to keep it running (i.e. a prime candidate for the 'lemon law'), you don't sure Ford/GM/whoever for making a crappy car that no longer works, you sue the person who sold it to you. In effect, you sue the distributor for charging you for a crappy product, not the publisher.
It should be the same with software. Microsoft ships software to retailers and OEMs, windows get sold to consumer, consumer is unhappy, consumer sues retailer/OEM. After this, the OEM will no longer buy windows from Microsoft, so the quality of the product and the strength of the corporation will be indirectly affected, but it shouldn't be directly. If 50 owners of windows sue Microsoft, many will lose as they don't have the resources to beat out a large corporation in a legal battle. If Dell or HP/Compaq stopped selling windows with its PCs because they got a very large bad review from those consumers who bought their PC, it will have a much larger impact on Microsoft and its lines of products.
In this case also, with OSS, the writers would not be the ones who can be sued, but the corporations (RedHat, Hummingbird, Ximian et. al)

Interesting idea... (1)

csguy314 (559705) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507077)

It would certainly bring some accountability to the big software development companies. They better provide a secure product. Being crappy and slow doesn't necessarily cause damage except perhaps lost efficiency. But I don't think you could sue over something like that.
But the threat of lawsuits would definitely make companies think twice about securing the software they produce.
And this only means it must be secure to a reasonable degree. Nothing can be completely secure. If some uber hacker wants in she'll get in.
As for open source firms. It may affect the big corporate ones somewhat. But for completely free products, I don't think a lawsuit is very viable. The producers of the product may have very little money to give.
You generally sue someone if they have something to sue for. If it's a non-profit foundation, what can you get?

Perpetual Beta? (3, Interesting)

Digitech (572815) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507084)

Most open source software seems to be in the perpetual beta state anyway, but if a lemon-law were to pass, maybe the commercial vendors would move toward this as well. Never releasing a "finished" version, just alphas, pre betas, betas, preview editions, release candidates, etc, etc, etc.

If this were to happen, it might actaully help the public, forcing the commercial vendors into a system where they actaully have to admit that thier product is never finished. Maybe then the public would stop shelling out money every time the latest edition comes out, lining the pockets of Gates and company.

you've got to be nuts (2)

anthony_dipierro (543308) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507087)

That is - what would happen if shrinkwrap limitation of liability clauses would be banned?

Any company without $40 billion in cash to pay for lawsuits would go out of business. Microsoft would rule the world.

Lemons have specific defects (2)

btempleton (149110) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507088)

The analogy of the automotive lemon refers to a specific instance of a car that has faults. When ever single car of that type has a fault it is a design flaw, and can lead to a recall in the extreme cases. Of course in software, there are only global design flaws.

But software systems are complex, and they will always have bugs. And the industry is too powerful to permit a law that would not recognize this and regulate it the same way simpler products are regulated.

All of us who have written software know why we want to disclaim liability, and people who use it know why they accept those disclaimers. It's a hard problem to figure out if there is a middle ground that will satisfy both user and author.

Liability could work... (1)

jhoger (519683) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507090)

I think this will eventually happen, mainly because Microsoft will see it as a way to get rid of Free Software (Microsoft can afford insurance and the lobbyists necessary to turn the law in their favor).

It makes sense to think NOW about what we as the free software community would want that law to look.

We'd need it to be strictly defined so that only the distribution vendors could be sued. Makers of say Apache, should never have a non-beta version, milestones, ok, but never "released." Users should be protected from beta versions at all. The distribution vendors, with the wherewithal to test (and responsibility!), should decide whether the package in its current form should be considered releasable.

Debian should probably never release either.

The distribution vendors will become much more careful about blessing any particular component by adding it to their distro (a good thing, since quality will go up). Additionally, they will have to budget for liability insurance. Cost of doing business, welcome to the world outside of the software industry.

The lawmakers and the courts will have to work out the reasonable equivalent of software malpractice. EFF, FSF, Red Hat, etc. will need to lobby to protect the free and open software movement.

Other ideas?

Free Software (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3507113)

Is not & Cannot be subject to lemon laws. Thus, this subject is unimportant except that it means Microsoft is going to go down more in flames than its current slowly waning away.

I don't see the liability (1)

tuxit2 (577931) | more than 12 years ago | (#3507122)

Microsoft sells you a piece of software for a "valuable consideration"--you purchase the software from them. That's what lemon laws usually apply to. While there is also a license and contract involved in free software, there is no purchase.

As long as such lemon laws only apply to purchases, we are fine. If there is a risk that they apply to other contracts or other kinds of software, then we need to lobby to have it changed. Extending lemon laws to free software would also create enormous problems for scientific software, and I suspect the National Academy is probably going to be careful to make the distinction.

This article is fundamentally flawed in one aspect (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#3507124)

With free software, no contract exists between two parties as to its merchantability, express or implied, with the software. In order to enact a contract, there must be some concept of formal exchange. This isn't the case with free software. You take it or leave it, and that's it. It's just like finding a tire on the side of the road. If you put it on your car, and it fails, you can't turn around and sue either the manufacturer or the previous owner of the tire. They may not lay claim to its ownership, but by the same token your taking posession of it does not automatically give you rights. Furthermore, free software isn't a requirement for your life, or a constitutionally-guaranteed necessity. So, unilke free access to public roads and the safety you, there's no need for free software. Sorry, but I can't buy the article.
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