Obamacare Open Source Glitch

As if widespread and high-profile technical problems were not enough, an open source licensing controversy has added some heat to the already heavily criticized launch of Healthcare.gov, the US government’s website facilitating signups for the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. The Weekly Standard reports that the creators of the website apparently used portions of the DataTables script (dual licensed under GPL v.2 and the BSD license) without properly retaining copyright notices, in violation of the license terms. The software, written by Allan Jardine of SpryMedia, allegedly appear in the Healthcare.gov website script without any references to its author.

The Weekly Standard posting contains a comparison of code snippets that illustrate similarities between the script from Healthcare.gov and SpryMedia script. A SpryMedia representative expressed the intent to bring this violation of licensing terms to the attention of the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency in charge of Healthcare.org.  

While this incident is topical, it is also endemic of older and larger problems with non-compliance for open source client-side scripts (like Javascript), much of which is licensed under the (logically odd) GPL/BSD dual approach.  Because these scripts execute on the client side, they are distributed even when the server side code is not — leading to a commonly overlooked aspect of open source compliance.