April 12, 2007 by jimstogdill
We’ve been working to actively open source infrastructure work we’ve been doing for the DoD. Today we heard from a nice guy at a major prime contractor, let’s call it Primezilla and let’s refer to him as Unwitting Karmic Retribution Target Alpha (UKRTA), who was looking for a JBI security component that we are probably going to open.
It turns out that Primezilla took an Apache licensed JBI container and did some significant re-work on it to give it a smaller footprint. They are using it to provide the bus infrastructure inside a tactical platform; connecting sensors with processing units, external links, and etc.
I can think of a bunch of other things that the government is doing where this kind of middleware (let’s call it TinyJBI) would be really handy. It remains compliant with the specification but can fit into much smaller places, like in airplanes, autonomous vehicles of all kinds, forward deployed computing nodes, and etc.
So, we said, “well, we are probably going to be opening our security ‘lollipops’ before too long, how does ‘before too long’ fit into your critical path; and, oh, you’re going to donate TinyJBI right?”
“Timing is fine ,but, uh, no. Our lawyers won’t let us contribute TinyJBI.”
It seems that Primezilla’s corporate lawyers think Apache is the tribe of Indian coders that they finagled the source from in a transaction similar to purchasing Manhattan for a baubles and beads. However, now that they have it, it has become “proprietary IP” and isn’t going anywhere. And though they don’t know what the Apache license is, they lucked out this time by liking a TinyJBI ancestor that wasn’t GPL’d (dammit). (See this post where I get told I’m stupid because everyone knows that Primezilla, PriMothra, GameraPrim, and the other two will just take open source, modify it a little bit, and sell it back to the government as their own IP).
So, this is where the Karma part comes in (along with some metaphor mixing).
Corporations are legal entities a lot like humans; and if a person said to you “We want your open stuff but we will not donate back our stuff that was based on open stuff before we used tax-payer dollars to modify it and make it proprietary”, you’d likely say “What gall!” Naturally, if that were a person you’d think such shameful behavior would deserve some well-earned bad karma.
The problem here is that Primezilla, even if it were a giant fire breathing monster, would presumably be subject to karma and might be subject to rebirth as a tiny uglier monster with no fire breathing ability, but since it is a corporation, it lives in a karma-free nether domain. Where does all that bad Karma that it is conjuring go then?
Unfortunately for him, UKRTA is human, and I’m afraid he will end up with at least some Karmic retribution collateral damage. Which is really a shame, because I think he is trying to do the right thing but has his hands tied.
On the other hand, Not-So-Unwitting Karmic Retribution Targets Bravo through Xray (Primezilla’s legal staff in charge of IP) just suck and will probably return for the next round as semi-autonomous dung beetle nano UGV’s.