Apple has already had to deal with this problem. Well, sort of.
Back in 1989 a group of crackers calling themselves the Nu Prometheus League stole what Apple at the time hysterically called “the source code for MacOS”.
The motto of the Nu Prometheus League was Free the Mac!
After stealing the source code the crackers then energetically distributed it far and wide via what passed for the Internet back then – Electronic Bulletin Boards.
Apple went apeshit and somehow managed to enlist the aid of the US Secret Service.
Prime suspects (all fingered by Apple) in the theft included :
There was just one little problem : the crackers had only gotten away with a portion of MacOS, specifically the source code for QuickDraw.
Apple, however, continued to claim that the loss of their intellectual property would lead the firm to bankruptcy.
These unfounded allegations, in addition to several other highly publicised cracks at the time - many on the nations telephone infrastructure - all contributed to a profound sense of uneasiness in law enforcement circles.
And its easy to understand why. Cops like to be in control, and since even the FBI at the time had effectively zero knowledge of technology, they genuinely loathed all things even vaguely related to the hacker subculture.
All these forces came together in Operation Sundevil, the first nation-wide crackdown on the computer underground, with multiple raids taking place in early January 1990.
Unfortunately, not everyone raided was in fact a criminal, and many legitimate business (e.g., Steve Jackson Games) as well as individuals had their lives severely disrupted or even ruined by the activities of law enforcement, who demonstrated a total disregard for due process.
But of course for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and the general vagueness of legislation at the time for crimes of the digital variety led to the formation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF.
EFF is dedicated to preserving human rights in the information age. EFF constantly raises debate around the freedom of press and "Intellectual Property" (e.g. software copyrights).
So the question was, how would Microsoft react if the source code for Windows was released into the public domain?
Well, my guess is they’d overreact, knowing the well documented personality of Mr Bill (not to mention his sidekick Steve Ballmer).
And then the interesting question would be – keeping the Apple case in mind – what would the reaction to their overreaction be?
I’m doing this off the cuff, from memory, so /msg me if I’ve messed up a date or name and I’ll fix it.
Also, I can’t recall the outcome but I don’t believe they ever publicly stated who stole the code and the resolution; one of those pesky out of court settlements no doubt.
Yes, I do know the difference betweeen a hacker and a cracker - I'm one myself but you gotta guess which.
Finally, I use Unix boxes at work (AIX, SunOS) and have only Macs at home so I am definitely not Apple bashing.