Thursday, October 17, 2013

Obamacare Website Violates Licensing Agreement for Copyrighted Software

    Healthcare.gov, the federal government's Obamacare website, has been under heavy criticism from friend and foe alike during its first two weeks of open enrollment.  Repeated errors and delays have prevented many users from even establishing an account, and outside web designers have roundly panned the structure and coding of the site as amateurish and sloppy.  The latest indication of the haphazard way in which Healthcare.gov was developed is the uncredited use of a copyrighted web script for a data function used by the site, a violation of the licensing agreement for the software.
    The script in question is called DataTables, a very long and complex piece of website software used for formatting and presenting data.  DataTables was developed by a British company called SpryMedia which licenses the open-source software freely to anyone who complies with the licensing agreement.  A note at the bottom of the DataTables.net website says: "DataTables designed and created by SpryMedia © 2008-2013."  The company explains the license for using the software on that website [emphasis added]:
DataTables is free, open source software that you can download and use for whatever purpose you wish, on any and as many sites you want. It is free for you to use! DataTables is available under two licenses: GPL v2 license or a BSD (3-point) license, with which you must comply (to do this, basically keep the copyright notices in the software).
    The software, a version of which is available at DataTables.net, contains the copyright notice in the opening lines of the code:

    At the Healthcare.gov website, however, the opening lines of the script appear as follows, with the copyright and all references to the author and SpryMedia deleted; a search of the entire script does not turn up the missing lines either:

    Even a cursory comparison of the two scripts removes any doubt that the source for the script used at Healthcare.gov is indeed the SpryMedia script.  The Healthcare.gov version even retained easily identifiable comments by the script's author, such as the following:
    Here is a screen capture from the SpryMedia script:

    Here is the same section at Healthcare.gov:

    THE WEEKLY STANDARD contacted SpryMedia for comment.  A representative for the company said that they were "extremely disappointed" to see the copyright information missing and will be pursuing it further with the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency that runs the Healthcare.gov site.

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

1 comment:

  1. Unless you can prove the software was redistributed without the notice intact, or that the notice was not moved to a centralized location, you are basically manufacturing a lie.

    Did you talk to Allan personally? Because these are his words: "Basically all you need to do is keep the copyright notice at the top (or somewhere else accessible)."

    You also confuse the copyright notice at the bottom of a website with the software licensing model, which Allan happens to provide two different methods. The site likely used the less restrictive BSD style license.

    There is no solid evidence that the BSD license was intentionally or unintentionally violated.

    Have you looked at the other jquery javascript code on the site that do have the notices intact? Can you see how ridiculous it looks to say that the site specifically removed notices from one ancillary piece of software as an evil plot, which is now, thanks to you, being retweeted and reposted around the web?

    Do you know that now your bit of misinformation is also damaging the open source community, a community that Allan the author of the software in question is a part of?

    I would do a bit of fact checking and become familiar with the terms and technology you write about before firing off a hit piece such as this.