The Software Limbo

Bruce Schneier argues that data is the pollution of the information age, and “just as 100 years ago people ignored pollution in our rush to build the Industrial Age, today we’re ignoring data in our rush to build the Information Age.”

Software is still surfing the wave of technology revolution. In the tug-of-war between producers and consumers, the producers are still pulling the rope and consumers are just hanging on.

Just as the coal mines, steel mills, and sweat shops of the burgeoning industrial age led to organized labor and labor laws, the consumers of the information age will eventually need to come to grips with the predatory practices of greedy software barons through collective bargaining and regulation.

You’ve all heard the old software vs. car argument, right? Is buying software like buying a car? Or is it like leasing a car? Or are cars just a bad analogy, because software isn’t like cars at all?

Is software really different, or have we just been conditioned to believe that it’s different?

The problem is that we’re still coming to terms with software, both legally and morally. Software companies have had a clear advantage in this information age frontier, and they have used their advantage to mold the software model to their liking. The software industry has successfully convinced us that software is licensed, not sold, and that because it is licensed, the old rules don’t apply.

Indeed, it seems like software license agreements have been around forever. We’ve accepted them, adapted to them, and basically ignored them. In the meantime, software companies have added more restrictions to their license agreements, lobbied legislators to create new laws that protect the restrictions, and quietly begun building case law in support of the software license regime.

This is the software limbo. How low can we go? When will the laborers of the information age unite and say “enough is enough”?

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