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Linux.com's guide to the 2008 US presidential candidates

By Nathan Willis on September 26, 2008 (9:00:00 PM)

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As November's national election looms in the United States, voters can expect increasing coverage of the hot-button issues through the mainstream media and campaign ads. On issues important to the open source and free software communities, however, information is harder to come by. Today we take a look at what the Democratic and Republican candidates say about questions close to the FOSS voter.

Both Barack Obama and John McCain have position papers on their campaign Web sites that deal with technology and other issues. In addition, both national parties have their official platforms available for download in PDF format. All of the information below comes directly from these documents.

For the most part, you can find the candidates' stances on technology issues on self-contained "Technology" pages, which cover far more topics than software and networking. I recommend that you read them in detail, but also that you check out their other position papers, since so many technology issues overlap with other areas of public policy.

Net neutrality

One clear distinction between the two camps is their stance on network neutrality. Barack Obama is openly in favor of it, and John McCain opposes it.

The Obama plan states that the historic openness of the Internet is the key to its success, and that that openness must be preserved:

Barack Obama strongly supports the principle of network neutrality to preserve the benefits of open competition on the Internet.... Because most Americans only have a choice of only one or two broadband carriers, carriers are tempted to impose a toll charge on content and services, discriminating against websites that are unwilling to pay for equal treatment. This could create a two-tier Internet in which websites with the best relationships with network providers can get the fastest access to consumers, while all competing websites remain in a slower lane. Such a result would threaten innovation, the open tradition and architecture of the Internet, and competition among content and backbone providers.

The McCain plan cites the lightly regulated history of the Internet and software market as the source of the vibrant Internet economy, and says burdensome regulations must not be imposed by the government:

John McCain does not believe in prescriptive regulation like "net-neutrality," but rather he believes that an open marketplace with a variety of consumer choices is the best deterrent against unfair practices.

and, elsewhere:

John McCain understands that unnecessary government intrusion can harm the innovative genius of the Internet. Government should have to prove regulation is needed, rather than have entrepreneurs prove it is not.

Software patents

Less stark is the difference between the two candidates' positions on patent reform. Neither official plan mentions software patents specifically, but both include a call for reform of the patent system.

The McCain plan calls for granting additional resources to the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in order to hire and train more patent examiners, and for providing "alternative approaches to resolving patent challenges."

For many important technologies, the only effective way to challenge a patent in the United States is through litigation, but litigation on patents is much too expensive. The lack of an affordable, reliable means to ensure that the Government only grants valid patents has led to overly broad, frivolous lawsuits designed to force innovative companies into big settlements.

The Obama plan also calls for providing more resources to the USPTO, but does not specify that they be used for hiring additional patent examiners.

It also recommends "opening up the patent process to citizen review" in order to "reduce the uncertainty and wasteful litigation that is currently a significant drag on innovation," and suggests offering the option of a "rigorous and public peer review" to applicants.

Finally, it states that "where dubious patents are being asserted, the PTO could conduct low-cost, timely administrative proceedings to determine patent validity."

Copyright legislation

Both plans make brief, general mention of copyright enforcement, and tie it to black-market reproduction of entertainment products overseas.

The Obama plan says that "China fails to enforce US copyrights and trademarks" and that China is the source of 80% of the counterfeit products seized at US borders. It cites an estimate from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) that more than nine out of 10 DVDs sold in China in 2005 were illegal copies, and concludes by saying that Barack Obama "will work to ensure intellectual property is protected in foreign markets, and promote greater cooperation on international standards that allow our technologies to compete everywhere."

The Obama plan also references the copyright system alongside the patent system as being in need of "update and reform" in order to "promote civic discourse, innovation and investment while ensuring that intellectual property owners are fairly treated."

John McCain's plan headlines its discussion of the topic "John McCain Will Protect The Creative Industries From Piracy" and notes that the entertainment industry is a "vital sector" of the economy and among the nation's largest exporters. The plan mentions the Internet specifically:

While the Internet has provided tremendous opportunity for the creators of copyrighted works, including music and movies, to distribute their works around the world at low cost, it has also given rise to a global epidemic of piracy. John McCain supports efforts to crack down on piracy, both on the Internet and off.

Open governance

Both candidates address making more government information available through the Internet.

The McCain plan advocates online access to government services and "placing more government information online for the benefit of all of the American people." It also states McCain's support for establishing "an Office of Electronic Government to set a strategic vision for implementation of electronic government."

Barack Obama's plan recommends using technology to create "a new level of transparency, accountability and participation for America's citizens." Recommendations include making government data available online in "universally accessible formats" to enable citizen reuse, establishing a public Web site and search engine for tracking federal grants, contracts, earmarks, and lobbyist contacts, allowing the public to make comments on the White House Web site about proposed non-emergency legislation, modernizing "internal, cross-agency, and public communication and information sharing to improve goverment decision-making."

Obama also supports creating a national Chief Technology Officer, among whose duties will be "ensuring that each arm of the federal government makes its records open and accessible as the E-Government Act requires."

Antitrust law

The Obama plan includes a section specifically addressing antitrust enforcement, which it terms "Ensuring Competitive Markets." It promises an Obama administration will reinvigorate antitrust enforcement by stepping up review of mergers that might harm consumer welfare, and will look carefully at key industries to ensure that consumers benefit from competition. The plan says that Obama will "strengthen the antitrust authorities' competition advocacy programs to ensure that special interests do not use regulation to insulate themselves from the competitive process."

The McCain plan does not discuss antitrust enforcement, although like the Obama plan, it does mention ensuring competition for American business in the international marketplace.

More

You can read the McCain campaign's technology plan in full at johnmccain.com, and the Obama campaign's plan at barackobama.com. Both contain discussions of issues that -- although they do not impact free software development or deployment directly -- are historically of great interest to the free software and open source communities, such as wireless spectrum allocation policy and privacy protection.

The Democratic Party's national platform is available at democrats.org, and the Republican Party's platform at gop.com.

We have contacted both campaigns for more information on their respective positions, including unaddressed issues like reverse engineering, security vulnerability reporting, and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). If they provide us with additional info, you will read it here first.

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on Linux.com's guide to the 2008 US presidential candidates

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Linux.com's guide to the 2008 US presidential candidates

Posted by: Colin Dean on September 26, 2008 09:05 PM
I would love to see the third-party candidates thrown in there for comparison, too. Barr, Baldwin, McKinney, and Nader all have views which I'm sure most Linux.com readers would find compelling.

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Re: Linux.com's guide to the 2008 US presidential candidates

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 38.97.94.34] on September 26, 2008 10:50 PM
Yeah, except for the part where third part candidates will never get elected, and we don't want to take any votes away from Obama (since I assume most Green Party voters would prefer him over McCain).

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Re(1): Linux.com's guide to the 2008 US presidential candidates

Posted by: Benjamin Huot on September 26, 2008 11:41 PM
Not until he adopts some liberal positions.

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Re(2): Linux.com's guide to the 2008 US presidential candidates

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.253.60.21] on September 27, 2008 04:35 PM
Who adopts more liberal policies?

If you are talking of Obama he has some of the MOST liberal positions to be held.
Also I would like the VPs to get reviewed as well.

Biden is just is scary when it comes to stopping illegal use of software.
You thought DRM was bad now.

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Re(3): Linux.com's guide to the 2008 US presidential candidates

Posted by: Benjamin Huot on September 27, 2008 06:02 PM
Not liberal enough for me.

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Re(3): Linux.com's guide to the 2008 US presidential candidates

Posted by: we3d on September 30, 2008 12:08 AM
Obama liberal? HAHAAHAA!

1)He does not have the most liberal positions, lets face it, Democrats are conservatives. If you want a liberal position look at Cynthia Mckinney's.

2)He makes many liberal claims, and then goes and votes completley oposite. He has continued to vote for the war. He voted to provide immunity for Bush's illegal wiretapping. And just the other day he voted for that goofy copyright bill, the one that says piracy is our nations top priority.Oh and don't forget that impeachment was always "Out of the question".

3) He has the backing of the conservative Daley machine. They only back conservatives, if your not, they'll take you to court to get you off the ballot. And they don't care if it's the Democratic ballot or the Green.

4) I'm not going to vote for someone who doesn't believe in free elections. In MY state, Illinois, the Green Party is a recognized party, like the Democrats or Republicans, and are thus have a ballot in the Illinois primary. Statewide, Obama and his party were telling Green party members that they could not vote on thier own ballot, that they could only get a Democratic or Republican ballot. In some cases they were even threating them with arrest if they continued to ask for Green ballots. My own sister, who was on the ballot as a Green committeeman, was told by the local Democratic precinct captain at the polling place, that she could not have a Green ballot, that there were no Green ballots and that she had to vote either Democratic or Republican. It wasn't until she pointed out the package of unopened green ballots on the Judges table and told him she would take on of those did he finally give up and let her vote.

These were not isolated events. All day long I was getting calls and reports of these things happening.

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Re(4): Linux.com's guide to the 2008 US presidential candidates

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 75.30.181.29] on October 06, 2008 10:12 PM
Let us face it, Obama is so far left he thinks a communist is a right winger!

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Linux.com's guide to the 2008 US presidential candidates

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 151.188.247.104] on September 26, 2008 10:56 PM
I too would like to see the candidates from other parties (Libertarian, Green, etc.) in there. Colin Dean is right.

And for those who think "third part candidates will never get elected," tell that to the people of Minnesota, USA. They elected a "third-party" candidate (Gov. Jesse Ventura). It is possible for such a candidate to get elected if he/she campaigns properly.

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Linux.com's guide to the 2008 US presidential candidates

Posted by: Zerias on September 26, 2008 11:33 PM
Just wanted to leave some links of material I've written before about political parties and their links to certain political parties. http://zerias.blogspot.com/2008/04/has-reiser-is-convicted-so.html http://zerias.blogspot.com/2007/11/you-cannot-be-christian-and-democrat.html http://zerias.blogspot.com/2007/10/government-isnt-answer.html http://zerias.blogspot.com/2007/05/can-we-put-2-and-2-together-please.html http://zerias.blogspot.com/2007/04/do-people-really-believe-this-yes.html http://zerias.blogspot.com/2007/01/word-on-google-bombs.html

Subjects come up a lot for me. The short point is, organizations like the RIAA and MPAA are openly hostile to Christians and Conservatives. The media they produce is largely insulting, vulgar, and obscene. It's also no secret that the RIAA and MPAA are largely backed by Hollywood Liberals, who tend to be buddy buddy with the Democratic party. Case in point would be people like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mel Gibson, whose conservative leanings are often targets for mockery. Then there's people like Drew Carey, who was reportedly blacklisted and removed from ABC for his conservative viewpoints.

From a technical standpoint, and one of the FOSS movements and Open-Licensed software communities, it's widely agreed that entities like the RIAA, MPAA, and Microsoft are the clear-cut enemy. We want to open up people's rights, they want to shut those rights down. Considering who the RIAA and MPAA get along with then politically, and who they are funded by, and who speaks up for them, anybody involved in Open-Licensed software at any level should be running like hell away from the liberal democrats.

The important thing to remember though is that just because the Liberal Democrats are a clear enemy to the Open-Licensed software communities, that doesn't mean that the Republicans are automatically the clear friends of the Open-Licensed software communities. Basically, I can't tell you who to vote for. I can tell you that putting Democrats in office will certainly hurt the interests of everybody from Richard Stallman, to Linus, to Warren Woodford, to you directly. I can't tell you that voting Republican is going to help those interests though. If you are genuinely interested in making political progress and getting rid of organizations such as the RIAA and MPAA, its probably a good idea to get real comfy with other communities that despise the organizations.

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Re: Linux.com's guide to the 2008 US presidential candidates

Posted by: Benjamin Huot on September 26, 2008 11:45 PM
If you see the voting records of both candidates, they both vote for big corporations all the time. Bush was the one that decided not to enforce the federal lawsuit against Microsoft. There isn't anything liberal about democrats anymore. I can almost guarantee Nader would be much better for open source - if he doesn't already know about it he would be easy to convince.

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Re: Linux.com's guide to the 2008 US presidential candidates

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.128.125.104] on September 29, 2008 04:28 AM
Really. Way to bring out a reductionist view of things that makes no goddamn sense if you actually look at, say, the facts.

First of all: Christianity doesn't actually impact significantly with the political parties' relationships to the RIAA and MPAA. Where you actually would look if you weren't trying to draw attention away from the facts, is at the corporate connections of the parties. Neither of them are particular enemies of the RIAA and MPAA; with these issues, you actually have to vote by the candidate. In this particular election, Obama seems like a win in terms of net neutrality, and about even with McCain elsewhere. I know for a fact that the democrat position on H1B visas is friendlier to the average IT worker stateside.

Second: The RIAA and MPAA also produce patriotic and religious music. It also deals with sappy, patriotic, religious, and all sorts of other music. In fact, a great deal of the raunchier or shocking programming is coming out of independent studios and labels, who don't have ties to the RIAA.

Third: I can't actually tell if you're an idiot or a deliberate liar. But please, either get better informed and educated on the actual situation, or else shut up with your lies, whichever applies to you.

And to general folks: Honestly, the two candidates have very similar statements on technology issues. This is partly because mainstream consensus is pretty close amongst the parties on this, with the notable difference in net neutrality issues. This is also partly because 99% of people WILL NOT BE VOTING BASED ON THESE ISSUES. And, in this case, they're RIGHT. There are actually unequivocally bigger and more important issues here. Net neutral or not net neutral: It doesn't matter if we don't have the economic strength to pay for our internet connections, or to anyone we send overseas to die in unjust and unnecessary wars. Does it really matter if we have free access to broadband, if we don't have habeus corpus? No. It does not.

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Linux.com's guide to the 2008 US presidential candidates

Posted by: PerlCoder on September 26, 2008 11:45 PM
I'd vote for third-party candidates, if I knew anything about them.

Side note: I wish politicians would stop using the term 'piracy', and stick with 'illegal distribution'. Even if distributing media or software without permission was morally wrong (I disagree), it's not the same thing as "stealing", and hardly analogous to capturing a ship at gunpoint, killing the crew, and running off with the booty.

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Re: Linux.com's guide to the 2008 US presidential candidates

Posted by: Benjamin Huot on September 26, 2008 11:55 PM
I don't see how being supportive of open source involves supporting people who break the laws. Open Source isn't going to go far if it is perceived to be in alignment with violating intellectual property. The Open Source way would be to create your own content and give it away like I do. But I agree it is easier just to steal what you want.

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Linux.com's guide to the 2008 US presidential candidates

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 205.208.133.118] on September 27, 2008 06:00 AM
If Copyright were the only issue at stake this election cycle it would be impossible to vote for Obama due to Biden's less than stellar voting record on not only copyright but DRM, patents, etc. Thankfully there are more important issues deciding this vote like pigs wearing lipstick, Paris Hilton's energy policy, how many billions can we give wall street, and just how much foreign policy experience can be claimed because you can see Russia from an Alaskan island...

Also it should be pointed out that McKinney has alienated many people that would have voted for her due to anti-semitic and racially discriminating statements that have come out of her campaign. The Greens could have chosen better and aren't on the ballot in enough states to win. The libertarians economic policies would worsen the current situation. The Socialists are well... lets face it the Socialists haven't had a decent platform since 1932 and until they can reign in their radical platforms with realistic, rational approaches to the situation they will continue to be also rans.

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Linux.com's guide to the 2008 US presidential candidates

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 89.240.12.118] on September 27, 2008 12:38 PM
Third party candidates are in much the same position as Linux is on the desktop - struggling for 1%. If you don't have the courage to adopt seemingly unpopular platforms use Windows/Mac and don't use Linux.

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Obama is no longer in favor of NET NEUTRALITY

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.53.103.150] on September 27, 2008 05:01 PM

Obama remains in favor of NET NEUTRALITY

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 65.189.188.82] on September 28, 2008 12:08 AM
Try again, this time reading the comments and the referenced PDF.

Obama's campaign reduced the verbosity of the front page statements, preserving the original language in the PDF position paper. Several commenters state rather succinctly that Obama's first statement relates directly and unambiguously to his support for net neutrality:

http://news.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=971317&cid=25101743

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Linux.com's guide to the 2008 US presidential candidates

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 63.243.76.132] on September 28, 2008 08:43 PM
Screw both Obama and McCain. They SUCK. Get off the left/right paradigm. Dem/Repub - what a laugh.

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Linux.com's guide to the 2008 US presidential candidates

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 62.174.233.85] on September 29, 2008 08:34 AM
For Europeans the whole Democratic / Republican issue is a complete fake. You would be hard pressed to find a decent right-wing party that surpasses the Democrats in right ideas. And the Republicans just go one step further. If there is anything the current financial crisis has taught us, it is that there needs to be a watershed. The current political and capitalist system is obsolete. Free markets and entrepeneurship do not take care of things, other than lining the bottomless pockets of a happy few. There are indeed far more important things at stake here, and neither McCain nor Obama will take care of them. Yet.

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Linux.com's guide to the 2008 US presidential candidates

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.23.204.226] on October 03, 2008 02:08 PM
The free market is all about contracts. Both parties have to agree to a contract (such as a EULA or the GPL). If their end of the contract says "don't redistribute this software", and you agree to it, then you can't redistribute it, end of story. "Piracy" laws are not the problem with current policies... the patent system is.

As for the candidates, yeah both of them are pretty crappy. McCain is too authoritarian (like a right-wing Stalin, if you will) and Obama wants to baby-sit the poor helpless economy. Too bad Ron Paul's not running independent.

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