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software-liability-a-bad-idea-that-will-come-too

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Time for me to weigh in on the subject of liability for software bugs. Bruce Schneier posted about it here, and Pete Lindstrom responded here. I agree with Lindstrom. It is an incredibly bad idea. Software liability laws will increase the costs of software development so high that it will drive small firms from the market, reduce customer choice resulting in less choice, less innovation and even worse software.

Schneier is correct that it is an economic problem, but writing indiscriminate laws doesn't solve the problem. Let's break down the problem: people buy software with bugs in it. They have no recourse because they 'agreed' to a EULA that stated as much. The agreed to the EULA because they had no choice, they needed the software and they were not powerful enough to demand a change in the license.

Think of a different situation. A large corporation is evaluating 3 software packages for a critical application from small companies. The large corporation wants a the vendors to pay rebate a portion of the costs if the software brings the server down. Will they get it? Probably.

What consumers lack is power. What are some market-based ways to create pressure on software providers?

  • Governments and large buyers should adopt open standards for documents, allowing for more competition amongst productivity apps.
  • Large buyers should push for more secure software.
  • OEMs should offer multiple OSs and software packages.
  • Consumer-oriented resellers like the big-box chains should push their OEMs for better licenses.
The interesting thing about this list? Almost all of it is happening already. The exception is probably the last one, but that might just be a matter of time. I believe that if a law is passed pushing liability to software developers, it will come just as the market has fixed the problem and only serve to wreak havoc.

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