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GNU is Not Unix

NY Bill Proposes Tax Credit for Open Source Developers 111

Posted by timothy
from the save-the-commonwealth-a-few-bucks dept.
NewYorkCountryLawyer writes "Assemblymen Jonathan Bing and Micah Kellner, along with a number of co-sponsors, have introduced proposed legislation in New York State which would grant a tax credit to individuals acting as volunteers who develop open source programs. The idea of the credit is to ensure that volunteer developers, who could not otherwise deduct their expenses because they are not part of a 'business,' should nevertheless be able to receive a tax benefit for their contribution. The credit would be for 20% of the expenses incurred, up to $200. The preamble to the bill notes that the New York State Assembly itself currently uses 'Open Source programs such as Mozilla for email, Firefox for web browsing, and WebCal for electronic calendars,' and that these programs have led to significant cost savings to taxpayers. The preamble also cited a 2006 report authored by John Irons and Carl Malamud from the Center for American Progress detailing how Open Source software enhances a broader dissemination of knowledge and ideas."
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NY Bill Proposes Tax Credit for Open Source Developers

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  • by alain94040 (785132) * on Thursday March 05, 2009 @03:56PM (#27081519) Homepage

    It's great because while you can generally deduct your expenses from your income, if you are contributing to free software code, by definition you are not making any money.

    An alternative of course is to join a fair project [fairsoftware.net] instead (warning: shameless plug - you have been warned). Think of it like open source, except that if someone makes money with the resulting software , that person owes a fair share back to the developers.

    $200 is too low. I want to be able to deduct my MacBook Pro. But hey, New York is leading the way. Anyone knows if this has a chance to pass?

  • by larry bagina (561269) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @04:04PM (#27081609) Journal
    New York was heavily dependent on wall street/banker money and expanded government spending during the subprime bubble.. That money dried up big time and they are one of the hardest hit states. There's no chance of any tax credit. In fact, you should hope they don't start taxing FREE software.
  • by javacowboy (222023) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @04:09PM (#27081667)

    The idea sounds excellent in principle, but how do you tell a true open source developer apart from a poser looking to abuse this program?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 05, 2009 @04:19PM (#27081803)

    This is a nice thought but $200 is nothing... that's chump change.

    How much do we miss, as individual developers, when compared to corporations who get R&D tax credits, etc?

    Obviously anyone getting paid via a W-2 gets very, very screwed. But for those getting paid via 1099, what can they do to recoup their investments in development that may or may not ultimately prove commercially viable? Etc.

  • No Thanks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by janeuner (815461) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @04:21PM (#27081829)

    If you want to help open source, require that government software makes widespread use of open specifications. The rest will pay for itself.

  • by Thelasko (1196535) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @04:23PM (#27081853) Journal

    $200 is too low. I want to be able to deduct my MacBook Pro. But hey, New York is leading the way.

    Be thankful, given the past history, [slashdot.org] I'm surprised they aren't charging sales tax on free software.

  • by Rene S. Hollan (1943) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @04:34PM (#27081973)

    Great. Just great.

    This is effectively an open source government subsidy, albeit a small one.

    Government subsidies generally are used to either (a) encourage a behavior (mortgate interest deducture designed to encourage home ownership, for example, though what it really does is raise home prices), or (b) create a claim to that subsidiesd, in hopes of exploiting it later, which is likely the case here.

    IOW, "You could not have developed this code if the taxpayer did not subsidize it, therefore the taxpayer owns it, not you, and you now have to pay a $50/year tax to use it. Obviously, since you did not own it, you could not copyright it, and the GPL is null and void, except where we say otherwise. If you need further convincing, we will just apply the doctrine of eminent domain to own it."

    Basically, the government creates the slimest of justifications for an ownership interest in something, on terms likely never acceptable in a free market, and the uses it's force to exploit that supposed ownership interest.

    I'd expect that RMS might actually like this, but I also think he is a bit naive about how evil and incompetent governments can be.

    He supports universal healthcare, for example, but can not accept that it's general failure is due to a design and not implementation flaw.

  • Re:America (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @04:40PM (#27082047) Journal

    To the mod... perfectly on topic. Let me break it down slowly for you. We have various agencies offering tax breaks and increased spending to help the economy. The reality is that spending Trillions more than you bring in may help short-term. However, long term we have to work harder just to pay the debt we owe everyone.

    Now, if Mr. Smith not receiving any benefit from the overspending, he rightly goes "Hey, it isn't right to put me into debt so you can benefit". But, throw him a bone, and suddenly he is content with the overspending and gladly puts the ring through his nose.

    Fast forward a generation, and the bill catches up with us. We spend more time just to pay off old debts, and less for investing in the future. Countries who lent us the money have more to spend on capital projects. Soon we are a 2nd world country.

    It is already happening. And seeing the collective orgasm over a $200 credit illustrates it beautifully.

    Bottom line: tax cuts are nice. But you have to pay for them. Either now. Or later.

  • by RiotingPacifist (1228016) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @04:54PM (#27082271)

    insightful my ass.

    IOW, "You could not have developed this code if the taxpayer did not subsidize it, therefore the taxpayer owns it, not you, and you now have to pay a $50/year tax to use it. Obviously, since you did not own it, you could not copyright it, and the GPL is null and void,

    He supports universal healthcare, for example, but can not accept that it's general failure is due to a design and not implementation flaw.

    pure bullshit

  • by psnyder (1326089) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @05:30PM (#27082763)
    Keep the money out of it. The open source system is already working. Any additional legislation, no matter how well intended, has consequences. If nothing else, government officials have to spend their time administering that legislation. Only when the benefits outweigh the consequences should legislation be introduced.

    This kind of legislation only has the potential to harm the open source movement.

    Currently, the benefit of this extra legislation is a pittance, a mere $200. This is nothing more than a token gesture. It's intended as an extra incentive for individuals to contribute, but gives no real relief to any project large enough to make a difference.

    So it has barely any benefit, and it has a chance to do a lot of harm.

    The little harms: It can be abused too easily. There's very little way to keep proper track. The money would be diverted from other public benefit.
    The big harms: 1) incentives have been shown to psychologically stifle altruistic endeavours and 2) possible large scale abuse later.


    1) The incentive
    This kind of incentive actually does a lot more harm than good. Barry Schwartz talks about it briefly in one of his TED talks [ted.com]. (at 10min 50sec).

    "If you have a reason for doing something and I give you a second reason, it seems only logical that 2 reasons are better than one and you're more likely to do it. Right? Well, not always..." He gives an example of something I've heard about time and time again. If people are willing to do something based on principle for what they believe is right, they are less likely to do it if they are also offered an incentive of money. The introduction of the incentive switches the psychological focus from, 'How can I help?' to 'What can I get out of it?' Without the incentive we're willing to deal with difficulties for a community or a cause we think is right. With the incentive, we weigh the difficulties with what we're getting out of it.


    2) Abuse
    If legislation grabs hold in one place, that makes it easier for similar legislation to come about in other places. This can have a snowball effect until it gets rather large. So right now you'd have a few individuals abusing the system, but if more legislation gets passed and more money added, you'd get large corporations abusing the system. What happens when the the next OOXML (a product owned by a large company but passed off as being the same as any other OSS) comes into play? It'll just be another government kickback to be abused. Don't assume government legislation is going to be tech savvy as to what true FOSS is.



    OSS is doing fine now. It's not broken. It doesn't need fixing. There is already legislation helping non-profit organizations. This kind of legislation does not provide any real benefit. It is too easy to abuse now and it psychologically harms the motivations of the OSS movement.

    Let's leave the money in OSS to donations and deals with ordinary companies. Adding extra governmental layers of money is just a bad idea.
  • This is bad. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by John Hasler (414242) on Thursday March 05, 2009 @08:42PM (#27085571) Homepage

    It will lead to the government defining Open Source.

    "I'm from the Government. I'm here to help you."

Never test for an error condition you don't know how to handle. -- Steinbach

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