The use of free software in West Africa would represent an opportunity to reduce the digital divide with the South writes Ramata Soré in this article previous to the Panafrican conference on free software, from March 16 to 20 2008 in Dakar, Senegal.
Copyright laws are designed to protect the expression of content, as opposed to content itself. Protected works can express ideas, knowledge or methods that can be used freely; what copyright laws prohibit is the partial or full reproduction of such works -whether modified or not- without consent. In opposition to the copyright model stands the patent system, which grants monopoly rights over an invention (for a period of approximately 20 years, depending on the country). Patent owners decide who can use their inventions and set a price on that use.
Although advocates of the patent system claim that patents promote innovation by making the invention known to the public, voices are increasingly being raised against this system, since only large corporations can afford the costs involved in patent maintenance (including the legal costs of court proceedings to prevent patent violation). Moreover, historically, patents have been used to prevent the development of what might be seen as potential competitors of established technologies owned by dominant companies in a given sector.
The debate over software patentability and its impact on technological innovation is not new. In the year 1994, the Uruguay GATT Round closed with the inclusion of an agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS). Most industrialized countries (in particular, the United States and Japan) played an instrumental role in the adoption of this agreement, which must be compulsorily enforced by all member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) (73% of which are developing countries). In particular, article 27.1 of the TRIPS agreement has been construed as a legal means to justify the patentability of a range of innovations, including computer programs. The fact that many observers call for a full revision of this agreement does not deter large software corporations from joining influential groups of lawyers specializing in intellectual property or lobbying some governments to advocate in favour of software regulation in international forums, such as the WTO, or to push patent offices to adopt measures in this direction. These offices are not financed by public funds. On the contrary, they derive a substantial part of their income from patent maintenance costs, a considerable percentage of which comes from a few large corporations.
In addition, the process of granting software patents has lacked transparency. In Europe, for instance, even though patent issues were regulated by the Munich Patent Convention, which established the European Patent Office (EPO) and expressly prohibited software patenting, thousands of computer program-related patents have been granted by that same office. This brings into play issues such as what innovations may be considered industrially applicable, definitions that can vary from country to country, and can depend even on linguistic and terminological considerations.
In 2002 the European Commission submitted a proposal for a Directive "on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions" which would legalize software patents in Europe. Civil society organizations joined forces to voice their opposition against this initiative, which would have implemented in Europe a system similar to the one in force in the United States and Japan. On 24 September 2003, the European Parliament voted to incorporate a set of amendments into the Directive, reaffirming the non-patentability of programming and business logic and upholding freedom of publication and interoperation. Still, the debate in Europe with regard to software patents is far from being over.
Furthermore, if we take a look at how Southern countries are affected by the expansion of "Intellectual Property Rights" (IPR), spurred by industrialized countries through the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), we can see that far from encouraging direct investment and stimulating transfer of technology, an illusion of such phenomena is created through the movement of funds and technology to and from parent companies of multinational corporations and their foreign subsidiaries. The smallest companies, for their part, are forced to allocate a significant portion of their budgets to paying for licenses, thereby greatly curbing local development initiatives. Moreover, when arguments are wielded in favour of extending IPRs to scientific and educational information, which is currently in the public domain, the future of the least industrialized countries turns even bleaker, as they risk being trapped in their role of consumers of Northern-produced technologies.
In August 2004, governments of Southern countries, led by Brazil and Argentina, presented a proposal for a Development Agenda at WIPO. Some of the proposals specially addressed the concerns of developing countries, while others aimed to redirect WIPO to give more weight to general consumers’ and public interests, including patents and copyrights. On October 2004, the WIPO General Assembly issued a decision that creates a rapid evaluation of the Development Agenda. This opens an opportunity to promote changes in WIPO's policies. Prior to the General Assembly meeting hundreds of nonprofits, scientists, academics and other individuals had signed the "Geneva Declaration on the Future of WIPO," which calls on WIPO to focus more on the needs of developing countries, and to view IP as one of many tools for development - not as an end in itself.
When ICTs are being consolidated as a means to share knowledge and information, limiting access to these technologies is seen by many as a violation of fundamental rights. The future of the flow of information and communication in the South largely depends on finding solutions to these issues, which should be at the heart of the debate around ICTs global governance at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).
There is considerable interest in the "e-development" community about FOSS: free and open source software. It is argued to be cheaper and more customisable than proprietary software; it is argued to be a potential kick-starter for the local IT industry; it merits a mention in the WSIS Plan of Action. So what is its likely trajectory? October 2005.
Developing countries first became consumers of software in the 1950s and 1960s. To a lesser degree they also started producing software around this time. Many myths and stereotypes have arisen around software development in developing countries. These, as discussed below, can be both negative and positive.1998.
This essay argues that achieving openness in fields of patentable technology may require cyberinfrastructure that is designed to accommodate flexibility in the management of intellectual property. First, the potential value of patents is explored as they support the goal of open access. For some technologies, collaborative cyberinfrastructure may inadvertently restrict open access because placing a technology in the public domain removes the leverage a patent owner has to influence downstream activity. Second, this paper considers the potential role of defensive publishing in cyberinfrastructure; a lack of control over how the inventions are published may make it easier for others to surround the published technology with patents, ultimately limiting open access. In some instances, strategic defensive publishing may be warranted in order to place technologies more securely in the public domain. June 2007.
This paper is separated in two parts. This first half documents a large increase in the amount of intellectual property disclosed to SSOs over the last twenty years, discussing several possible explanations for this trend, including changes in patent policy; an increase in standards production; the outcome of specific court cases; and, changes in the technology development process. The second part argues that RAND licensing commitments are not a workable solution to SSOs’ intellectual property problems. The cost of this uncertainty is potentially very large. Beyond the obvious costs and delays associated with litigation, IP holders may hesitate to embed their technology in a voluntary standard, and vendors may hesitate to implement such a standard when costs are unclear and litigation likely. June 2007.
This paper examines the role that open-source software can play in an economy and its development, with a focus on empirical evidence and economic logic. It argues that, while open-source can clearly be a viable part of a developed software industry, the available evidence does not support the position that open-source software can form the basis of an industry on its own, especially in nations where the technology sector is still embryonic.
It is widely recognised that knowledge is essential for development, and that developing countries have much to gain if they are to fully exploit the many opportunities opened up by new technologies. However, increasingly restrictive intellectual property rights are limiting the benefits that new technologies can bring to developing countries. April 2005.
Presentation by Manuel Castells in the World Social Forum: open source as social organization of production and as a form of technological innovation based on a new conception of property rights. January 2005.
What is the effect of patents on the economy in general and on software in particular? Why do software patents tend to be so trivial? What exactly have the rules of patentability in Europe been and how did they change? Under what constraints is the patent system moving? What are our choices? With this collection of articles, members and friends of the FFII workgroup on software patents try to give answers.
This case study produced by the UNCTAD-ICTSD Capacity Building Project on IPRs and Sustainable Development (May 2004) claims that "intellectual property protection" have erected a clear barrier to the spread of software across the South. It also states that free software formats might offer advantages for technology transfer and that they are not a mere policy choice for developing countries but an important alternative for building, maintaining and changing rules that govern information flows. PDF format.
Among other conclusions, the author expresses that developing countries must insist on the possibility of enacting domestic limitations to WIPO and WTO agreements, including the application of compulsory licenses, to digital works. PDF format.
The authors perform an analysis of new transnational factors in "IP enforcement": countries’ multilateral obligations under the World Trade Organization’s IPRs provisions; and bilateral pressures from the United States to increase the protection of IPRs. They conclude that for most (especially developing) countries, the benefits obtained by increasing copyright protection would appear to be outweighed by direct and indirect costs. PDF format.
So as to play a part in the information society, free software could drive the computerisation of West Africa. But although migration to free software may be a development alternative, it first has to transit via organising the world of developers and navigate through the interests of governments and the private sector. March 2008.
As this document will show, the open source software phenomenon is not historically new, although in recent years it has reached a critical mass, which has allowed it to enter the mainstream software market. The impact of open source technology is expected to be quite noticeable in the software industry, and in society as a whole. It allows for novel development models, which have already been demonstrated to be especially well suited to efficiently take advantage of the work of developers spread across all corners of the planet. It also enables completely new business models, which are shaping a network of groups and companies based on open source software development. And it has, in general, a very positive impact as an enabler for the creation of new markets and business opportunities. November 2001.
This paper presents a summary of three presentations. They were followed by a one–hour workshop, with about 50 participants including librarians from Canada and elsewhere, publishers, and others. Participants reported being engaged in a wide variety of open access initiatives, from OA publishing and institutional repositories to a recent commitment to devote a percentage of a university budget to OA. Two solutions the workshop participants saw as key for open access were finding a funding solution (possibly re–deploying collections and acquisitions budgets or earmarking grants funds for knowledge transfer), and branding repositories as containing trustable material. OCtober 2007.
South Africa disallows software patents and according to an academic from South Africa, Derek Keats, Microsoft has been violating this law by filing software patents over there. Once a patent has been filed, it is extremely difficult to revoke it since the legal costs are extremely high and in many cases, countries such as South Africa cannot afford such costs. In fact, this is part of a larger problem where patents pose a challenge to many countries who are simply overwhelmed by the sheer money power multinationals bring with them. January 2007.
This paper formally describes the concept of Free/Libre and Open Source Software projects (FOSS) institutions and conducts a preliminary examination of FOSS projects in order to shed light into institutions, their composition and importance to the projects. The authors report findings from an initial set of interviews of FOSS developers and find that in commons settings that need to encourage contribution rather than control over-appropriation, the institutional designs appear to be extremely lean and as unobtrusive as possible. To the FOSS programmers the authors interviewed, institutional structure adds transaction costs and hinders collective action. February 2007.
This report addresses the question of what would be the potential impact on the development of the information society if public organisations were to release software fully owned by them under a Open Source license. It argues that publishing software fully owned by public bodies as Free/Libre/Open Source Software (FLOSS) could facilitate re-use, adaptation and modification of the software by other public organisations, as well as other actors. April 2007.
A survey of users and developers made for the European Commission provided the first comprehensive base of hard data on OS/FS; indicators of measurement including monetary are applied on this domain through the survey; and a unique survey of OS/F software source code measured authors' contributions and other indicators. OS/FS business models and best practices and policy/regulatory impact were assessed. While focusing on OS/FS, FLOSS has implications for measuring and modelling the New Economy as a whole.
A dependency on proprietary software in desktop systems should not be forced upon the vast majority of people who do not speak English, have no vested interest or training in the dominant technologies, have limited income, and will be the ones to pay the most if an expensive proprietary software platform is adopted either by design or by default by their country's leaders.
It needed a crisis like the AIDS crisis in Africa to alert the international community to the fact that Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs), if taken to extremes, would hinder health rather than promoting it. The author of this article argues that there are other cases which may not catch the public imagination like AIDS but which nevertheless demonstrate that IPRs are emerging as hindrances to equality and fair-play in the global commons of intellectual innovation. August 2005.
The author compares the BSDL and GPL, and claims that "each license behaves differently, often unpredictably for everybody including their creators, and each provides a different set of advantages and drawbacks, depending of the stage of the lifecycle of the software project".
This document outlines the principles underlying the OpenContent (OC) movement and may be redistributed provided it remains unaltered. For legal purposes, this document is the license under which OpenContent is made available for use.
Copyleft is a general concept; there are many ways to fill in the details. In the GNU Project, the specific distribution terms used are contained in the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL). The GNU GPL is intended to guarantee developer's freedom to share and change free software, to make sure the software is free for all its users. The GPL applies to most of the Free Software Foundation's software and to any other program whose authors commit to using it.
CC offers a flexible range of protections and freedoms for authors and artists. Built upon the "all rights reserved" of traditional copyright CC has created a voluntary "some rights reserved" copyright.
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)
With headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, WIPO is one of the 16 specialized agencies of the United Nations system of organizations. It administers 23 international treaties dealing with different aspects of intellectual property protection.
In this report we include information on the Development Agenda proposal, the WIPO General Assembly's resolution about it and the reactions by civil society, scientists and other individuals around the world.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) published its 228-pages "E-Commerce and Development Report 2003" on 20 November 2003. One of the messages of the report is that the use of free and open-source software offers many benefits to developing countries and can be "a means of bridging the digital divide".
The UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights has issued resolution 2000/7, on human rights and intellectual property, stressing the need to better integrate a broad variety of interests and to rebalance economic and social interest.
The UNESCO Free Software Portal gives access to documents and websites which are references for the Free Software/Open Source Technology movement. It is also a gateway to resources related to Free Software.
The UNESCO Copyright Bulletin aims to provide regular information on legal developments in the field of copyright and to contribute to the debate in this area. The English, French, Chinese, Russian and Spanish versions of the Bulletin are published as a free on-line journal.
Non-profit association registered in Munich, devoted to spreading data-processing literacy. FFII supports the development of public information goods based on copyright, free competition, and open standards.
Considered the most comprehensive repository of information on the European software patent debate.
On July 6th, 2005, the European Parliament decided by a large majority (729 members, 680 votes, 645 yes, 14 No, 18 abstentions) to reject the directive "on the patentability of computer implemented inventions", also known as the software patent directive. This rejection was the logical answer to the Commission's refusal to restart the legislative process in February and the Council's reluctance to take the will of the European Parliament and national parliaments into account.
Petition directed to the European Parliament to warn European Authorities against the dangers of software patents. This petition was supported by the EuroLinux Alliance, European companies and non-profit associations.
The FSF Europe supports all European aspects of Free Software; especially the GNU Project. It also provides an assistance centre for politicians, lawyers and journalists in order to secure the legal, political and social future of Free Software.
The EuroLinux Alliance for a Free Information Infrastructure is an open coalition of commercial companies and non-profit associations united to promote and protect a European Software Culture based on copyright, open standards, open competition and open source software.
Located at the Fundação Getúlio Vargas Law School is the Center for Technology and Society (CTS), whose core mission is to study the legal, social and cultural consequences of new developments in information and communications technologies. The centre, launched in 2003, has projects in intellectual property, access to knowledge, free and open source software, Internet governance, open business models, and privacy.
Based in San Francisco, USA, EFF is a donor-supported membership organization working to protect fundamental rights regardless of technology; to educate the press, policymakers and the general public about civil liberties issues related to technology; and to act as a defender of those liberties.
In line with the final accords of the Uruguay Round of the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), the World Trade Organization (WTO) began operating on 1 January 1995. This report provides in-depth information about the organization and its policies.
With the advent of the WTO TRIPs Agreement, developing country members have been forced to radically reform their intellectual property rights regimes. In the event of a future revision of the TRIPs Agreement, developing countries are advised to be well-prepared and fully exercise their bargaining powers to neutralize any attempts to further strengthen the current level of protection under the Agreement.
"Governments should promote the use of Free Software in schools and higher education and in public administration. The UN should carry out a fundamental review of the impact on poverty and human rights of current arrangements for recognition and governance of monopolised knowledge and information, including the work of WIPO and the functioning of the TRIPS agreement. Efforts should be made to ensure that limited intellectual monopolies stimulate innovation and reward initiative, rather than keeping knowledge in private hands until it is of little use to society.[...]". PDF format.
"From the perspective of those advocating the use of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), the WSIS process certainly was not encouraging. Official documents barely mentioned FOSS at all, burying its mention in a bland paragraph about "increasing awareness" of various software models. Earlier drafts that had recommended supporting or encouraging FOSS were gutted due to pressure from proprietary software defenders such as the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC)."
World-Information.Org has produced an infopaper on "Intellectual Property" issues largely absent from the WSIS agenda. The paper features 18 authors who discuss different aspects of the IP with regard to their ambivalent role in the building of a just information order: How can the information commons be preserved in view of advancing IP regimes that benefit large corporations and lock the former third world into a state of underdevelopment? How can open access systems contribute to an open science environment and to free cultural production? Why are software patents problematic?