Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Dangers of Taking Credit for Open Source Software by Jason Clarke

Open-source software is everywhere, and developers use it to speed up their development on a regular basis. This is as it should be, for the most part, assuming the developers follow the licensing for whatever open-source software (OSS) they use. Along with licensing, the open-source community is, probably rightly so, very focused on attributing credit correctly. Considering that most OSS developers do not make any money for their contributions, credit and reputation are really the only compensation they can expect.

Imagine the horror in the OSS community then, when a mini-TEDTalk was released today that had presenter Chris Hughes showing off augmented-reality software that is built on very powerful open-source toolkits, but fails to attribute any credit to them, or even mention their existence.

Ralph Hauwert certainly took issue, and wrote a scathing blog post describing the offense. To TED's credit, they have updated the page for today's video, acknowledging the furor and offering an explanation. According to the update, Chris hadn't been intending on presenting at TED, but after privately showing his project to a number of people, he was invited to do a short 2 minute presentation. Due to the extremely short format, there was apparently no time for attribution of credit for the software frameworks his software was based on.

This is a cautionary tale. Clearly someone made a mistake, and Hughes' reputation may end up bearing the brunt of the error. It's important to remember that in the software business there are always two currencies at play: the typical financial currency that we usually think of (you know, money), and credit for the work that was done. Although there is a lot of open-source software that is licensed to be free to use, that fact amplifies the focus on correctly attributing credit for the work that went into the software.

My guess is this is a lesson Chris Hughes isn't likely to forget again.

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