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Should Developers Be Liable For Their Code? 517

Posted by Soulskill
from the this-can-only-end-well dept.
Glyn Moody writes "They might be, if a new European Commission consumer protection proposal, which suggests 'licensing should guarantee consumers the same basic rights as when they purchase a good: the right to get a product that works with fair commercial conditions,' becomes law. The idea of making Microsoft pay for the billions of dollars of damage caused by flaws in its products is certainly attractive, but where would this idea leave free software coders?"
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Should Developers Be Liable For Their Code?

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  • by oh_bugger (906574) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @11:20AM (#27888455)
    As a developer, I say that surely it's the tester's fault if there's flaws!
    • Re:Not my fault (Score:5, Insightful)

      by s_p_oneil (795792) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @12:07PM (#27888899) Homepage

      Hmm, it would probably go like this:

      Engineers: "It's the software!"
      Developers: "It's the hardware!"
      Both: "Why didn't the testers catch this?"
      Testers: "That wasn't one of the use cases, so it's the designers' fault."
      Designers: "The product wasn't meant to be used that way, so it's a documentation error if the tech writers didn't tell users not to do that."
      Tech writers: "Don't look at me, I just write what you guys tell me to write."

      Open Source Developer: Don't look at me. My users contribute design ideas, code, docs, testing, etc. So if there's a problem, it's their fault 4 times over for designing it, coding it, failing to test it, and failing to document it. ;-)

      • Re:Not my fault (Score:5, Insightful)

        by CarpetShark (865376) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @12:43PM (#27889171)

        Actually it'll probably work out like:

        Providers: Yeah, it's broken, sorry. Contact our insurance company, and put in a claim.

        Clients: Oh, you're insured for this? Great.

        Providers: Yeah, of course. We're pros, and totally insured for this, like all the other pros. Why else do you think you couldn't get a two-page website for less than $12,000?
         

      • by koutbo6 (1134545) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @01:34PM (#27889571)
        Good luck also untangling the dependency mess in software, I doubt it would be difficult to pin down who is really at fault.

        Think of the mess when people start suing developers of web applications!

        App Developer: Its the browser!
        Browser developer: its the JavaScript library!
        JavaScript library Dev: its the VM developers!
        user again: Yeah lets sue Sun!
        Javascript developer: JavaScript is not ...you know what ..your absolutely right! go for it

        User can't find Sun and sues Microsoft for VBScript because its the closest thing to it.

        Microsoft: Oracle bought Sun.
        Oracle: Hell I knew I shouldn't have bought Sun, anyway, Java is OpenSourced so I have no control over it.
        Java developers: JavaScript is not Java!
        User: Why am I here?
        Java developers: I don't know, but if there is anything wrong, its usually Microsoft's fault.
        Microsoft: .... [chairs start to fly and hit user on the head]
        Microsoft Lawyer: Lets counter suit the chair manufacturers for not anticipating our use case.

        Fast forward to court date after every software and furniture manufacturer under the sun gets involved in the case....

        User's lawyer: What do you mean you got windows off of pirate bay? You could have mentioned this small detail before I took on your case!
        RIAA Lawyer: Don't worry, you can plead insanity, and I can take it from here.
        TPB: Argh! We be hosting the tracker only mate! not the software! the software be hosted in china.

        After a very long court proceeding which involved everybody under the sun and caused three world wars, two nuclear stand-offs, and countless bus parties... a strange group of people came crashing into the courthouse

        Guys in red:Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

        and it starts to go downhill from here!
      • GPL v4 (Score:3, Insightful)

        The licenses for most software are designed to take away your freedom to share and change it. By contrast, the GNU General Public License is intended to destroy you and leave you (and or your business) reeling in economic and personal obliteration*. That our software looks like it does something productive should not be mistaken for any intent to be useful in any fashion â"the software is free for all its users.

        *The GPL or authors of software using the GPL license make no guarantees regarding the effic

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by SlashWombat (1227578)
        Actually, 99 times out of 100, its the software. As a hardware developer, it really pisses me off when I have to look through the crappy code to find the bloody obvious fault that 20 software "gurus" couldn't bloody well see! Of course, the software developers don't do the same for me. Software writers are overpaid, and underworked. If they got off their arses, and did some of their own testing, things might be a bit different.
    • by naoursla (99850) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @12:28PM (#27889067) Homepage Journal

      It worked on my box.

  • by superwiz (655733) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @11:21AM (#27888461) Journal
    and no one to sue. and don't think the fact that you get it for free matters -- you can sue a soup kitchen if it gives you food poisoning.
    • by A beautiful mind (821714) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @11:32AM (#27888559)

      you can sue a soup kitchen if it gives you food poisoning.

      Sure, since that's a public health matter. If software controlling an aircraft crashes and causes the aircraft to crash too and that kills people, I'm pretty sure the software makers might end up liable too.

      To continue your analogy, if a soup kitchen gives you soup that is too cold, comes in a plastic bowl and is too small of a portion, you've got nowhere to turn with that and you should have nowhere to turn with that, it is gratis after all. On the other hand, if this happens in a restaurant that calls itself high quality and advertises the famous chicken soup from a master chef and you get the same treatment, then there are numerous consumer protection agencies in Europe at least to fine the given restaurant.

      • by superwiz (655733)
        the fact that you can sue is not related to public health. i didn't say you'd get fined. sued. suits are brought to recover damages caused by the counter party -- not to shape public policy. in other words, they are a way of settling disputes between the two parties involved. so the analogy still holds.
      • by Timothy Brownawell (627747) <tbrownaw@prjek.net> on Saturday May 09, 2009 @11:37AM (#27888615) Homepage Journal

        If software controlling an aircraft crashes and causes the aircraft to crash too and that kills people, I'm pretty sure the software makers might end up liable too.

        Actually it would probably be whoever decided that that software was OK to use in an aircraft. If I were to somehow get an aircraft and install Gentoo on some critical system, I'm pretty sure I'd be the one to get in trouble rather than the Gentoo or Linux (kernel) or Glibc people.

        • Aircraft software (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Okian Warrior (537106) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @02:32PM (#27890095) Homepage Journal

          I make software that goes on an aircraft for a living.

          All such software is required to be certified by the FAA, which has elaborate requirements for development, documentation, and testing (the applicable document is DO-178B).

          I'm told that the reason for certification is not safety, but culpability. If your software satisfies the requirements and passes review by the FAA, then your company will not be held liable if it causes problems.

          In essence, certification represents "best effort" engineering practices and tries very hard to eliminate bugs in the final product.

          By the time a software package gets on a plane, many people have combed over it looking for problems, and the testers have spent a massive amount of time running it. There is a safety/failure hazard analysis which asks all the "what if" questions, and the flight crew has written procedures in case it fails.

          If a bug is found after deployment (this happens occasionally) and it is discovered that there was a flaw in the certification process, all hell would break loose. It would open up the FAA and the company to all sorts of lawsuits from injured parties. The people who signed off on the certification would essentially be screwed.

          The FAA is generally a bunch of bureaucrats. The one thing they do well is look out for their own interests.

          Oh, and I worked for the company that got Microsoft Windows certified to run in the cockpit as a map display. It's Posix compliant, dontcha' know!

      • by chill (34294) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @11:38AM (#27888625) Journal

        Except you just can't run anything for aircraft control. Read the fine print on software like Java, Windows and other items. You'll see it explicitly states you are not to use it for nuclear power plants, aircraft control and other life-critical applications. There are special rules for the super-critical stuff.

        On the other hand, if this happens in a restaurant that calls itself high quality and advertises the famous chicken soup from a master chef and you get the same treatment, then there are numerous consumer protection agencies in Europe at least to fine the given restaurant.

        That concept is so pathetic I don't know where to begin. Consumer protection agencies to fine a restaurant for poor quality and bad treatment? Are Europeans that big of pussies? What is wrong with "tell your friends they suck, don't eat there" and watch their business evaporate? You can't be serious that the government steps in for things like this!?

        • That concept is so pathetic I don't know where to begin. Consumer protection agencies to fine a restaurant for poor quality and bad treatment? Are Europeans that big of pussies? What is wrong with "tell your friends they suck, don't eat there" and watch their business evaporate? You can't be serious that the government steps in for things like this!?

          There is a difference between matters of personal taste and false advertising, deceptive business practices and business scams. I was trying to make an analogy

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by digitig (1056110)

        If software controlling an aircraft crashes and causes the aircraft to crash too and that kills people, I'm pretty sure the software makers might end up liable too.

        But the proposed legislation is consumer protection, which is a totally different branch of legislation to that relating to B2B contracts. Yes, the software makers might end up liable, depending on the contract between the service provider and the software supplier, but they might not. There's a lot of Linux used in air traffic control in Europe, but I doubt anybody involved in Linux could end up liable in the event of an accident. Rather, the air traffic service providers have to make sure they have adequa

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mdwh2 (535323)

      you can sue a soup kitchen if it gives you food poisoning.

      But equally, people should be free to say what use their product is intended for. You can sue someone if they sell you food, you can't sue someone if they sell you some substance, and you decide to eat it (especially if it has warnings not to eat it).

      The GPL states (similarly to most licences):

      THERE IS NO WARRANTY FOR THE PROGRAM, TO THE EXTENT PERMITTED BY APPLICABLE LAW. EXCEPT WHEN OTHERWISE STATED IN WRITING THE COPYRIGHT HOLDERS AND/OR OTHER PAR

      • by rackserverdeals (1503561) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @12:05PM (#27888877) Homepage Journal

        THERE IS NO WARRANTY FOR THE PROGRAM, TO THE EXTENT PERMITTED BY APPLICABLE LAW.

        If the law changes and requires software to offer a warranty then the GPL will be vulnerable. Even if the GPL didn't include that statement, a court could invalidated it because a contract that breaks the law is not legally binding.

        Changing a license for a big project isn't always easy.

        This will most likely hurt companies like Redhat, Canonical, Novell and other corporate open source contributors because they will have to stand by their products and you're bound to get a few cases where they have to pay up.

        But it's not a law yet.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by superwiz (655733)

        But equally, people should be free to say what use their product is intended for.

        As a number of people pointed out, there are exceptions to this. Basically, laws can restrict what types of agreements can be entered into. The most extreme example of this is that you can't enter into a contract to be a slave. A less extreme example would be a law that voids all "no warranty" clauses of software licenses.

        I also fail to see how causing injury is comparable to alleged liability of Microsoft.

        Law suits are a mechanism for recovering damages caused by the other party. You can't sue someone for wrong doing (that's what criminal laws are for). What you sue for is the damages

      • by Pentium100 (1240090) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @12:21PM (#27888993)

        I know a joke based on this:

        If food makers used the same licenses as software makers, then in a opaque box, there would be a license agreement:

        1. The manufacturer does not guarantee that this item can be used for food and is not liable if it is not suitable for eating.
        2. The user is not allowed to examine the contents of this item (for example to look if it had rat tails in it).
        3. The user has a right to use (eat) the product, but does not become its owner.
        4. The right to use (eat) the product gets only one person.
        5. The user does not have a right to sell of give away the product to third parties.
        6. The manufacturer does not guarantee that the product is free of hazardous materials (for example, rat poison, dioxin etc).
        7. The manufacturer is not liable for any health risk to the user because of the product.
        8. The manufacturer guarantees that the box is made of high quality materials and, if there is a flaw in it, will replace the box. This does not extend to the product that is in the box.
        9. By opening the box and reading this agreement the user automatically agrees to it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hognoxious (631665)

        you can't sue someone if they sell you some substance, and you decide to eat it (especially if it has warnings not to eat it).

        Silica gel, yum yum!

    • by jabithew (1340853) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @12:04PM (#27888871)

      Doesn't GPL have explicit anti-sue protection, with that whole section on lack of implied merchantability or warranty?

      This program is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify
              it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by
              the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or
              (at your option) any later version.

              This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,
              but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of
              MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. See the
              GNU General Public License for more details.

              You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License
              along with this program. If not, see http://www.gnu.org/licenses/ [gnu.org].

      From the GNU how-to [gnu.org].

      Does anyone know how this would interact with the potential EU law?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ClosedSource (238333)

        Both open source and closed source software typically include non-warranty clauses. If a new law were passed to void those clauses, it would affect both types.

  • by A beautiful mind (821714) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @11:24AM (#27888481)
    if you get it for no price, you don't enjoy such priviledges.

    If someone sells GPL based software, they are free to do so and pick up the tab on flaws in the product. Same goes for proprietary software.

    This should have been done at least 10 years ago.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sopssa (1498795)

      If you get free food and it gives you food poisoning, the one that made the soup will still be viable. Same issue here.

    • by rliden (1473185) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @12:05PM (#27888881)
      Do you really want to pay for perfect? There are risks associated with anything and buying perfect costs a hell of a lot of money.

      This is an issue that is more complicated that should developers be held liable for perfection. Is it good enough to work reliably in most cases? Was there a malicious or negligent intent to box and bunch of schlock? There are a lot of good questions that could be asked here when trying to define the responsibility and accountability of development companies.

      The market for proprietary software and the community for open source software does function pretty good for weeding out the crapware.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Cormophyte (1318065)

      This should have been done at least 10 years ago.

      Well, yes. But like a great many technological issues the people who make the law have been completely ignorant that the issue even exists, let alone proactive enough to formulate a solution for it.

  • GPL (Score:5, Informative)

    by neoform (551705) <djneoform@gmail.com> on Saturday May 09, 2009 @11:25AM (#27888489) Homepage

    http://www.opensource.org/licenses/gpl-license.html [opensource.org]

    Also, for each author's protection and ours, we want to make certain that everyone understands that there is no warranty for this free software. If the software is modified by someone else and passed on, we want its recipients to know that what they have is not the original, so that any problems introduced by others will not reflect on the original authors' reputations.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by superwiz (655733)

      there is no warranty for this free software

      every software license worth its salt has this clause. laws can make certain parts of agreements void. for example, you can't enter into a contract to be a slave.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MeanMF (631837) *
      Sure it's in the license now, and there are similar statements in the license agreements for most commercial software. But the license agreement is only valid if it's legal. So the question is what would happen if a law is passed that guarantees consumers certain rights regardless of what is in the license?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by maharb (1534501)

      If a law is passed 'protecting' the consumers then this clause of the contract become void. You can't have a contract to kill someone and have it upheld in court. Same goes with this sort of thing.

      There are other complications but basically that clause doesn't help because it would become an illegal clause.

  • Stupid Idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Courageous (228506) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @11:26AM (#27888493)

    The idea that code should be perfect is a stupid idea: consumers don't want that.

    They want "good enough," not perfect. Perfect costs a great deal of money, probably 4X, and consumers will buy the good enough product, at 1/4 of that price, well beyond 95% of the time.

    C//

    • by sopssa (1498795)

      There will never be such thing as perfect code, not even with 4x prices to create it. You can improve a lot tho.

    • Re:Stupid Idea (Score:5, Interesting)

      by rlseaman (1420667) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @11:42AM (#27888667)

      The idea that code should be perfect is a stupid idea: consumers don't want that. They want "good enough," not perfect. Perfect costs a great deal of money

      Your comment is "insightful", but it is beside the point. This is exactly the same issue with all engineering. An object manufactured to better standards than needed for the purpose is an overly expensive object. The question rather is the web of responsibility. If Microsoft or Google or even somebody's shareware makes a claim of suitability, certainly the consumer should have redress when it proves unsuitable.

      There are many other dimensions of this issue. For instance, the software industry is well known for adding pointless complexity - features that nobody ever asked for. If GE added a can opener to a toaster, they would be liable for any unexpected risks this reveals, but Microsoft can make Word so complex that businesses using it accrue large expenses related to training, etc., and risks related to misformatted and delayed documents and so forth - and yet Microsoft currently faces no significant market pressure from liabilities associated with having broken their own product.

    • Although in the last years I will admit there was a tendency to put on sale software which don't have major breaking bugs, "They want "good enough,"" very often good enough was not even provided. And in such a case you can certainly be SOL. This is particularly true with game , when retailer don't happen to accept back openned package, and you can get a real stinker which don#t even work.
    • The idea that code should be perfect is a stupid idea: consumers don't want that.

      They want "good enough," not perfect. Perfect costs a great deal of money, probably 4X, and consumers will buy the good enough product, at 1/4 of that price, well beyond 95% of the time.

      How is this different from any other product that people regularly pay for? Yet the makers of those products are still liable.

    • Re:Stupid Idea (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @11:45AM (#27888705)

      Exactly. The problem with trying to enforce this kind of measure for software is that there is a cost/performance curve, and most people don't want to pay to be right up at the end of it.

      Heck, no-one in the world knows how to get right up to the end of it. Even the guys at NASA, whose development process is awesomely effective at producing reliable software compared to the the commercial/home user industry, still get bugs. Given the nature of their work, their bugs can cost as much in a single mission as a bug in widely used home user software costs spread across the whole user base, potentially including a cost in human lives, so it's not like they're hiring stupid people or not trying to get everything perfect.

    • by 14erCleaner (745600) <FourteenerCleaner@yahoo.com> on Saturday May 09, 2009 @11:46AM (#27888715) Homepage Journal

      Perfect costs a great deal of money, probably 4X

      With free software, it's even more than 4X. Maybe even 10X.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      First of all, I would strongly disagree that most consumer software is currently 95%, more like 45% at best. I currently recommend people NOT use many of the consumer products with the highest market penetration, simply because it is nearly impossible to make them both safe and usable.

      Second, we're paying far more than 4x for "good enough". Sure, the consumer goes and pays the "good enough" price, but that is FAR from the end of it. Consumers spend hundreds of billions every year fixing and securing "goo

  • What if.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mastadex (576985) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @11:28AM (#27888505)

    Say a developer uses a number of 3rd party libraries (ie. Boost, TinyXML, etc), who will be pay damages if the program crashes in a bad way? The developer for not trying to catch 3rd party crashes, or the 3rd party for writing in bad code?

    • Re:What if.. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by A beautiful mind (821714) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @11:36AM (#27888593)
      The one who sells the given product. This is all about sale.

      If my harddrive breaks within warranty period, I don't go to the company who manufactured the silicon or the ICs, I go to the retailer or Samsung, who sold me the drive.
    • by sopssa (1498795)

      Developer will pay for the first hand damages, but on the hand he can go after the 3rd party library maker and try to get them pay for his damages. This is how it works elsewhere too.

  • by GuyverDH (232921) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @11:29AM (#27888515)

    Until the coders get total control of the project, from inception to completion, then no, they cannot be held responsible for bugs in the code.
    How many companies push to get code out the door with *imperfections* - claiming they'll fix those in the first update?
    Too many these days.
    I'd say it's the management that controls the release schedules that should sign their names in blood on the bugs still known about (and unknown as testing probably wasn't allowed to complete).

    • by sopssa (1498795)

      I think it'll be the companies responsability here, not a single developer's. If the company gets shit tho, they'll prolly fire that developer.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by scamper_22 (1073470)

      I have mixed feelings on this.

      This would only work if 'coders' gain the professional standing like doctors and lawyers. I would welcome the chance to have better qualified people in the field as well as bigger bucks.

      On the other hand, all of software is design. It's hard to fault someone for breaking breaking standard protocol, when each piece of software is essentially designing something new. I heart surgeon doesn't invent a new heart procedure with each patient... By definition in software, everythin

  • The idea of making Microsoft pay for the billions of dollars of damage [zdnet.com] caused by flaws in its products is certainly attractive, but where would this idea leave free software coders [linuxjournal.com]?

    Probably the same place as always, ie, "you get what you pay for". If the users don't pay you, they can't reasonably expect anything from you. Well, maybe they could if you were to tell them that it would work (but who does that anyway), IIRC there tend to be rules about when people are harmed by relying on something you told them?

  • or coders liable for anything. It will allow the government to say thing like, "Well your small company does not have the financial ability to support your product for "X" amount of years and you need insurance in case there are millions of lawsuits we are sorry but you can't sell your product". Meanwhile the large company (they are to big to fail or follow the rules everyone else is expected to) caries on as usual having eliminated to competition through government assistance and gets to carry on as usual
    • by sopssa (1498795)

      This is usual in big indrusties tho. For example banks are not allowed to be operate without certain level of financial ability, and I remember there just lately being news about US gov ordering some banks to increase their financial ability if they want to continue operating.

      Computer industry has become a huge industry aswell, specially companies like Microsoft who almost everyone are using(*except who use linux/freebsd/etc only, but thats still a minority)

      • by iamhigh (1252742)
        wow, you are missing the point. yes a bank has to financially stable, as that is their business, but a small software company shouldn't be required to have millions in liability insurace just to operate. think before you type. try to understand the argument before attacking it. and maybe you wont sound so clueless.
  • The word: Purchase (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MathFox (686808) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @11:34AM (#27888577)
    Most EUropean countries have clauses in their laws that instruct the judge to take the price of the good into account when considering what would be a reasonable quality for a product. A corollary of that is when you give something away for free, the expected quality level is something like "not known harmful".
    When you buy software, for example a Linux distribution, you may expect that the distributor has tested the packages and that the software mostly works. Because you pay more for MacOS, you may just expect MacOS to work better.

    Off course there has to come jurisprudence on all this, but I don't think that finding just one bug will entitle you to your money back. However, when the software won't work at all for you, the supplier can not hide behind EULAs and could be forced to compensate your damages... It will be a case-by-case balancing of responsibilities.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by itsdapead (734413)

      Most EUropean countries have clauses in their laws that instruct the judge to take the price of the good into account when considering what would be a reasonable quality for a product. A corollary of that is when you give something away for free, the expected quality level is something like "not known harmful".

      This is consumer protection law, not civil damages. The biggest practical upshot of this would be that if you buy a piece of software and it turns out not to be "fit for purpose", you have the right to a refund and maybe compensation for the cost of post and packing to return it. This is obviously moot if you downloaded the product for free.

      Your point about price might, however, come into play if I bought a cheap Linux CD and wanted my money back because the Minesweeper implementation wasn't quite up to s

  • by iluvcapra (782887) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @11:36AM (#27888597)
    If the EU wants higher-quality software, they should support an industry-wide system for the licensing and qualification of programmers, like we have for other engineering disciplines and professions. For example, they could require that all government software, or software for use in aircraft and life-critical functions. These developers wouldn't be "better" than anyone else, but they'd have taken an exam and be nominated by their peers, like a state bar.

    If the software is developed by professional developers with licenses, it gets a big seal on it, and then people can choose to buy it or not based on the rep of the licensing body, and their risk tolerance.
    • by MathFox (686808)
      You can license the developers, but when management pressures them to cut corners you still have shoddy software. It is a much better idea to make your suppliers responsible for delivering a quality product and put liability on them when they provide a shoddy one. The companies themselves will start thinking about testing, quality assurance and such; I am sure that looking at the education of the developers will be part of the list of measures considered.
      • You can license the developers, but when management pressures them to cut corners you still have shoddy software.

        I suppose that all depends on what the effect of losing one's software development license is. If a doctor, lawyer or engineer cuts corners and loses their certified status because of it, they might find themselves unable to get another job with equal pay, status & benefits.

        If the penalty for cutting corners and losing your license is high enough, you'd eventually develop a culture where pushing a developer to knowingly do bad work is just as unacceptable as it is for any other certified profession.

        Of

  • Two versions (Score:2, Insightful)

    by grotgrot (451123)

    The result will be two versions of software. One will be priced the same as today, with a detailed license agreement with you ultimately giving up those rights and a second version that sells for a million dollars a copy with those rights.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by julesh (229690)

      The result will be two versions of software. One will be priced the same as today, with a detailed license agreement with you ultimately giving up those rights

      The purpose of the law would be to prevent license agreements taking those rights away. You already have them by default anyway (google "implied warranty of merchantability").

  • I think that is pretty obvious. The only time you would be liable is if you make a promise of some sort whether explicitly or implicitly. If it is free software and you offer to support it for money, you are also liable for your services... that's an ugly grey area. But the very notion that someone should be able to impose BSA tactics against your business while at the same time not be held liable for flaws in the product they are protecting with such tactics is pretty uneven. The "Because we say so" li

  • It is all in the license. This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. See the GNU General Public License for more details.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ljw1004 (764174)

      Sure it's all in the license at the moment. The question is whether we as a society are happy that these are valid licenses.

      We don't let doctors do surgery with the EULA-like conditions that "anything they do is at the users own risk and the doctor isn't held to any standards."

      We don't let engineers build bridges with the EULA-like conditions that "the bridge is delivered as is and people drive over it at their own risk."

      Why do we allow software to get away with such a cowboy attitude when we're more rigoro

      • Why do we allow software to get away with such a cowboy attitude when we're more rigorous about other important infrastructure?

        Because they were built by humans for known variables. When I write a piece of software, say, in Python, I know it will work on my version of Python, however, the build of Python two weeks from now, or two weeks previously may not run it at all. If its a low level program, I can't be 100% sure that the next version of the kernel will be able to run it.

        There are so many variables that it is impossible to test them all. Add that in with patches that need to be hurriedly released to patch certain vulnera

  • "...they purchase a good: the right to get a product that works with fair commercial conditions,'...but where would this idea leave free software coders?"

    I get that free as in beer != free as in speech, but there is a pretty high correlation, and really this article is trying to imply that if I give software away for free as in beer I can be liable to the person who "purchased" my software license. Are they really trying to suggest that the ubiquitous line in almost every free as in beer software along th

  • The problem with guaranteeing software is the number of uses that it can have and the number of different environments it can be used in.

    Well, it's not necessarily a problem of software. If we look at the PlayStation/Wii/Xbox model, there is the potential to offer a guarantee there. Users are really only allowed to run things certified for the platform, one at a time, etc. That makes it at least *possible* to create a guarantee.

    The problem with computers is that it is impossible to create a guarantee lik

  • The proposal is to give licensees the same kind of protections as buyers, to close off the scam of "licensing" a product with more restrictions than allowed when selling it.

    The writer just wanted to get more attention, so he puffed it up with an imaginary threat to developers.

    --dave

  • Yes, when the consumer pays for a service, like providing an tested Software, where the distibutor promises a certain function, several thing should happen

    a) A distributor should have mandatory documented testing standards, where the documentation is public to the users (before buying).

    b) These testing Standards should be formulated in terms of an ISO norm. E.g. Tests, source code review, etc. should be formulated as clear statements.

    c) There should be a simple label system classifying highly speacialized (

  • If I do not allow anybody to see what I do, then surely I am alone responsible for the code.

    If I let the person see the code, they they would be responsible for accepting the code.

  • It's time for software to grow up.

    I proposed this in 2000 as a penalty for Microsoft in their antitrust trial. [animats.com] That would have been a big step forward.

    The claim that "the vendor doesn't know the environment in which the software will be used" is bogus. Car companies have no idea where you will drive your car, or on what kind of roads. They have a far worse problem than any software maker. Yet they have to accept serious liability obligations.

    Provided that this is implemented as a constraint on comme

    • by iamhigh (1252742)
      So if I drive 10,000 miles on a road covered with potholes and the wheels fall off, it is the car manu's fault? Didn't think so. Furthermore, software can be placed on a computer with millions of other types of software. Cars are pretty well self contained. By your measure, an accident would be the fault of the manufacturer. Please improve future analogies.
  • They should make the maximum penalty be that if you have a problem with the software, you are legally allowed a full refund of the purchase price, and the right to full access of the source code.

    Imagine what that would do to Microsoft and the Open Source communities respectively.

  • There are laws on the books for this already.

    They are called implied warranties of fitness and merchantability.

    In most states in the U.S., these warranties can only be waived under certain conditions so software licenses don't necessarily absolve mfrs and merchants of responsibility.

    Basic info:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Implied_warranty [wikipedia.org]

    I guess that the reason this is newsworthy is that EU directives harmonize European laws, which are presently quite diverse on the matter.

  • If you cant get your taxes e-filed due to a crash, its no different then not being able to get to the post-office due to your car not starting because of a defective battery.

    Sure, you should be able to return/exchange the product as being defective but you don't get your IRS fine paid.

    And we are talking consumer grade products here, if its specialized there should be some severe penalties if the product doesn't perform. ( such as a heart monitor for example )

  • but where would this idea leave free software coders?
    From the same header:

    licensing should guarantee consumers the same basic rights as when they purchase a good

    When you obtain "FREE" software, you do not "PURCHASE" anything. The damages obviously do not apply - in a sane world.

  • Complex products are always going to have bugs and imperfections. That goes for cars, consumer electronics, etc.. There should be nothing special about software. Most products are sold with a disclaimer of liability for consequential damages, such as business losses due to product not working. In most cases the liability for "product not suitable for intended purpose" is limited to refund of the purchase price, which seems fair and reasonable to me, and offers adequate protection for free software. The prob
  • The modern general purpose computer, even Macs, are very open products compared to typical consumer goods.

    A CD player is a CD player. It has to work properly with itself, and CDs. Even componentized systems have a very limited environment within which they have to work. Precisely defined interfaces in and out, and they are limited in number.

    A general purpose computer program though, is another beast entirely. There are thousands, if not millions, of other programs that they may have to coexist with. Mo

  • A car is clearly flawed if it typically gets you killed in a 20 MPH crash, but is acceptable if it gets you killed in a 100 MPH crash. People- legislators especially- don't grasp computers well enough to tell the difference, so they will see every problem as a flaw.
  • The EU doesn't have the US concept that commercial damages should include a ridiculously inflated content as a punishment - most EU countries weren't founded by punishment- and Hell-obsessed religious fundamentalists (this is not a troll by the way, but sober fact) and the UK was with hindsight quite lucky that so many of its homegrown ones went where they did. As a result, commercial cases in Europe are just that. What this is likely to mean if it passes is that companies will have to be less careless abou
  • Unworkable (Score:3, Interesting)

    by StormReaver (59959) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @12:45PM (#27889197)

    This is an unworkable plan. Personal computers, by their very nature, require the end-user to tamper with them. The moment the end-user installs some 3rd-party software, or swaps out any piece of hardware, the environment the software runs under changes. This new environment will frequently produce a permutation that is impossible to predict and test against.

    Additionally, many mainstream hardware manufacturers are TERRIBLE at producing hardware that conforms to the standards to which software developers target their code. Software developers can do everything right, but still see their programs malfunction due to circumstances beyond their control.

    If this brain-damaged statute passes, the European Union will witness a steady exodus of consumer software, both closed and Open Source, from its member nations. There are just too many intermediaries between the software producer and software consumer to make this kind of liability feasible in any way, shape, or form. The price of even simple software would also rise to that of a small skyscraper, as a deluge of lawsuits would be filed by users for problems they caused themselves, but blamed on the software.

    The cost to the European Union would be devastating.

Aren't you glad you're not getting all the government you pay for now?

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