Healthcare.gov Violates Open Source License

from the this-could-be-interesting dept

With all of the other problems associated with the launch of the Healthcare.gov website, you'd think that some of those expensive government contractors would understand open source licensing and how it works. Apparently not. It would appear that the site uses DataTables, which is a free and open source plug-in for jQuery, allowing for much better data handling and display. But, as most people who understand open source software recognize, there are often conditions for such usage, including the need to retain the license information in the software. DataTables is available as both a GPL v2 and BSD license, and even the DataTables team notes that basically all you have to do is "keep the copyright notices in the software."

But Healthcare.gov did not do that.

Oops. While it's not exactly "blatant software piracy" as some consipiracy-theory sites are claiming, it is a violation of the license, and thus, a form of copyright infringement. SpryMedia, the company behind DataTables has responded by saying it's "extremely disappointed". While the almost always sensationalistic Russia Today is claiming that SpryMedia "plans to sue" that doesn't seem to be supported anywhere else. So far, there's just a tweet saying that it's "excellent to see DataTables being used" and that "leaving the copyright header in place isn't too much to ask :-)."

Open source developers don't often sue over misuses of their licenses, though it does happen. Of course, a better solution than going to court would be for the government to fix the mistake, make a public statement about this and, potentially, donate to DataTables.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Jeryl Bier, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 7:10pm

    Well done

    I broke this story at The Weekly Standard , and your post on it is one of the bext follow up stories I've seen, playing down both the conspiracy aspect and the "plans to sue" claim, neither of which were justified by my original story. I appreciate the evenhanded treatment you gave the issue.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 7:24pm

    TD Stands up for COPYRIGHT !!!

    But only as a tool to incite hatred for the Government.

    Good to see you stand up for people's copyright, rights.

    Way too much copyright theft, piracy and other 'suspect' activity, most of which is applauded by TD. Is this a sign that TD is changing it's stance of copyright theft and piracy ?

    What next TD standing up for peoples rights to protect their inventions with patents ??

    Or is it you hatred for anything "US Government" trumps hatred of copyright and other creators rights ?

    Just seems like an odd article from TD, but then I noticed it was about the US Government, at least we know your hatred for the Government is greater than that of copyright.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 7:52pm

      Re: TD Stands up for COPYRIGHT !!!

      I guess the tourists have to come by and gawk once in a while.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 8:00pm

      Re: TD Stands up for COPYRIGHT !!!

      Reading comprehension would be of great benefit to you.

       

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      Bergman (profile), Oct 19th, 2013 @ 3:05am

      Re: TD Stands up for COPYRIGHT !!!

      Either you're a troll who lies to get a reaction or you've grossly misunderstood every article here for years. Or both.

      But then, everybody already knew that about you.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Oct 19th, 2013 @ 4:48am

        Re: Re: TD Stands up for COPYRIGHT !!!

        what was the lie again ???

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Oct 19th, 2013 @ 4:54am

        Re: Re: TD Stands up for COPYRIGHT !!!

        oh that's right, when you are confused, and have nothing to come back with, you call "troll" and resort to ad hom. Fair enough, it's expected, hell it's encouraged here.

        Of course if you can read this article and see in it, 'TD's LOVE for the US Gov. and it's HATE of Copyright' that is an issue for you.

        It's not my reading of this article, perhaps you might like to get someone to read it to you, or at least give you the 'gist' of what is going on..

         

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    out_of_the_blue, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 7:24pm

    Not a violation. Sovereign immunity.

    Knew you'd post this: has copyright in it. But it's not going anywhere legally.

     

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      SpaceLifeForm, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 7:44pm

      Maybe: Federal Tort Claims Act

      While minor in terms of damages, the remedy is
      so easy and cheap, that the government really has
      no excuse to not post the license.

       

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      That One Guy (profile), Oct 18th, 2013 @ 8:06pm

      Yet another reason no one takes you seriously

      When a regular person, or someone not affiliated with a big company violates copyright or licensing terms, you consider them the lowest of the low, calling them pirates, criminals or worse.

      When the government or a company does it? 'Eh, it's no big deal'.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Oct 19th, 2013 @ 5:01am

        Re: Yet another reason no one takes you seriously

        "or someone not affiliated with a big company violates copyright or licensing terms, you consider them the lowest of the low,"

        When the government or a company does it? 'Eh, it's no big deal'.

        It's got nothing to do with what I consider at all, I did not write this article, at least I am consistent.

        It's just I find it amusing that TD is willing to stand UP FOR COPYRIGHT, if the greater good of it is to enable them to attack the greater evil of the US Government.

        And quite frankly, this IS NOT A BIG DEAL, but that is beside the point, the price of seeing TD stand up FOR COPYRIGHT rights is priceless.

        It's like how all politicians are stupid, evil, corrupt and bribed until they make a comment in support of TD's biases, then they are hero's and the next president.

         

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          btr1701 (profile), Oct 21st, 2013 @ 9:51am

          Re: Re: Yet another reason no one takes you seriously

          You really need to open a basic grammar primer and review the section on "The Use of the Apostrophe".

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Oct 22nd, 2013 @ 5:56am

          Re: Re: Yet another reason no one takes you seriously

          What does an Australian solar panel engineer care if we love our government or not?

          why do YOU love our government so much, darryl?

          Whats it to you anyway?

           

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    PyRos, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 7:36pm

    I work with the site Designers

    I work with one of the site designers, quite frankly the federal site is a minor miracle that it was launched when it was. We had a not so small army of various developers etc under a deadline that is more or less 100% crunch time. So many corners were cut, UAT phase was more or less non existent and there was a major lack of testing in general.

    This was all caused by a launch date being set in stone while requirements changed constantly. As such I have no doubt that the GPL was ignored, it simply was outside anyone's radar as a needed item.

     

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      Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 8:10pm

      Re: I work with the site Designers

      As you point out, changing requirements is a big problem.

      One of the principles of software project management is that it is a three legged stool consisting of cost, features, and delivery date. The true response from any competent project manager is, pick two. Whomever managed this project did not let the stakeholders in on this 'secret'.

      For more information please let me refer y'all to:

      Managing Software Development Projects by Neal Whitten

      and

      Facts and Fallacies of Software Engineering by Robert Glass

      or continue in your dreamworld where things happen correctly and on time and within budget.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 8:25pm

        Re: Re: I work with the site Designers

        In this case, there's a 4th leg: Within the law... and that one got thrown out too.

        FWIW, I've always heard it: "Good, Fast, or Cheap - pick two". Yes I'm a software developer.

         

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          Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 8:32pm

          Re: Re: Re: I work with the site Designers

          Agreed, in that 'within the law' would be one of the 'features'. I stress 'features' but mean requirements and wonder if that was actually in the original "requirements".

          Not that we ever will, but I would love to see the documents, all of them from the .1 version to whatever the current version is.

          I bet it is quite the roller coaster ride.

          Does Vegas produce odds on things like this?

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Oct 19th, 2013 @ 7:07am

          Re: Re: Re: I work with the site Designers

          Did we even get 1? It isn't good and it isn't cheap. I'm not sure if it really counts as 'fast' either.

           

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            btr1701 (profile), Oct 21st, 2013 @ 9:55am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: I work with the site Designers

            > Did we even get 1? It isn't good and it isn't cheap. I'm not sure if it really counts as 'fast' either.

            No kidding. We already paid a half billion dollars for what amounts to a poor-man's Geocities site that is completely non-functional. (Not a "glitch", either, as Obama and Sibelius keeping claiming. A complete, catastrophic, systemic failure is not a "glitch".)

            I wonder how much more this "tech surge" to fix it is going to cost us?

            At a minimum, Sibelius should lose her job over this whole thing, if not prosecuted for malfeasance of office.

             

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        Anonymous Coward, Oct 19th, 2013 @ 5:09am

        Re: Re: I work with the site Designers

        "The true response from any competent project manager is, pick two."

        I am pretty sure you meant to say "INCOMPETENT" project manager !!!

        a competent software project manager is able to deliver
        ON SPEC
        ON TIME
        and
        ON BUDGET

        if you can't deliver all 3 don't bother calling yourself a professional anything.

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 19th, 2013 @ 1:52am

      Re: I work with the site Designers

      It takes work for someone to remove a copyright notice from source code, therefoe it is not something that happens due to pressure of work.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 19th, 2013 @ 3:28am

      Re: I work with the site Designers

      Actually, went beyond ignored. This required removal of comments, which had nothing to do with functionality. A deliberate,willful violation.

       

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      johndburger, Oct 19th, 2013 @ 11:06am

      Re: I work with the site Designers

      But didn't they have to go out of their way to remove the copyright notice?

       

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      alternatives(), Oct 19th, 2013 @ 1:23pm

      Re: I work with the site Designers

      the GPL was ignored

      And the 3 clause BSD licence is what, bullshit and worthy to be ignored?

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 23rd, 2013 @ 7:28pm

      Re: I work with the site Designers

      The thing is, the license was MANUALLY removed
      it was not something 'left out due to having too much other stuff to do'
      the license was already in the .js file they copied
      they took the time to erase it (though not any of the developer comments in the code)

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 7:39pm

    True. And yet another example of the unmitigated sheer arrogance of this administration. Copyright? We don't need no stinkin' copyright! (with apologies to Mickey Dolenz, among many others).
    .

     

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      Robert, Oct 19th, 2013 @ 2:02am

      Re:

      Gees, get real. The site was contracted out to for profit private contractors. Want to lay blame, lay it with them. Want it fixed talk to your government and demand they get those for profit private contractors to fix it.
      You know what, you can be those contractors will charge for doing it.

       

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        John Fenderson (profile), Oct 21st, 2013 @ 9:29am

        Re: Re:

        The entity hiring contractors is responsible for ensuring the work the contractors produces is up to par. If it's not, the one who hired them is ultimately responsible.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 7:54pm

    What would happen if Google was in break of open source license agreements, you know, with things like Android ?

    Would that warrant an article from TD, or is it because it's the US Government that you hate, as opposed to Google that pays you ?

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 8:02pm

      Re:

      Your obsession is weird.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 8:32pm

        Re: Re:

        "Your obsession is weird."

        as is yours.

         

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      That One Guy (profile), Oct 18th, 2013 @ 8:03pm

      Re:

      Speaking of people who get paid to post... if you'd actually read the site, you'd know that Google has been called out multiple times when they've done something Mike or the others disagree with.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 8:27pm

        Re: Re:

        Don't worry I have read those posts too, it's amusing to see Mr Masnick tippy toe around Google, trying his best not to upset them. As opposed to the clear hatred he holds for the US Government.

        When was the last time you have seen Masnick taking Google to task for their data collection and distribution ? or their Open Source violations with Android of their backroom software systems ?

        We all know that's not going to happen.

        But this article is not about copyright, it's about something much larger, it's about how EVIL the US Government is.

        Google can spy on your all they like, because they use that information to make money, and to profit from you, the US Government on the other hand only wants to try to help protect you, and find the baddies.

        So Google is good because their model is based on greed, and the US Government is evil,, because they are just evil.

        It's much more aligned to TD's 'charter' to incite hatred for anything "US Government" than to incite hatred for a poor struggling commercial company with the goal to monetise the information.

        I am just commenting on what I see, I have no idea of TD's real motives and biases, but from what I see.

        All I see here is that this is another 'vector' to attack the US Government, but to do so you have to stand in support of copyright, it's a dichotomy for TD.

        But if you take away from this the hatred of the US Government behind it is a story standing up FOR COPYRIGHT, and the COPYRIGHT owners RIGHTS, so that's a good thing really.

        So TD appears to have got the story right, if but for all the wrong reasons. Well done TD

        Kudos.

         

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          AC Unknown (profile), Oct 18th, 2013 @ 8:39pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Go see a shrink. You seriously need help with your obsession over Mike and copyright.

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 10:54pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Hay, I was just congratulating Mike for his efforts in standing up for copyright, and the rights of the copyright holder.

            It's refreshing to see.

             

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          btr1701 (profile), Oct 21st, 2013 @ 10:05am

          Re: Re: Re:

          > All I see here is that this is another 'vector'
          > to attack the US Government

          The US Government deserves to be 'attacked' when it displays gross incompetence at a level heretofore unrivaled in human history, as it has done with the whole Obamacare rollout catastrophe.

          The taxpayers of this country deserve far more for their $500 million than they got.

          Today, Obama was in the Rose Garden crowing over the fact that his health care web site has received 40 million hits in the three weeks it's been live, like that's some wonderful accomplishment. Whoop-dee-shit. The Drudge Report received that many *today* and it's still functional. So is Amazon. So is Facebook.

          Weird how all those folks managed to design and implement high-traffic web sites with no problem... and yet *none* of them were consulted or contracted to do the Obamacare site. No, that was contracted out to DC power brokers and lobbyists as paybacks for political favors and the result is a half billion dollars wasted on 10-year-old tech that failed the moment the "on" button pushed.

          Someone should go to jail over this, and you're whining about the government being criticized for it?

          Piss off.

           

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 9:10pm

    FWIW, the copyright holder in order to proceed in any legal claim against the USG would have to do so by first filing a claim with the Court of Federal Claims (a court notorious for siding with the USG on infringement matters except in the most egregious of circumstances). Any such lawsuit is governed by the provisions of 28 USC 1498, which in the case of copyright limits damages to either the holder's actual money damages or minimum statutory damages. Since the code here is provided as freeware, it would be a bit difficult to present a winning argument for actual money damages. This leaves statutory damages, but in this circumstance the likely outcome would be a maximum award in the amount of $750 (the statutory minimum). IOW, this is an interesting situation that will obviously be rectified with some form of an apology for the oversight, but as a legal matter it is deader than a door nail.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 10:50pm

      Re:

      That is very true, it highlights the major flaw in the Open Source "copyright based" license system. I does show that the GPL and similar licences 'has no teeth', generally.

      Few cases end up in Court, for that very reason, few would stand a chance of winning.

       

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      Spointman (profile), Oct 18th, 2013 @ 11:37pm

      Re:

      A reasonable argument could be made that every time the appropriate .js files were accessed or downloaded, there was a separate case of infringement - roughly the same logic that the music industry used when prosecuting distributors. Given how frequently the site has been accessed in the last week or two (I forget when it launched), that would add up to a healthy chunk of change.

      I'm not saying they should sue, mind you -- just that it's not a trivial case with a maximum payout of $750. As has been frequently said, in a lawsuit, the only winners would be the lawyers.

       

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        Arthur Moore (profile), Oct 19th, 2013 @ 12:28am

        Re: Re:

        Good point.

        I can see one of two things happening when the contractor's lawyers hear about this. They could fix the issue, or they could laugh in the face of the software devs.

        If they try the second then they're just begging to be sued for several hundred million cases of infringement. With a statutory max of $150,000/infringement. You're talking the entire national debt right there. If you're talking minimum that's still at least $75 billion.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Oct 19th, 2013 @ 5:25am

          Re: Re: Re:

          so if you play an MP3 file with an open source (GPL'd) media player, that file then falls under the GPL itself ??

          Amazing !!!! That's some license !!!

           

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            Arthur Moore (profile), Oct 19th, 2013 @ 9:34am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Consider. This is a JavaScript file.

            That means every time anyone visits a web page on the site, they're committing infringement.

            I hope no one in Japan tried to visit healthcare.gov. That's 2 years in jail for each page visited.

             

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        Anonymous Coward, Oct 19th, 2013 @ 5:21am

        Re: Re:

        No that would not be a reasonable argument at all, these kinds of licenses (such as the GPL) specifically separate the "OUTPUT" from the software from the actual code.

        and the output from the Program is covered only if its contents constitute a work based on the Program (independent of having been made by running the Program).

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Oct 19th, 2013 @ 7:27am

        Re: Re:

        Such an argument certainly can and has been made in the past, but it runs squarely into the statutory limitation specified in 17 USC 504(c)(1) that in pertinent part provides "...an award of statutory damages for all infringements involved in the action, with respect to any one work..." As you may surmise, the argument has not gained traction before federal courts.

         

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    Peter (profile), Oct 18th, 2013 @ 10:51pm

    $ 160.000 seems to be the going rate.

    On a second thought, that's for non-commercial use of an .mp3-file only ... Maybe settle for $110 m and promise to fix the problem?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 19th, 2013 @ 1:43am

    Funny how that works.

    It runs right along with the two tier justice system. If government or the entertainment industry does it, then it was just an oversight. If private individuals do it, it morphs into a different animal all together.

     

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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Oct 19th, 2013 @ 3:48am

    Intellectual Property is out greatest asset...

    especially when we can take what we want with impunity, while allowing our corporate sponsors to crush the little people for the same thing.

     

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    Thebes, Oct 19th, 2013 @ 7:26am

    Piracy:
    Absolutely fine, and unworthy of corporate media mention muchless prosecution, when members of the Corporate-Political Class do it.
    Totally evil, requiring massive fines and the dismemberment of the First Amendment, when mere citizens are accused.

     

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    Trails (profile), Oct 19th, 2013 @ 8:41am

    FWIW I've had this issue crop up on me

    I'm not associated in anyway with Healthcare.gov, but as part of the build for a site I've worked on, we apply javascript minimization, in order to improve site performanc. This will reduce the size of javascript includes by stripping out comments and whitespace and minimizing internal function names and variables (doTheThing: function(){...} becomes a1:function(){...}, etc...)

    It's a bit of a trick to get some of these minimization tools to leave copyright notices in and unless someone looks it can go unnoticed for a long time.

     

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    PB, Oct 19th, 2013 @ 11:58am

    This may sound snarky, but it is also the truth of my own experience. Corporations like these contractors take, take, take, but they almost never give back. Even just acknowledging the license/terms under which something has been essentially freely given/provided to them.

    I was directly involved in a similar licensing/notification matter for an Apache product being distributed as part of a proprietary software package. Fortunately, in that case, once I pointed out the license violation, the issue was escalated to the legal department and eventually corrected. All that needed to happen was for the appropriate license to be cited/included with reference to the included library.

    That organization was relatively enlightened, especially once legal was formally aware of the problem (they couldn't "unsee" it). Other places I've worked... not so much.

    And even at that organization, they loved deploying a burgeoning wealth of high quality, trusted "open source" software in order to cut their costs. But they hardly if ever gave back.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 20th, 2013 @ 12:59am

    The US government violates the American Constitution what is a copyright license for them?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 20th, 2013 @ 1:19am

    Do as we say not as we do.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 20th, 2013 @ 1:20am

    Would this possible to know if the website was using HTML5 with DRM?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 21st, 2013 @ 7:41am

    Will the DOJ be seizing the website?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2013 @ 8:19pm

    I don't know what's wrong with the government, but the folks writing above are correct. In 50+ years of experience I have learned that development projects move at their own pace, and finish when they're finished. Corporate management has never and will never understand this. They want everything scheduled to the second and costed out to the penny. It never happens. The only way I will quote a development job is to give it my best guess, based on experience with similar projects, then double the cost and move the time to the next unit of measure. If I guessed $5,000 and 3 weeks, I quote $10,000 and 3 months. I've been surprisingly accurate, even when they didn't hire me. That's also why big development firms prefer cost-plus contracts. They KNOW the thing is gonna run WAY over in both cost and time. So they bill by the hour and let costs fall where they may. Nobody can EVER predict all of the problems that crop up, especially when the client keeps changing the specs on you. Government projects, especially, have one project manager who is subject to political pressure to "just add this one little feature" a hundred times, or "lets shift the focus this way", which ends up screwing everything up. The trick there is to add a fixed amount of money, or a requirement for a requite, for every specification change they force on you.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2013 @ 8:22pm

    Sorry, make that "requite".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2013 @ 8:23pm

    Sorry, make that "requote".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 25th, 2013 @ 8:26pm

    Bah! Sticky keys!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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