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Government Open Source Programming Software Politics

NY Bill Would Provide Tax Credit For Open Source Contributors 54

An anonymous reader writes: For many years, the open source software community has made the distinction between "free as in freedom" (the software can be used or modified as the user sees fit) and "free as in beer" (the software is available at no cost). Some have added a third type of free: "free as in puppy". Like a puppy, adopting open source software has ongoing cost. What many people don't consider is that developing open source software has a cost, too. Many developers purchase extra hardware for testing or pay for code hosting, a website, etc. A pending bill in the New York Senate aims to help offset those costs. The bill, sponsored by Senator Daniel Squadron (D-26th) and co-sponsored by Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson (D-36th), would provide a tax credit of 20% of "expenses associated with the development of open source and free software", up to an annual maximum of $200. Based on a 2006 report by the Center for American Progress, this bill appears to be the first of its kind introduced to a state legislature. I'd rather they require that any software developed at taxpayer expense be released as open source.
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NY Bill Would Provide Tax Credit For Open Source Contributors

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  • I'd rather they require that any software developed at taxpayer expense be released as open source.

    That's not as clear of a metric as one might expect. We have lots of research efforts now that are jointly funded by government and private funds; would they need to be released as open source? And how do you dictate the release schedule for the code? Does it need to be updated regularly or can it just be released when there is something relating to it published somewhere? And who will host it, for how long? Will the authors be held responsible for making sure that their code compiles on other peoples' hardware?

    It's a good idea but the execution of it is not trivial. I can think of plenty of software in my field of work that has been at least partially funded by the government that I would love to see released but some of the above matters make it impossible or impractical to get a good release of it out publicly.

    • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

      While these practical issues apply to existing projects, for new projects going forwards it's much less of a problem...

      Would jointly funded code need to be released? Yes, so if you don't agree to that don't agree to partial government funding.

      Release the code as soon as it exists (ie develop it in the open), maybe others will contribute towards it which saves you development time, and depending on the license under which you release it you should be able to reuse other existing open source code where applic

    • > It's a good idea but the execution of it is not trivial.

      100% agreed. The biggest thing that jumps out at me, in terms of making that a -requirement-, is that 95% of software projects involve adding to existing systems, not writing an entire system from scratch. Even for a brand-new agency, you're going to use Active Directory or something similar, not author your own AD from scratch.

      At my last job, I spent three years writing software for a government agency in an environment which included a big GPLv3

    • "That's not as clear of a metric as one might expect. "
      Clear enough

      "We have lots of research efforts now that are jointly funded by government and private funds; would they need to be released as open source?"

      Yes! -- next question?

      " And how do you dictate the release schedule for the code? "

      Post the commits

      Fake problems to muddy the water. It the tax payer pays for even part of it - or supplies the infrastructure - it belongs to the public - not Washington elite coneys. Enough of this 'cartel-socialism

      • 100% correct. This isn't a problem at all. You take the public money, you release the source under an Open License. End of story.
    • by El Cubano ( 631386 ) on Friday March 18, 2016 @11:55AM (#51723917)

      On top of what you say, there are lots of places in the government that focus on tech transfer. The very essence of it is that the government and one or more private entities jointly share in the development cost and risk. The government then usually gets some perpetual royalty-free right to the product of the endeavor, while the commercial interest gets the right to further develop the technology and market/sell to the commercial public. There is almost always a requirement that those two don't interfere with each other. The biggest concern is usually on the part of the commercial interests which worry that the government will give away the technology at some later time, thereby destroying their market. So, there is usually a prohibition on just that sort of thing when a tech transfer takes place.

      To make the "all software developed at tax payer expense open source" thing come true, the government would have to completely re-think the idea of how tech transfer works. Don't get me wrong. I am in favor making as much government-funded software as possible open source. I'm just saying it is more complex than that.

  • by selectspec ( 74651 ) on Friday March 18, 2016 @10:57AM (#51723287)

    Meanwhile companies that contribute to open source can write down the entire expense of development including salaries, benefits, software, facility, and equipment.

  • by yayoubetcha ( 893774 ) on Friday March 18, 2016 @10:57AM (#51723289)

    Do something special in taxes just for this class and me. Next thing, we have complicated State and Fed tax codes. Just like we do.

    BTW, if I accept a puppy, I accept all the responsibilities of owning that puppy. I don't expect my neighbor, or a person in another city to help me.

    • I accept all the responsibilities of owning that puppy. I don't expect my neighbor, or a person in another city to help me.

      Hey now, that's personal responsibility talk. We don't cater to such nonsense round these parts.

      You take your "I can take care of myself without leeching off others" and mosey on down the road. We here are proud of requiring others to hand over their money whether they want to or not so we can live the good life without having to worry bout none of that fancy responsibility
      • You take your "I can take care of myself without leeching off others" and mosey on down the road.

        I assume that you paved that road yourself and didn't "leech off others" to do it for you ;-)

        • The road benefits all. That is not leeching.

          Leeching is when you get to be as fat as you want, smoke as much as you want, do as many drugs as you want and expect, nay, demand everyone else around you be forced to pay to protect you from your own doings.

          The very opposite of what the OP said, not expect anyone else to care for the animal they have taken in.

    • by tomhath ( 637240 )

      If you raise a puppy as a public service [seeingeye.org] you might get your neighbors to pay at least some of the costs.

      One could argue that developing something useful as open source is also a public service, although I don't think this bill is the answer.

    • by j-beda ( 85386 )

      Do something special in taxes just for this class and me. Next thing, we have complicated State and Fed tax codes. Just like we do.

      Additionally, these sorts of credits which seem good in priniciple (giving an additional incentive to behaviour we thing is "good" like getting exercise or promoting children's education) often do not in fact result in a much increase in that behaviour, but rather just divert money to people who would be doing these things even without the incentives. When sold as benifits to the poor downtroden masses, often they end up being benifficial mostly to upper middle class taxpayers.

      Then there is the difficulty o

    • But what if I offer you $200? Now are you willing to further complicate an already over-complicated tax code?
  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Friday March 18, 2016 @10:58AM (#51723303)
    $200? Why bother with the paperwork? Only, now there will be more paperwork, as the state spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement the program and add the little checkbox to a form somewhere.

    My real take is even more cynical: this will be sold to the public as "$200 for independent open source software developers" but the final version will have a mysterious change in it that allows corporations with thousands of machines running some little piece of open source code to take a couple of million-dollar tax credits for "contributing to open source". In fact, the presser the politicians put out is little more than a sales brochure: "I'm offering up a tax credit for open source contributors (wink wink) - please contact my office (write a big check) if you want to know more (get in on the tax break for your company)."
    • Because that is 200 lottery tickets.
    • Wait until you get the 20 pages of tax forms (and the 100 pages of instructions) required to claim this tax deduction. You might have to keep track of every line of code you wrote and document how long it took you to code it. If you make more than $50,000 in income, be prepared to have this deduction reduced or completely eliminated by the AMT or some other tax tacked on. Also save everything for 7 years in case of an audit (claiming this deduction will also increase your chances of being audited).
  • up to an annual maximum of $200

    The proposal sure is generous... My tax-bill from NY for 2015 is thousands of dollars, being able to lower it by the whopping $200 is not going to move the needle. Especially, if claiming the deduction is going to increase the accountant's fee...

    Like a puppy, adopting open source software has ongoing cost.

    Yay! Let's give tax-credits to dog-owners as well.

    The whole idea is pure vote-pandering — people work on open-source (and get dogs) for fun...

    • by frnic ( 98517 )

      That is a very limited view point from your perspective. Many people work on Open Source for a living. However, they do pay taxes on the money they make down it. This is simply a way to encourage open source startups/individuals.

      • by mi ( 197448 )

        Many people work on Open Source for a living.

        First, $200 is not going to affect them. Second, while I fully support all measures reducing the taxes, I fail to see, why this particular activity needs special encouragement.

      • It's a not so simple way (i.e. altering state law) to provide an extremely small amount of encouragement to open source development.

        They will no doubt spend more money trying to pass this bill and enforce it than the amount of money ultimately provided to open source.

        As a person who sometimes contributes code to open source projects, I think this pointless. I think it's too small an amount of money to be of any real benefit. It's a way for legislators to pretend like they are being useful. It will no dou

        • by frnic ( 98517 )

          I agree with you, it is too little, but it is a step in the right direction.

          • I don't think it's even a step in the right direction. As a programmer, the tax code is about the most horrifying thing I can imagine. It's the real world embodiment of code bloat.

            Even if they wanted to give lots of money towards open source development, tax breaks in a specific state is not a good way to do it. It would probably much better if they just took a bunch of money and donated to to whatever open source projects they wanted.

            It's like trying to help homeless people by spending $15 at the grocer

  • I don't know about US tax laws, but aren't there some tax laws regarding work- or study-related costs like the situation the vast majority of open source developers is in. I don't know any FOSS developer who isn't either an IT worker or an IT student.

  • I'd rather they require that any software developed at taxpayer expense be released as open source.

    Great idea, having the Chinese and Russians poring over the F-35's avionics.

    If that's not giving you nightmares, imagine them getting their filthy commie hands on something that actually works.

  • What, the science guy?
  • Can we do like Hillary Clinton did with her emails? Print the source code out on paper; release them a few pages at a time over a few years; and black out large portions of it after swearing that it didn't exist in the first place? Can we leave out whole functions or classes of objects while insisting they were private and only used to schedule our yoga classes or daughter's wedding? Can we make it so the only way certain people can get the code is with an FBI investigation and subpoenas from Congress?

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