SMITH BRAIN TRUST — A recent White House memorandum to heads of federal departments and agencies outlining a policy toward “ensuring Government-wide reuse rights for custom code that is developed using Federal funds” could be problematic for vendors that customize software for individual federal agencies, says entrepreneurship lecturer Jonathan Aberman at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business and founder of TandemNSI, a firm whose mission is to “connect agile innovators to government agencies.
The new Federal Source Code, also dubbed the “People’s Code,” also calls for at least 20 percent of these software projects to be accessible to the public without any additional payment to the developer through the “open sourcing” of their work. Aberman expresses caution in reviewing these changes. “Taken together, these policy steps could be a problem for software entrepreneurs,” he says. “As is often the case with announcements like these, the devil is in the details.”
A key issue is the juxtaposition of “government rights” and open sourcing of software products. “A government agency often acquires the right to use a software product specially written for it — and unless the developer specially limits this in their contract with the government, the government will have the right to share it throughout the government without further payment. That is not a new thing,” Aberman says. “You see this most often in research and development or prototyping. And, the government quite literally has rights to thousands of software projects that are completed and not used, or are only used by the agency to which they are delivered. Trying to figure out how to cause them to have more utility is a great idea for taxpayers.”
But the challenge, Aberman says, is whether the new government policy would…
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