Piracy redefined, and other gems from Helsinki

End of last week I found myself at a seminar of the Society for Economic Research on Copyright Issues (SERCI) in Helsinki, Finland. The seminar was titled "IPR Protection of Software: Copyright, Patent and/or Open Source?" and sponsors were in particular Microsoft and Nokia. Given my experience with the SERCI web site when using Free Software, I was not entirely sure what to expect:


The web site of the Society for Economic Research on Copyright Issues (SERCI) when viewed with Free Software

The main opening presentation indeed did little to alleviate my concerns: the concluding hypothesis was that it might be a good idea to abolish copyright on software and use exclusively software patents as a means of monopolising software control. This set the context for many of the presentations, including that about how Microsoft was unfairly prosecuted by the European Commission.

While I made sure to distribute at least our Free Software Essentials Reference and provide input by friendly questions at the end of each presentation, that form of interaction is somewhat limited. So software patents and competition law came back up for debate during the "Policy Panel" on day two. Participants of that panel were: Dietmar Tallroth, Director of Open Source and Java, Nokia, Mark Lange, Senior Policy Counsel, Microsoft, Jonas Bosson, FFII, and myself.

I got the final slot in the 15 minute starting presentations (mine is available here) during which I had to set straight some of the things that were said before. Among other things I highlighted how Samba seeks competition on the merits and wants to write better software than Microsoft, which is why they need to know the interoperability information on protocols and interfaces used, but are not interested in any Microsoft source code. I also explained how Microsofts current licensing proposal ultimately boils down to "we only want competition from those who do not compete with us." As you can imagine, the discussion got relatively lively after that.

Nokia: GPLv3 and DRM

My personal favorite was probably the presentation of Dietmar Tallroth of Nokia. He had just come back from a face to face meeting in the GPLv3 process to discuss in particular the clauses on Digital Restrictions Management (DRM), that have recently made the headlines when some Linux kernel developers took public position against it.

According to Mr Tallroth, the potential issues with DRM were clarified sufficiently for Nokia. He expressed understanding and acceptance of the position taken by FSF, and provided that the result of the recent discussions is present in the next draft, there are only a few more points to clarify in the software patent language, for which he was generally optimistic.

Indeed, Mr Tallroth was very explicit on how he found the Free Software Foundation very reasonable, pragmatic and indeed considerate of input into GPLv3 — which he said contradicted the image that some people were having. So his conclusion was that unless there were major surprises, Nokia will be going with GPLv3.

It would be an odd item in the history of Free Software if major companies like Nokia have end up having no problems with GPLv3, but the Linux kernel refuses to use it for what is a percieved lack of friendliness with the commercial world.

Pirates at the end

The final presentation was given by Dr. Mikko Mustonen of the Helsinki School of Economics. He started off by redefining a pirate to be anyone who "writes a piece of software that does something similar to what someone else has already written" to launch into a monologue about how Free Software in general and MySQL in particular is only a bunch of "pirates" and essentially the root of all evil.

Economically he tried to base this on calculations that make the assumption of a zero-sum financial transaction in the distribution of Free Software, which is clearly false, as well as ignoring all the areas which are positively affected by more competition and better software that allows companies to be vendor-independent.

Mark Lange and I briefly discussed that if one were to apply this logic to Window environments, Microsoft would also be considered a "pirate." So would, if one were to apply that logic to other fields, be all of humankind. Maybe Dr. Mikko Mustonen should have spent more time on learning by imitation and studying what other people have already done instead of making up theories that are somewhat remote from reality.

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