Once upon a time there was a prosperous and entrepreneurial port city named EMR. EMR had many ships and many ship owners who ferried lots of people to the healing spas that existed in nearby mountains. Unfortunately for the ships and passengers, the harbor was quite rocky and treacherous. Shipwrecks were common with large and grievous losses of life. Many of the entrepreneurs in the city thought that EMR could benefit from a modern marvel called a lighthouse.
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Many of them set about building lighthouses. Soon, dozens of lighthouses sprang up on a rocky outcropping and all of the lighthouse companies sought contracts with the ship owners to provide a ‘custom’ lighthouse for ‘their needs’. Each lighthouse had its own type of light that could only be seen through special glasses that the company supplied. Ship owners acknowledged the need for a lighthouse but were confused by the myriad of choices of lighthouses on the rocky shore.
“With my lighthouse contract a custom fog horn sound that only you can access will be configured.” intoned a salesman wearing a bow tie. “Mine is certified by the Center for Certification of Lighthouse Technology (CCLT)” said another.
All of the passengers and ships owners agreed that the lighthouse idea was a good one that saved lives. Some owners bought contracts, others did not out of confusion over which to get. The ones that did paid a high price and weren’t sure if what they were getting was worth it.
Some of the lighthouse companies made money; others did not and closed down leaving the ship owners stranded and scrambling for another, expensive contract. Sometimes ships with lighthouse contracts collided with ships without lighthouse contracts. No one was really happy.
One day a Mr. FOSS came to town. Mr. FOSS said: “Why don’t we have all these companies use the same lighthouse design? Why don’t we have all the ship owners and the community own the design instead of all these companies re-inventing the same thing over and over?” So Mr. FOSS went to the town council and to all the ship owners and to consortia of passengers and showed them how to draw up a special license which later came to be called a FOSS license. This license said to only use the design for the lighthouse that was owned by everybody and not the lighthouse companies. The owners began to only choose lighthouse companies that would use lighthouses that were of that kind. If one lighthouse went out, anyone could use the others without changing their glasses because they worked the same.
The lighthouse companies at first were very cross with Mr. FOSS. “Why that’s un-EMRican!” they said. Mr. FOSS replied “For lighthouses it is as EMRican as apple pie!” Then the lighthouse companies realized that they did not have to engineer custom lights anymore. Then they had many more customers because nearly every ship owner, the city government and some passenger groups gladly paid for service contracts because everyone was using the same lighthouse and knew how it worked. What’s more, the price dropped while the light improved dramatically from lots of lighthouses shining together using the same design. Now everyone could see the light.
The shipwrecks ended and everyone was happy.