Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sourceforge Denies Site Access to Comply with US Law

Is open source all that open anymore? That's probably an unfair question. By definition, open source products are available to everyone without least from the open source community's point of view. But what about the U.S. Government's?

I was inspired to write this little missive by reading the Dana Blankenhorn and Paula Rooney blog at This morning, I took a look at their article Obama enforces trade embargo against open source. This means, among other things, that people from certain countries visiting Sourceforge will not gain immediate access to the open source projects contained therein, but rather, will receive a "nastygram" in the form of a 403 forbidden message.

Why would President Obama, the "transparent" President, do this? I thought he was reaching out to all the communities of the world, including nuclear weapon building Iran. Turns out there are certain countries the U.S. just doesn't do business with. They include Cuba, North Korea, the Sudan, Syria and yes, Iran.

You can have a look at the Bureau of Industry and Security U.S. Department of Commerce Entity List and Denied Persons List to discover the details, or just visit Sourceforge's explanation regarding how it is complying with U.S. law by denying access to their site from these countries. In other words, we don't do business with terrorists or other like "entities".

Is Sourceforge happy to comply with the Obama administration and federal restrictions? Heck, no. This flies in the face of everything open source is supposed to stand for. Reader comments at Sourceforge pretty much reflect this attitude. For instance, someone named pyalot commented:
Sourceforge, you suck! You suck so badly, I’ll hereby guarantee you that I’ll not only recommend *anybody* stay the heck away from you scumbags, I’ll actively let everybody know that you’re the scum of the earth. Shame on you! Shame!
Another, more measured response, from dutchuncle states:
SF is between a rock and a hard place on this. Law on many subjects tries to spread the responsibility around to involve more people in enforcement, whether they wanted to be or not. For example, think about how many people in business wind up collecting government taxes. Even though SF is “just” a file cabinet, not a creator, they become the first point of contact in any trail of export-controlled information, and so would be the first ones in line to get in trouble. SF is trying to make the best of bad choices, and I agree with their choice while being unhappy that they had to make it.
Bottom line is that Sourceforge must comply or break the law, but as some of the commenters at Sourceforge have noted, maybe it's a law worth breaking in order to uphold an ideal.

That said, we don't live in ideal world and no body of laws, no matter how just the intent of the lawmakers, is completely perfect or fair. Another thing to consider is whether preventing people from these countries from accessing Sourceforge is punishing the governments who are "evil" or the citizens who likely are not (at least some of them)? A person may live in Iran, North Korea, or Syria, but that doesn't make them automatically bad. Plenty of people around the world don't think much of America, but that doesn't mean every citizen of our country supports our nation's policies. Your country of origin does not automatically dictate your intention or behavior.

Who is the Federal Government punishing in compelling Sourceforge to comply with the law; totalitarian regimes who are working to promote violence and oppression in their nations and around the world, or innocent men and women who, like those of us in freer nations, just want to enjoy the work and benefits of the open source world?



  1. freedom is a double edged sword...

  2. Seems the time is coming to make a fork of sourceforge.

  3. This type of restriction is meaningless, and trivially circumvented by proxies. It seems to be "compliance theater" rather than any serious attempt at preventing access.

  4. Fork the beast and watch as the governments of the world swat at the demons. =)=)=)

    Open source is unstoppable it is only a matter of time. Simply time...

    All code is broken because all memory is traceable. This is the fundamental flaw of the machine. 8

  5. This policy being carried over to open source software is overkill and I cannot blame sourceforge for complying. I would think that this over reaction by the Obama administration will be realized and sorted out in the end. Why is sf the only site this affects - or are there others?

  6. we the iranian people have nothing to do with these islamic, radical, government except fighting them. but by this act, we are only just being more isolated from outside world. islamic government is now happier. thanks to president obama.

  7. I have no love for the policies of the nations on the embargo list, but I agree that punishing ordinary citizens by withholding access to open source projects makes no sense. In fact, open source is one of the best ways to unite people from widely different backgrounds. If U.S. policy about how we relate with the rest of the world was supposed to have changed with the current political administration, how was this important point missed?

  8. Embargo's and Blockades are the tools of Tyrants and Despots, they never acheive the goals for which they are enacted and history proves this.
    The only ones who benefit such policies are the very people they are intended to harm, the leaders of the opposition are strengthened and there populace suffer more as a direct result.

    In this case there is only one fact that should be considered by SF "Freedom is more important"

    Does SourceForge represent Freedom, or Tyranny?

    I will only support Freedom.


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