Sunday Sep 06, 2009

☞ Downloads and Britain

  • JP Rangaswami does us all a favour by putting the facts about digital downloads all on one page. This whole situation has arisen because of an unplanned extension of the law on copyright, once only about the origination of cultural artefacts and the regulation of producers and now, because digital every act of use involves a copy, available as a weapon for controlling and then gouging customers. Lord Mandelson should be correcting the imbalance in copyright law back in favour of the consumer. Instead he's allowing himself to be influenced only by the old order desperately attempting to order the tide to turn and consequently over-riding the findings of his own staff.

Monday Aug 31, 2009

Mine, all mine (& theirs too)

Sunset Over The Sierra

One of our design principles for blogs.sun.com over the years has been to allow everything and let good sense and existing rules prevent mishaps - at least until it's clear we need a new rule of some kind. It's been almost entirely effective, and the few cases where it hasn't have been quickly addressed by the Sun blogger community on an internal mailing list that almost every blogger subscribes to. Self-policing definitely beats supervision. Another design principle has been to encourage people to be themselves, and mix up the technical and the personal in their blogging. The resulting blogs have often been compelling and we've grown an unmatched bench of authentic, respected voices.

Of course, those principles leave unanswered questions. One of the questions Sun's present context has raised is, "who owns the blog content?" It's not obvious, since the postings include a mix of personal and Sun content, are posted on a Sun property but often in personal time, and so on. To make it crystal clear, Sun has created a licensing option for every employee that simply shares ownership of everything that's posted equally between Sun and the blogger. That allows Sun to continue to host blogs.sun.com in perpetuity and it allows employees to sort out their own uses for their content. I want to write a book for example, and other want to move their blog to their own domain.

The new license was rolled out today, to accompany the handy new function to export all blog content for use with (for example) WordPress. From now on, every Sun blogger has (if they choose to accept the new license) a clear, documented set of rights to their blogging content. Huge thanks to the team of people that made it happen, especially my favourite lawyer, Tiki Dare, who completely "gets" this stuff and without whose quiet and largely unsung help the open source community would be much the poorer.

Wednesday Jul 22, 2009

America Needs Open Source

Pilgrim Memorial, Southampton

Today sees the launch of a new coalition of businesses (large and small), organizations and individuals to speak up for Free and open source software in Washington DC. Open Source for America brings together a diverse alliance drawn from every corner of the software freedom movement. The Board of Advisors (on which I'm honoured to serve) brings together community, commercial, political and military voices, and the membership has been the easiest to recruit of any activity I have known. That's because at the heart of the organization you'll find the principles of the Free Software Definition, which themselves form the core beliefs of almost everyone supporting free and open source software.

The Freedoms at the heart of the alliance create an unparalleled opportunity for governments:

  • Open source puts government in control of if and when they spend money on software, since the it guarantees the right to use without limitations
  • It means that government IT investment is mostly spent locally with local experts since everyone is free to study and modify the code.
  • It ensures that all - government, suppliers and citizens - can freely access the software needed for government engagement without toll or tax from a vendor since everyone is free to distribute the original and changed versions.

Whatever other lessons we can learn from this new initiative, I note that it was easy and rational for people from all the apparent factions of the free and open source software movement to come together. It's time to set aside the urge to fight over semantic differences and recognise how far we have come and see how much we can achieve when we pull together. Join Open Source for America now!

Friday May 08, 2009

☞ Freedoms, their use and abuse

Tuesday Feb 24, 2009

Responding to Canada

It seems the Government Open Source Tipping Point (GOSTiP, as all government things need an acronym) is proceeding apace as national government after national government learns from the pioneers and dips a toe into the waters of software freedom.

Prior to the British government's announcement they would prefer to use open source and open formats, many of us also noticed the Canadian Government asking questions about "No-Charge Licensed Software" and using their "request for information" process to do so. Like many others we've taken a good, long look at their questions and written a suitably lengthy reply.

Do take a look; if you'd like to re-use any of it, there's also an ODF version. You'll note that we think lumping open source in with shareware, trialware and bait-and-switchware is a mistake; it's not about saving money on licenses, it's about securing key freedoms.  More inside.

Thursday Mar 13, 2008

Open Source for Sovereignty

Parascending in Sydney Harbour

I was interested to see news from the European Commission where they announce a new policy to more frequently use open source software in the administration of the European Union. They say:

For all new development, where deployment and usage is foreseen by parties outside of the Commission Infrastructure, Open Source Software will be the preferred development and deployment platform.

It's not just European government that's opting for open source. Today the NSA (the super-secret spy agency in the US) have announced they are joining in with OpenSolaris. Barton has an interview that explores this more. I think we'll see more and more government engagement as the adoption-led market takes hold.

Using Free software from open source communities makes perfect sense for governments, and not just for the obvious reasons of up-front savings on license fees. As I heard said on behalf of the Brazilian government, open source is a matter of sovereignty. When a government decides to use closed software, they are guaranteeing that they will be sending money out of the local economy. The degree of expatriation depends on the actual system they've chosen. In the worst case, all the money goes to the US, all the resulting assets belong to someone else and all the ongoing service and support costs pay for the development of skills abroad.

By contrast, using Free software has no licensing costs. Any extra programming results in an asset shared by an open source community. All service and support can be handled locally, growing the skill-base and economy. What could be a smarter way for a government to obtain the essential infrastructure it needs and develop the local economy at the same time?

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Thoughts and pointers on digital freedoms and technology markets. With a few photos too.

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