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Think Tanks vs Open Source: Microsoft Funding is Common Denominator

Think Tanks vs Open Source: Microsoft Funding is Common Denominator

  • Linus Torvalds Isn't the "Father of Linux," Claims Headline-Seeking Study

    The Alexis de Tocqueville Institute’s attack on Linux is just the latest in a series of attacks on Open Source by think tanks.

    In the grid below I have marked with an asterisk all the think tanks that use Open Source software to power their Web sites. Many of these pieces were disseminated by townhall.com * which is a project of the Heritage Foundation *. Many more attacks on Open Source have been published by Tech Central Station *.

    It would take far too much space to rebut all their arguments. For example, here are extensive critiques of just the first one.

    What the think tanks have in common

    Why are all these think tanks so down on Open Source? Well, the Small Business Survival Committee is concerned that using open source will expose small business to the risk of lawsuits. Citizens Against Government Waste is concerned that the Government might waste money on Open Source. Defenders of Property Rights is concerned that Open Source might be a threat to intellectual property rights. However, I was able to detect a common theme to all their criticism. They all seem to be funded by Microsoft.

    Date Think Tank Author/Title Extracts
    Sep 19, 2002 Competitive Enterprise Institute James DeLong
    Software Wars: Open Source And The New York Times
    Writing apps without incorporating some operating system code is difficult, and those who want to engraft proprietary aps onto Linux are taking a legal risk.
    Jan 31, 2003 Washington Legal Foundation David S. Evans
    Open-Source Software Poses Challenges for Legal and Public Policy
    The terms of licenses under which most open-source software is being distributed create a legal wall between for-profit and non-profit software, threatening to reduce innovation on both sides.
    Feb 5, 2003 Small Business Survival Committee Raymond Keating
    Is Open Source Software Equivalent to the Borg?
    In the software universe, something similar to the Borg from “Star Trek” seems to be at work. It’s called open source software distributed under an agreement known as General Public License (GPL).
    If you recall, the Borg are “Star Trek” bad guys. They’re basically evil bureaucrats with skin problems, who assimilate every species they come in contact with throughout the universe. Societies are wiped out. Individual thought and creativity are extinguished as individuals are absorbed into a collective.
    Something similar could be said of GPL-based open source software.
    April 8, 2003 Defenders of Property Rights Is Open Source Software a Threat to the Future of Intellectual Property Rights? As unlikely as this might seem to the skeptic, the National Security Agency (NSA), that coordinates, directs, and performs highly specialized activities to protect U.S. information systems and produce foreign intelligence information, made the folly of developing GPL-licensed code to improve the Linux operating system. After reading the terms of the Linux GPL, the NSA realized they needed to post this enhancement to the Internet in source code form for the world to see. Unbelievably, any person with a PC and an Internet connection can now logon to the NSA’s website and print out the blueprint for NSA s Security Enhanced Linux software.
    May 20, 2003 Pacific Research Institute * Sonia Arrison
    Is the Penguin Contaminated?
    After all, in scanning the online petition, one can’t help but be struck by the many comments such as “get your hands of my linux you damn, dirty, corpo-apes!!” and worse. These words suggest we can expect defiance, not cooperation, on serious issues like intellectual property from the open-source community, at least in the near future.
    June 24, 2003 Association For Competitive Technology Richard Wilder
    Open source’s moment of truth
    Regardless of the case’s outcome, however, the specter of liability has already been raised among the notoriously risk-averse ranks of corporate information officers. Already, industry analysts from Gartner have advised corporations to reconsider implementing Linux, especially on “mission critical” systems.
    Aug 27, 2003 Citizens for a sound economy * Wayne T. Brough
    New Protectionism: Mandates for Open Source Software
    There may be more incompatibility problems among open source programs than proprietary programs
    Sep 24, 2003 Americans for Technology Leadership Jim Prendergast CCIA Engages in Shameless Exploitation of Cyber-Security Fears In a recent CNET article, Dan Ingevaldson, engineering manager for Internet Security Systems in Atlanta said ‘In any given year there have been just as many vulnerabilities in the open-source community as there have been with Microsoft.’
    Oct 29, 2003 Citizens Against Government Waste * Tom Finnigan
    Massachusetts Not So Open For Business
    Yet while the software itself is free, the cost to maintain and upgrade it can become very expensive. Acquisition costs commonly represent only a small percentage of the total cost of ownership. Maintenance, training and support are often more expensive with open source than proprietary software.
    Imagine the state DMV being responsible for programming the software that runs its computers. Every little problem would require an outside consultant, racking up fees and slowing down services.
    Mar 4, 2004 Institute for Policy Innovation Tony Healy
    Has Open Source Reached Its Limits?
    The reality is that open source can trap a customer into an outsourcer relationship more readily than commercial software. This is because commercial platforms expose standard API’s for third party applications and any consultant can develop for them. … open source will go the way of other IT industry fads that were once trumpeted as the way of the future, like Macintosh computers, business AI, 4GL programming languages and Y2K.
    Mar 11, 2004 Small Business Survival Committee Raymond Keating
    Intellectual Property: The Open Source Challenge
    Risk of Lost Property. … If GPL-covered code were to find its way into a proprietary system or application, it would become public and free to use by anyone. …
    Security Issues. … relying on nameless volunteers in cyberspace for security purposes would seem to be a dicey proposition, at best. …
    Innovation. Much of the questions about open source software and applications come back to basic economic incentives. What incentives exist among volunteers to do their best, most innovative work? There is little.
    Mar 17, 2004 Small Business Survival Committee Raymond Keating
    Open Source, Open Questions
    Indeed, open source has now moved into the courts over the issue of intellectual property. The burning question comes down to: How do those providing and using open source applications know that someone’s intellectual property wasn’t stolen and inserted?
    Consider that SCO Group, which owns the license for Unix software, accused IBM in a lawsuit filed in March 2003 of allegedly shifting Unix intellectual property into Linux. Additional lawsuits swirl around SCO, Unix and Linux. After long threatening to sue some high-profile Linux users, earlier this month, SCO brought a lawsuit against DaimlerChrysler and AutoZone.
    Apr 29, 2004 International Policy Network * Bibek Debroy and Julian Morris
    Open to development: Open source software and economic development
    The pure open-source model is not capable of supporting for-profit firms. While the service-support model can provide sustainable profits, as the U.S. experience has demonstrated this model can only support a handful of firms at best.
    June 4, 2004 Alexis de Tocqueville Institute * Ken Brown
    Samizdat’s critics… Brown replies
    Linux is a leprosy; and is having a deleterious effect on the U.S. IT industry because it is steadily depreciating the value of the software industry sector.

    Oliver Burkeman, writing in The Guardian, 20 July 2000:

    They have a word in Washington for the corporate-sponsored outcry, the grassroots movement that isn’t: AstroTurf. By far the most comical example of this is to be found at the Freedom to Innovate Network (Fin), a “non-partisan, grassroots network of citizens and businesses who have a stake in the success of Microsoft and the high-tech industry”. Fin doesn’t try particularly hard to appear independent—its website, after all, is housed on Microsoft’s own—but it has as its online centrepiece a lengthy collection of testimonials from activist groups with vaguely alarming names: the Centre for the Moral Defence of Capitalism, Frontiers of Freedom, Defenders of Property Rights. Their comments appear unsolicited and independent: it certainly looks like there is a groundswell of support for the beleaguered computer giant. Though it isn’t mentioned on the site, the vast majority get funding from Microsoft, a company source confirms. There are swathes of them—the National Taxpayers Union, Citizens for a Sound Economy, the Small Business Survival Committee, Americans for Tax Reform, and many more.
    And the Albion Monitor writes:

    [Citizens for a Sound Economy] is just one of several tax-exempt orgs that have divided over $750,000 from Microsoft and waxed in outrage over the proposed breakup of the software giant. Other beneficiaries include the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, National Taxpayers Union, and about a dozen more obscure names such as Citizens Against Government Waste, Citizens for a Sound Economy, the Small Business Survival Committee, the Independent Institute, Americans for Technology Leadership, and the Association for Competitive Technology.

    Together the groups wage a disinformation campaign almost identical to the attempt to debunk global warming waged by Big Oil that we described in a 404 report two years ago. The strategy requires discrediting Microsoft critics while building a sham “grassroots” movement in support of the corporation.

    The Pacific Research Institute’s annual report shows that it received more than $10,000 from Microsoft in 2003. Declan McCullagh states: “CEI received a small-to-moderate amount of money from Microsoft during the antitrust trial days”. Tech Central Station is published by the DCI Group, a PR firm with Microsoft as a client. And, of course, the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute is funded by Microsoft.

    Let’s see, that leaves the Washingtonian Legal Foundation, the International Policy Network and the Institute for Policy Innovation. I asked each of them if they were funded by Microsoft, but not one of them replied. The article published by the Washingtonian Legal Foundation is similar to this one published by Microsoft. That’s not surprising since they were both written by the same person, who is, in fact, a consultant to Microsoft. The International Policy Network shares staff and its US address with the Microsoft-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute. As for the IPI, it seems that Microsoft hired one of the directors of the IPI as its chief lobbyist. And when Leon Brooks accused the IPI of shilling for Microsoft, the IPI responded:

    Mr Brooks attacked a 17-year-old, well-respected public policy research organisation in the US about which he knows absolutely nothing, and to which he made not a single inquiry before dashing off his screed. He impugned our motives and questioned our integrity without a shred of information and without enough interest to bother to ask us.
    This is your basic non-denial denial. IPI is upset that their integrity was questioned, but they did not actually deny the charge. I pointed this out in my email to them, but they did not reply.

    Several leaked Microsoft memos (known as the Halloween documents) provide some insight into Microsoft’s plans to combat Open Source. Comparing their research, into the best messages to use against Open Source with the arguments used by the think tanks is rather interesting.

    Lack of disclosure

    Not one of these think tanks mentioned that they were funded by Microsoft when they attacked Open Source. Chris Mooney explains what is wrong with this:

    My argument is not that the work of any of these authors was bought and paid for by a particular company. That is both impossible to prove and probably untrue anyway. Still, had the relevant corporate connections been disclosed to readers in each of these cases, the op-eds would undoubtedly have seemed suspect. That’s the whole point of disclosure: It lets readers judge for themselves whether a particular connection may bias an argument or analysis. It shines sunlight on debates in which advocates may attempt to hide their ulterior motives to advance self-interested propagandistic arguments.

    Funded by Philip Morris and pro-tobacco

    This is not the only time that these think tanks have been pushing the agenda of their funders without disclosing their connection. In 1995, several of them mounted vitrolic attacks on the FDA using expensive radio, television and print ads. In an article in the Los Angeles Times Myron Levin wrote:

    Although the attacks do not mention tobacco, the industry is a major beneficiary. By arguing that the FDA has neglected its basic mission, the critics have made a case against the agency embarking on new initiatives, such as tobacco control…

    Some of the FDA attackers—including the Washington Legal Foundation, Citizens for a Sound Economy and the Competitive Enterprise Institute—have received financial support from tobacco interests. And that has prompted industry foes to question if the companies are just lucky bystanders or have played a behind-the-scenes role…

    Officials of Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, the two biggest tobacco companies, declined to discuss corporate donations to such groups…

    Tobacco companies “have increased their support of CEI,” but not to fund any specific campaign, said spokesman Jason Taylor. “We make it quite clear that support of CEI is support of the whole organization and … . our principles.”

    However, now that the tobacco companies’ documents are publicly available we can find out what was really going on.

    Levin’s inquiries while he was working on his story generated quite a few concerned emails within Philip Morris. Executives were worried about what Levin might find out and wanted to make sure that no-one told him anything. For example:

    Of course Marsha should not respond to Levin. We never had any leaks with Decision Quest. … This is disturbing and may mean that we are using too many outside consultants.

    What was Philip Morris trying to hide? Well, in December 1994, a Philip Morris executive came up with a plan to deal with the FDA:

    Over the past few weeks I have been thinking about how the tobacco industry should deal with the threat of FDA regulation of nicotine. Even with the favorable outcome of the November elections, I doubt if it will be politically feasible to get Congress to direct the FDA not to regulate tobacco.

    A better strategy is to launch a broad-based attack on the FDA. …

    A public relations and advertising campaign should be mounted to publicize FDA’s failings, and to generate public and congressional sentiment for reform. …

    From the moment the plan is launched, FDA will have its hands full defending its record and its existing turf. FDA’s efforts to claim new jurisdiction, including jurisdiction over tobacco would be curtailed. The tobacco industry could take a low—even invisible—profile if it so desires…

    Citizens for a Sound Economy was Philip Morris’ major partner in the campaign. They presented a proposal to Philip Morris that included TV and radio ads, production of an “academic” study on the FDA’s regulatory burden, and even astroturf letters:
    CSE would encourage our 250,000 grassroots members to … sign and mail a pre-printed letter to the editor that has been personalized with their local newspapers’ names and addresses.
    The proposed budget was over a million dollars for phases I and II and an additional $2,827,925 for phase III. Philip Morris paid CSE a mere one million dollars, so it looks like only phases I and II were implemented.

    Philip Morris records show the following payments in 1995, as well as examples of pro-tobbaco lobbying:

    Think tank 1995 Payments Pro-tobacco lobbying
    Competitive Enterprise Institute $200,000 Example
    Heritage Foundation $50,000 Example
    Defenders of Property Rights $30,000 Example
    Small Business Survival Committee $40,000 Example
    Citizens for a Sound Economy $985,000 Example
    Alexis de Tocqueville Institute $75,000 Example
    Citizens Against Government Waste $50,000 Example
    Washington Legal Foundation $250,000 Example

    All of these think tanks lobbied on behalf of Philip Morris without mentioning their connection, just as they attacked Open Source without mentioning that they were funded by Microsoft. More details on the behind-the-scenes efforts of the tobacco companies are in this Mother Jones article.

    Funded by Exxon and anti-global warming

    Some of these same think tanks have also received funding from Exxon, and by the strangest coincidence have been hard at work denying the existence of global warming and claiming that Kyoto will cause massive damage to the economy. Examples: Paul Georgia of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Alexis De Tocqueville Institute. Greenpeace has created an interactive web site on these groups. I used it to create a graph showing all the anti-Open Source think tanks that are also anti-global warming (Flash required).

    Disclosure

    I have not been paid by anybody to write this piece. I did use Open Source software including Xemacs, GNU/Linux, and Blosxom while writing it. My thanks to Lion Kuntz who prompted my investigation by leaving a comment listing some of the think tank attacks.


    Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

  • More Stories By Tim Lambert

    Tim Lambert - who has memorably been described as "a well-known Internet quidnunc" - blogs at timlambert.org, on a wide variety of technology topics. He is a lecturer in the School of Computer Science and Engineering at The University of New South Wales, Australia.

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