Daily Challenge Day 41

Last night was writing about simple surveying and mapping. WHich reminded me about attempting to use OpenStreetMap a few weeks back. I basically attempted to download some data for Maitland SA for use in QGIS. When I checked the maps I was surprised to see a map for Maitland. However, when I downloaded the data all I got were a few distorted rectangles: this seemed more like what I expected. Which left me questioning: what exactly is OpenStreetMap about and where did they get the displayed maps from? Also got me thinking that most local councils should have relatively detailed drawings of their regions, which could be used as the basis of maps. If they were willing to release. Most Australian federal government publications are now mainly available free of charge and under a creative commons license, so getting information from local government authorities should also be possible. But there are copyright issues.

And copyright is a current issue, as each time I go to wikipedia I am requested to sign a petition to the Australian government to change Australian copyright law to have something similar to American fair use. Apparently Australian fair use conditions are relatively restrictive. Which brings back to councils, getting drawings of existing construction to assist with renovations is a hassle, due to copyright issues. The issue is magnified when the creators of the drawings are no longer in business. Then there is the hinderance to design, where by plan drafters, building designers and architects are unwilling to share CAD drawings, resulting in a waste of time.

What is the issue? I mean I could guess that their drawings are so simple that they are worried their drawings will be stolen and then they will be out of business. Whilst engineering drawings are more complete and complex, so we can share with them as they have no understanding what to do with most of the drawing: and more importantly they cannot displace the engineers, because the plan drafters cannot crunch numbers. In other words they have an inferiority complex considering they contribute little of value to a project. Nah! They think what they have produced is unique and original and think that copyright protects a lot more than it actually does. Consider this if anyone can start a business as a plan drafter, where by they have little to no actual skill in technical drawing: would anyone think that persons with a formal education in technical drawing, like an engineer, really needs the incomplete technically incorrect drawings produced by a plan drafter. Nah! The copyright protection is nonsense, just share the drawings and get the job done: the big consultants do.

The other issue raised recently is that concerning Australian standards. Seems librarians are not happy with the publisher of Australian standards: Free access to Australian standards no longer available in public libraries. I have previously mentioned issues with the Building Code of Australia (BCA) or the now titled National Construction Code (NCC): the last time I purchased the BCA was 2010, it cost around $250 for the two printed volumes, and CD with both volumes and guide. I only require one page in the code, and I only need that because the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB), deliberately removed the clause from the loading code AS1170, so that structural engineers would be forced to look at the BCA. The BCA/NCC is rubbish. The ABCB may want it to be the single point of reference to the built environment, but it is grossly inadequate for such purpose: it does not cover construction so I don’t know why they changed its name. In general we use the phrase building and construction. Construction for the most part includes that building activity which does not include buildings for example: dams, highways, canals, railways, bridges, storage tanks, silos, radar, power stations, water filtration plant, pumping stations, oil refineries and a lot more besides. Though in statistical terms some of the items may be counted elsewhere in other industries. The point is that the BCA/NCC does not provide adequate performance criteria for these items. So not really interested in the BCA/NCC list of Australian standards it cost far more than the $30 for a printed version of the Australian standards catalogue: which is typically a more relevant single point of reference than the BCA/NCC. Along with standards catalogues for British standards, American Standards, European and ISO standards, and possibly German and Japanese. The latter two being a last resort if cannot find anything written in English.

Anycase I recently went to check for any changes in the BCA/NCC, and discovered that access is now available free of charge. It seems that such access was made available a few years back: so it seems the last time I checked was further back than I thought. The last time I checked it cost around $70 for a months online access: which seemed expensive. So it now being freely available is good. I checked out and there is now better coverage of the probabilities for loading, based on reliability: improving the facility for adjusting load magnitudes.

So all that is left is getting rid of the captive market the publisher of Australian standards has been granted for documents mandated by legislation. Suggest Australia follows New Zealand’s approach and published the documents for the public to view. Once upon a time there was a local Australian Standards office and as far as I could tell it functioned more like a library than a sale outlet. It was closed down and replaced by a sales office at the end of a phone in another state. It is not the purpose of national standards to make a profit from sales of such publications: the purpose is to make a common source of information available so as to provide for safety and interchangeability of components. If people cannot afford to view such publications then its unlikely that people will comply with such.

It should also be noted that part of a designers job is to interpret national standards and implement design-solutions which comply with such standards. But are people resorting to consultants because they do not understand the standards or because there are far too many standards referring one to the other? Thus such interlinking of standards makes finding the simplest thing out expensive. Why for example is AS1170 in multiple parts where one part costs nearly as much as ASCE7 ? The standards are written by volunteers and given that digital versions can be quickly modified and released, the digital versions of the codes seem far too expensive. Seems like the captive market is supporting more than a group of volunteers.

Which then raises the issue of the practicality of the GPL and Creative Commons Licenses. Can people make a living releasing their work under such licenses?

As far as I understand none of these licenses require that authors give their work away. And forgetting opportunity costs and sunken costs and other jargon: people having put effort into producing something would in general like to recover the cost of such effort so that they can cover the cost of future work.

For example a company supplies an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system for $100,000 and licenses under GPL. The company has the right to request the source code if they don’t already have, and modify and customise to better meet their needs. Someone using the software, notices the license and decides to copy and release to the public. As far as I understand that person has stolen the software, as they were not granted the license. The company using the ERP system has a right under the license to release the software to the public at zero fee: it is not however obligated to release the software. The principal purpose of the license is to enable users of the software to fix bugs they may encounter in their own time frames, not the time frame imposed by the authors of the software.

The problem is that most people seem to think that the GPL means software at zero cost, as in free beer, even though everything makes it clear it is about freedom not free beer. To quote free software foundation:

A program is free software if the program’s users have the four essential freedoms:

  1. The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  2. The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  4. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

If the software is available for a fee, then can only become a user if buy the software, so don’t get these rights until acquire the software. Now having bought the software, you can choose to give the software away: but why would you? You are a user of the software, not a developer and distributor, and changing to such role would pose a multitude of problems. Now if a large company and have to pay people on staff to support the use of such software, and customise to suit the companies needs: then most likely not going to be interested in paying $100,000 per year, support contract from the developers. You are likely to negotiate a smaller fee, taking into consideration the in-house development of the software to better meet the company needs.

Large organisations are likely to have their own information technology departments managing complex systems built in-house. The availability of open source systems provides such organisations with access to a large number of people potentially conversant with a common system, rather than a limited few people conversant with the in-house system. The organisations also gain access to features they may not otherwise have access to, until they have completed several years of research, design and development (RD&D). On making their own changes they can keep such knowledge in-house, they do not need to share with the community. Sharing changes may not be in the best interests of the organisation, if it concerns features related to proprietary knowledge which cannot be separated. For example some quick tweaks may relate to hardcoding references to company hardware. It fixes a problem for the company, but is of little use to others, unless they have similar problems. So the general solution released to the public may be a general description of approach rather than actual source code. A future change may replace the hardcoding with more generic code referring to customisable data files.

The point is the license when acquired allows modification and improvement of the software by the users. But a user still has to acquire the license. Gaining the license by taking is not a legitimate way of acquiring the license free of charge. The license has to be given free of charge not taken. In other words no one has a right to acquire the software or other work free of charge. Those persons who legitimately acquire the work however are granted the privilege of being able to give the work away at zero fee if they so wish: but they are also granted the privilege of being able to sell the work. So why give away when can sell to recover own cost?

It effectively puts the software and other work on a similar footing with other products: where by a retailer can buy the product and sell for any price they wish if they are able. Other products are typically available for a broad range of prices, and people can buy used goods for low fees or extremely high fees, or they can get used goods for zero fee.

The fundamental requirement in all cases is getting the logistics right: supplying the rights goods, in the right place at the right time and in the right condition, at the right price. If no one knows the goods exist then they cannot be supplied to anyone.

So when it comes to information we want to impose, then it has to be readily accessible, and part of the accessibility is the right price. And currently the price isn’t right.