FSFE in the news

I’ve been quoted in the Danish newspaper Arbejderen (“The Labourer”) under the headline “IT Employees Launch Campaign Against the Patent Court“. The campaign is  about the upcoming referendum on the Danish accession to the new EU-wide Unified Patent and the related Unified Patent Court. The work of the FSFE and especially our Fellowship group is mentioned.

It is very important to campaign for a “no” in this referendum, since the Unified Patent will make the current problems with software patents from the European Patent Office much worse. If Denmark votes no, its businesses will be at least partially shielded from European-wide enforcement of software patents. The campaign is organized by PROSA and the IT-Political Association of Denmark.

This is more relevant than ever, as the EPO now openly admits that “technical software” can be patented.

See this, and this.

The quote is:

Carsten Agger is active in the IT-Political Association of Denmark and in  Open Space Aarhus, an association of people interested in technology[1].

He is also a coordinator in the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) which fights for the right to develop and distribute software freely.

This Friday, the FSFE joined a campaign to ask all  candidates for the upcoming elections for the European Parliament to join a pact which states that free software is a common good which is worth fighting for.

If you want to read the rest of the article, I propose you use Google Translate, as I don’t have the time to translate all of it.

Tonight, there’s going to be a public meeting in Aarhus to launch the new campaign against software patents and the Unified Patent. I hope there’s going to be a lot of people and that we can get the “no”. That could also help get the movement against software patent going in all of Europe.

Our local group in Aarhus will contribute as much to the campaign as it can. The patent court and the referendum will be the subject of our next fellowship meeting on February 20.

Notes:

[1]: Also called a HACKERSPACE. That’s the term we prefer.

[2]: Actually, the original article states that the FSFE launched that campaign. This is wrong and is not what I told the journalist. APRIL has launched it, the FSFE and specifically our local group wants to join it. The journalist has now fixed this in the online edition.

Free software, technology and curiosity – celebrating 30 years of GNU

[ Celebrate 30 years of GNU! ]

On October 5, 2010, I gave a tech talk about free software at Open Space Aarhus, the only and at the time very new hackerspace in Aarhus. The talk was scheduled in celebration of Free Software Foundation’s 25th birthday the day before.

After giving the talk, I wrote a longish article from my notes, explaining free software from a non-programming but technical and scientific point of view. Today, I have published the article on my Danish-language blog in celebration of 30 years with the GNU project, and you’re free to read it and share it as you want.

Well, if you can read Danish, at any rate. If you want to get an impression of the article, you can try reading the Google Translated version. I can’t guarantee for its accuracy, though. But happy belated birthday to the GNU project, and especially to the rest of us who enjoy its fruits every day when we boot up our computer.

Link: Fri software, nysgerrighed og teknologi (Google translated).

Open Data – how to make it succeed, how to make it fail

This is a talk I gave on September 26th as part of an Ignite session for the hackathon Hack4DK. The hackathon was organized by the Danish Agency for Culture and was centered around recently released cultural heritage data. The talk was an Ignite talk, which means I had to talk exactly five minutes, accompanied by exactly twenty slides (PDF) which display for exactly fifteen seconds each.

Below, the actual speech I gave:

As you can read in the program for this event, I’m a software engineer at Magenta and a board member at Open Space Aarhus, our local community hackerspace. I am also an active Fellow of Free Software Foundation Europe.

This means that my background is in professional free software development AND in the hacker community around Open Space Aarhus. You might say that I represent a hacker’s point of view.

In free (or “open source”) software, the things you need to be able to do with a program are quickly described: You need to be legally entitled to USE, STUDY, CHANGE and DISTRIBUTE the software you work with. This enables sharing and user freedom and avoids expensive licensing.

In the hacker community, our slogan is, somewhat more playfully:

Build what you need, share what you build

AND

Be awesome (and have fun).

From both perspectives the requirements for open data are the same: We must be legally entitled to use them AND to share them – to distribute them ourselves.

If I am to build a free software app from your data, anyone must be allowed to use it, for any purpose. If people are to share what I build, it must be legal for them to do so. If not, my users might get sued.

This means that open data must always concede their users the following rights:

  • A free license, for instance the Creative Commons license used by Wikipedia
  • Redistribution and copying must be allowed
  • The data must be available in formats following open standards

Conversely, data are NOT open if they

  • have a license that limits commercial use in any way, or
  • don’t have a FREE license, or
  • if they don’t have any license at all, or
  • if they are only available in closed or patented formats.

Apps built on such data are not freely hackable and distributable as embodied e.g. in the Open Definition (http://opendefinition.org/okd/).

People from Wikipedia, from Creative Commons and from a plethora of excellent organizations have spoken at last year’s Hack4DK event, and everybody contributing to this year’s event should be aware of these things. But if I look at this year’s contributors of data, several present data with no license or with non-open licenses which are useless from an open data perspective.

One site affirms that its data are experimental and not to be used for commercial purposes. I wouldn’t dream of touching such data in an “open” context like a hackathon.

Worse, the data in question are apparently graphical renderings of maps that are hundreds of years old and thus in the public domain. So these contributors are not just offering data, they are simultaneously removing these data from the public domain and limiting their usefulness to the public.

On another site I find lots of nice and useful data – but, in many cases, no license!

I might claim good faith and use the data anyway, but if no license is given this implied permission could always be revoked and my customers might get sued. I do trust their good intentions, but I frankly think that someone who choose to call themselves “Open Data Aarhus” should know better than that.

And finally, an image offered for download by an art museum is accompanied by very hostile copyright language – which is also pointless, as that statue passed into the public domain centuries ago.

The point here is: If you want to open your data, don’t do it grudgingly. You don’t need hostile copyright language; what you do need is a nice and clear license allowing everybody to use, share, remix and distribute your data.

Cultural heritage data could play a very important part in a free and open society. The possibilities are virtually endless. But we must be free to use them.

Put your data out there under a clear, permissive and non-revokable license and allow users and businesses to share and redistribute them.

In that way a lot of very valuable knowledge and a lot of very valuable works of art may form the basis of many valuable contributions to our modern, digital culture.

Happy hacking! And thanks for having me here today.

I believe the organizers recorded the event on video, and I’ll post the video here as well when it’s available – which is, unfortunately, not just yet.

Denmark: New government, new opportunities for free software

Denmark had a general election on September 15th, and this led to the ouster of the right-of-centre coalition which has governed our country for ten years now. The next government will be a coalition between social democrats, a moderate leftist party (SF) and a centrist liberal parti (Det Radikale Venstre, which actually means “the Radical Left” – historical reasons, for they are traditionally a very moderate bunch). From a political perspective, this will hopefully mean the end of ten years of catering to the extreme, xenophobic right in the guise of the Danish People’s Party, whose leader Pia Kjærsgaard has easily (and alas!) and by far been the most powerful political figure in Denmark for these ten years. Denmark has passed legislation which is so unbelievably unpleasant and racist in its intent, that you would not believe it unless you’ve heard about it or been unfortunate enough to experience it.

But all that’s really off-topic for this blog. If you want, you can read all about it on Adventures and Japes, a brilliant blog written by an English school-teacher in a small town in Jutland. So, let’s continue where we left off: New government, new opportunities.

Denmark has not traditionally been a free software country. Rather, it has traditionally been solid Microsoft territory. Penetration of free software solutions is very low compared to many other countries, and under the present government, this has been supported by lobbyism from the larger vendors coupled with the government’s very “business-friendly” approach. There has been some debate about the possibility of saving money by going “open source”, and some (few) local authorities have been rolling out OpenOffice.org/LibreOffice and GNU/Linux. The values behind free software, which in my opinion is what makes the real difference, have been completely absent from the public debate.

But now, we have a new government, and in my opinion this represents a very interesting new opportunity for free software. The politicians behind the new government can’t be expected to act very differently in the realm of IT politics than their predecessors. The reason for this is that really understanding the issue requires either a level of technical insight or at least an interest in the subject which many politicians simply don’t have. One very important reason for this is that frankly, they have other very important subjects to think about. Like foreign policy, wars and a sinking economy. The only political party which has shown a real understanding of the issues behind free software is the leftist “Enhedslisten” (the “United List”, comparable e.g. to Izquerda Unida in Spain), and they will not be part of the new goverment.

The opportunity is that the new government consists of parties which are ostensibly progressive. Whereas the old government was simply set in their ways and completely out of reach on this subject, the new government can be expected to be genuinely interested in hearing new things. If we start telling their politicians about free software there is a real possibility this could lead to, not wholesale adoption (that is way too optimistic), but a real change in their attitude.

Maybe we should do something similar to what the French organization APRIL has done and send letters of education and pledges for politicians to sign to indicate they understand the issue of free software and will work for it. Like I wrote in my first post, I am currently working on a manuscript on free software which will hopefully be published as a book in 2012. I am thinking of sending an excerpt of this book to all relevant politicians and offer to send them the actual book free of charge. Another possibility might be to offer to give free talks to politicians from the new government parties, and from Enhedslisten, who will also be important. And to the opposition, for that matter, as they may be more interested in real issues now that they have lost their posts in government.

Does anyone have experience doing this kind of advocacy they would like to share? If so, feel free to add your opinion or advice in the comments section.