☞ History Already

  • I’d heard Miguel was looking for funding to do this so I’m not surprised, but I still offer him warm congratulations and the best of luck in his new business.
  • I don’t know whether to be excited this exists, depressed that I know so many people on the “Honor Roll” or honoured to be on the Honor Roll myself. Or all of the above.
  • Mark Reinhold, formerly Sun’s and now Oracle’s head of Java engineering, has moved to a non-Oracle-hosted blog. Good move and one to watch.
  • OSI has signed as an organisational signatory. It’s important that the G8 leaders wake up and realise that the era when the only voices they needed to heed were corporate lobbyists has come to an end.

☝ OO.o, TDF and CLAs

Yesterday I read LWN’s (paywalled but accessible from here) interview with Mark Shuttleworth, where he is quoted as saying that the formation of The Document Foundation (TDF) and its launch of LibreOffice “led Oracle to finally decide to stop OpenOffice development and lay off 100 employees.”  Mark says this in the context of his new campaign as an apologist for Contribution Licensing Agreements, about which I have written extensively.

I felt that Mark’s use of OpenOffice.org as an argument in favour of CLAs was jaw-dropping, so I wrote a response on the plane home today. You can read it now behind LWN’s paywall using my special link.

☝ Software freedom and the cloud

Cloud computing is not just disruptive to the software market; it’s also disruptive to software freedom advocacy. Software freedom has been defined as being present when any recipient of a software binary has the freedom to also use the source code for any purpose, study the source code, modify it and distribute it themselves. Cloud applications fail this test at the first hurdle, since no-one is actually receiving a software binary and thus the “four freedoms” analysis to determine the presence of software freedom is inapplicable.

Does this mean no-one should use cloud solutions? While there are some extreme voices that assert abstinence, I think that’s an untenable position. Cloud computing offers so many benefits – many resonant with what people have historically sought from software freedom – that it’s sure to be used. Listening to entrepreneurs and investors here at OSBC, there’s no doubt that the future of software has a substantial dimension in the cloud.

Read the full article over on ComputerWorldUK.

✈ Speaking at OSBC

Golden Gate In CloudIf you’re at the Open Source Business Conference, OSBC, in San Francisco today and tomorrow, you have three opportunities to hear me speak (or three sessions to scrupulously avoid, depending on your taste). They are:

  • Why You Need an Open Cloud Platform to Build a SaaS, Monday 11:40-12:30
    On this large panel, I’ll be commenting on the fact that there’s no way you can guarantee that you’ll not be locked in with a cloud solution today. Just as with other software solutions where your software freedoms are threatened, that doesn’t mean avoid them blindly, but it’s important to look for suppliers who actively protect the four freedoms in addition to promoting data freedom. This is also a context where community sentinels may be useful.
  • Harmony from Chaos: Understanding Project Harmony, Monday 14:00-14:50
    Several participants in Project Harmony will be discussing both the goals of the project (the creation of a set of “standard” contribution licensing agreements for open source projects) and the current beta-quality drafts. I’ll be expressing my doubts about the need for CLAs and encouraging the audience to consider the community impact of having them.
  • A New OSI for a New Decade: Rebooting the Open Source Initiative, Tuesday 15:00-15:50
    I’ll be leading a session, with other OSI Directors, explaining OSI’s plans for restructuring and the timescales and opportunities to get involved.

In all three cases I have a suspicion I may be an isolated voice in a conference that seems to have a lot of sessions about things like software patents, avoiding the “risks” associated with the GPL and other topics that would be amazingly controversial at FOSDEM or FISL. If you’re there, your support would be most welcome!

☞ Programming

☝ Wormtongue’s Lobbyists

As Glyn Moody discussed yesterday, the Business Software Alliance (BSA) annual report on “piracy” is out. I hate that usage – the word “piracy” refers to about the worst crime humanity is able to conceive, involving theft by intimidation, hostage-taking, rape and murder, and it is cynical marketing of the most disgusting kind for the BSA to continue to equate it with the unauthorised use of copyright materials, perhaps under circumstances their own members have created.

On this topic, I’ve taken today’s link post and expanded it on it over on ComputerWorldUK – take a look.

☞ A Chain Of Cause And Effect

  • Excellent and insightful comments from SSRC on the BSA’s as-poor-as-you’d-expect 2010 report. I just hope that there are legislators taking note of this research.
  • Given we all know their reports are biased rubbish now that SSRC has published their report, why do they keep publishing it? It’s because it is part of the foodchain – along with uncritical politicians who can’t distinguish between lobbyists and citizens – that leads to bad laws like the US PROTECTIP Act and the Digital Economy Act in the UK. The BSA’s report is specifically engineered to trigger over-reaching, citizen-hostile legislation. The BSA’s position is the ultra-extremist end-of-scale marker that ought to be regarded as such as we take a much more moderate view as the basis of legislation. Instead it’s taken as fact by credulous legislators. All the time they keep being rewarded, they’ll keep publishing.
  • With the regulatory capture of the USA’s copyright system pretty much complete, last year’s COICA has mutated into this year’s PROTECTIP with the lip service responses to criticisms of the proposed legislation actually rendering it even more harmful. The tragedy here is that there’s no-one at all to speak for culture, for youth, for posterity, for artists and for the collaborative creativity of the 21st century. It seems to me there’s no reform possible since all the people who would draft new approaches are in the pockets of the very industries needing regulation.
  • Here’s a more detailed look at PROTECTIP.
  • Is there really no-one in the White House who can see the irony that the US is demanding an end to state interference abroad while the Protect IP Act and the grand jury investigating Wikileaks are both in progress in the USA?

☝ ChromeBook, SunRay Reborn?

Some people seem to think Google’s ChromeBook is just a cheap laptop with Linux on it. But I think that’s short-sighted. This is yet another attempt at a network computer. Read about it on ComputerWorldUK.

☞ Bureaucracy Rebooted?

  • Public notices and inquiries should be moved from the newspapers and the bowels of the web online to where we are: networks like Facebook and Twitter.

    An important topic, but the solution proposed here needs thinking through some more to take into account locally-important minority channels.

  • regulatory capture occurs when a state regulatory agency created to act in the public interest instead advances the commercial or special interests that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating.

    This also applies to standards bodies and to procurement policies. The only solution in my view is a combination of extreme transparency and a fixed life for the agency after which it has to reboot.

  • We bet everything on Apple and iOS and then Apple killed us by changing the rules in the middle of the game.

    Surely there has to be an anti-trust case in here somewhere?


  • This rework of the New York Times is, as Jeff Waugh commented on Twitter, beyond awesome.

☆ Meddling In Foreign Affairs

Special 301 Report 2010 Priority Watch List Wa...

Image via Wikipedia

The Special 301 Report is an annual publication by the US Trade Representative (USTR), fulfilling US legal requirements to identify countries whose copyright, patent, trademark and trade secrets laws and practices are of concern to the USA. You may recall I’ve written unflatteringly about USTR before. The report’s content reflects the input of US trade lobbyists, most of whom are in the employ of well-funded industry consortia such as the BSA, MPAA and RIAA, allowing the actual corporate beneficiaries of the lobbying to remain hidden.  This year’s report has just been published and I’ve just read through its 53 pages so you don’t have to. I admit to being left depressed by the experience.

It’s no different in tone or purpose from the reports of earlier years, of course. That means it continues to be an expression of the willingness of the USA to throw its considerable commercial and political weight around in order to persuade other sovereign governments to act against the interests of their citizens and native industries in order to protect and advance the cause of the USA’s movie, music, software and pharmaceutical industries. It’s couched in terms of abiding by treaties, but those who pay the Danegeld will find their prisons filling, their healthcare costs rising and their cultural expression controlled from the west.

Bullying Democracies

A striking characteristic of Special 301 reports is an unapologetic bullying of other states without regard for their own democratic systems. There is a repeated motif along the lines of “we told you to change things so you would police the market for US products, but your legislature or government agency refused to do so to our satisfaction” which shows up time and time again. As Ars Technica noted, the USA’s neighbour and valued trading partner Canada – hardly a wayward banana republic – is severely chastised on page 27 because the operation of its domestic democracy did not lead to the outcome USTR had demanded:

Unfortunately, Canadian efforts in 2010 to enact long-awaited copyright legislation were unsuccessful. The United States encourages Canada to make the enactment of copyright legislation that addresses the challenges of piracy over the Internet, including by fully implementing the WIPO Internet Treaties, a priority for its new government.

On page 32 the USA wants to interfere in the domestic controversy in Brazil around its copyright reform, giving a hint why Ana de Hollander may not care much what her citizens think:

The United States urges Brazil to ensure that any amendments to its copyright law provide strong protections and establish means to enable effective enforcement against IPR violations that are committed on the Internet.

and on page 36 Italy is criticised:

The United States also encourages Italy to address other IPR issues, including a troubling Data Protection Agency ruling prohibiting the monitoring of peer-to-peer networks.

There are other examples too.

Demands

This bullying is the consequence of ignoring earlier demands from the USA to implement laws. You can see these demands too – try the ones to India on page 28:

The United States also recommends that India improve its IPR regime by providing for stronger patent protection. Particular concerns have been raised regarding provisions of India’s Patent Law that prohibit patents on certain chemical forms absent a showing of increased efficacy, thereby possibly limiting the patentability of potentially beneficial innovations, such as temperature-stable forms of a drug or new means of drug delivery.

and to Chile on the same page:

The United States also urges Chile to provide adequate protection against unfair commercial use, as well as unauthorized disclosure, of undisclosed test or other data generated to obtain marketing approvals for pharmaceutical products, and to amend its Internet service provider liability regime to permit effective action against any act of infringement of copyright and related rights.

both of which have a significant story behind them in the country in question. Again, the report is full of other examples.

Harmonisation

Most worrying of all to me is the way the blunt instrument of Special 301 is being used in areas where law and practice in the USA is not going the way USTR and its corporate advisors want it to go. When this happens, the mechanism by which correction is being applied is by creating international agreements and practicies which can then be brought back to the USA “for harmonisation”. Obvious examples listed on page 6 include ACTA and TPP, both of which are likely to be a blunt instrument used in the future to get the US Congress to change the USA’s laws.

My eye was drawn to the actions against China, however. The tirade against China runs to many pages, but the text on page 22 is notable for the way it tries to push RAND (that’s individually and privately negotiated patent royalty terms) on standards and frame royalty-free terms as anti-competitive:

However, the draft measures provide that when mandatory national standards incorporate patented technologies, there is the possibility of a compulsory license if a patent holder does not grant a royalty-free license.    This differs from the typical practice of accredited standards developing organizations in other countries, which require disclosure of intellectual property in the standards development process and support “reasonable and nondiscriminatory” (RAND) licensing policies with respect to intellectual property that is incorporated into a standard.

Certainly in the world of software that is regressive. As open source has risen in importance, so has the understanding of why royalty-free – in fact, restriction-free – licensing terms for patents that read on implementations of standards are vital for an open market. The result has been that more and more specification and standards bodies have agreed to set royalty-free terms as the baseline for new work. In turn, royalty-free terms are becoming a procurement requirement. Pressing China to head in the opposite direction could well be a calculated move to push against this trend.

Worrying Interference

Taken together, Special 301 continues to be a worrying and undesirable interference by the USA in the sovereign affairs of other countries. While exceptional abuses – such as commercial-level export of dangerous counterfeit goods – are fair game and reasonable subject for the expression of diplomatic concern, the activities of USTR seem to me to have passed the bounds of reasonableness and gained a life of their own. Like the broomstick in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, they are now under the control of unseen powers who will sweep away things of value in the name of keeping the house clean. It has to be time for a review of that activity.

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