☝ ACTA’s Back

Are the European Commission just trying to provoke us? Having seen the depth of feeling over SOPA and PIPA, you would expect the European Commission to regard ACTA as a hot topic. But not a bit of it – they almost seem to relish the confrontation by getting member states to sign it almost before the blood was cold in SOPA and PIPA. I believe we need to repeat the experience of the Software Patent Directive, and I explain why on ComputerWorldUK today.

☆ ebooks – You Can’t Take Them With You…

Civic library, Newcastle, 18/9/1957, Hood collectionDigital books are loaned, not sold, so why aren’t they described that way? There’s a big market for digital books, but I think they’re being sold badly, almost to the point of dishonesty. I think it’s time the way their vendors talk about them was changed.

First some illustrations:

  1. My father just finished reading an e-book and was asking me how he could now pass it on to his nephew. He called to ask how, assuming there had to be an easy way. But there’s no way he can do it without paying for it again (and even then he will find buying an e-book for someone else challenging).
  2. When my wife and I go on holiday, we often like to read the same books. With paper books it’s pretty easy; all we have to do is use two different bookmarks and make sure we’ve a choice of books so we don’t have to argue about who gets to read! But with e-books, that’s not possible. We either have to share the same e-book account, or we have to buy the book twice.
  3. Our family are all huge fans of Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman series and of Terry Pratchett‘s Discworld books. We have a complete library of them in the house and everyone who lives here (and a few regular guests!) eagerly read and re-read them. If we had bought e-book versions, none of this would be possible (and the fan-base for both authors would be smaller as we’ve hooked several with strategic book loans).
  4. More than that, some of our books will definitely be bequeathed to our children sooner or (hopefully) later. We’re sure they will want to share some of those with their own children too. Some of the books here are transient but some are definitely here to stay.

Pros and Cons

Personally I have purchased very few e-books. They are usually priced near the cost of the physical book, yet come with few of the benefits. I do understand their attraction though – we have several Kindles in the family and I’ve used them on holiday. There are some compelling capabilities that aren’t present in the ink-on-paper book.

One is the ability to read using the device I happen to have with me (at least in Amazon’s case – Apple only support their own devices so there’s no Android or web readers for their books). Another is the ability to make marginal notes in the book that are non-destructive and reusable. But there are significant down-sides as well. For example, I can’t share e-books with others; I can’t pass them on; I can’t re-sell them; I can’t bequeath them.

e-books as library

There’s another source of books our house uses like this. It’s the public library. Even the books I get there are more shareable than e-books, but the serial use pattern of the public library seems to me a better analogy for the usage I’m able to gain from e-books. In addition, the rights I have to an e-book are closer to those I have to a library book than to one I have purchased. For example, Amazon’s Kindle store does not sell me a book; rather, it gives me a perpetual right to borrow it for personal use, a right they can revoke at will but which I can reasonably assume I’ll be able to exercise when I want to read the book again.

If the e-book stores had framed their business as a super digital lending library (with prices to match) I might be an avid customer by now. Instead, by saying I am buying the book, and charging prices that are a delta on the cover price rather than a delta on the cost of a lending library, they draw my attention increasingly to all the things I can’t do – lend, share, resell, bequeath – and I usually order the paper version. Perhaps it’s time for some reframing? Maybe for app stores too?

[First published on ComputerWorldUK]

☆ Mozilla peut-elle apporter l’unité à l’open-source ?

La nouvelle licence open-source de Mozilla est bien plus qu’un simple ravalement de façade. Elle pourrait créer de nouvelles possibilités pour l’unité de la communauté du Libre.

La première semaine de janvier 2012 marque un jalon discret mais important dans le mouvement de l’open-source, grâce à la publication d’une deuxième version de la Mozilla Public License (MPLv2) et sa validation en tant que licence libre officielle. Quand bien même beaucoup n’y voient qu’un énième détail juridique, cette publication est importante à deux titres : le procédé par lequel on l’a élaborée, et l’objectif pour lequel on l’a créée. Il s’agit d’une licence qui a pour but l’unité.

Rédaction et révision de cette licence se sont déroulées selon un processus très ouvert, dans lequel Luis Villa a joué un rôle prépondérant. Organisé en majeure partie dans des forums publics, le débat a conduit à de nombreuses modifications du texte. Luis est entré en contact très tôt avec l’Open Source Initiative, a accepté les retours du groupe de révision des licences, puis obtenu sans mal l’approbation du conseil d’administration.

D’autres articles sur cette nouvelle licence se sont concentrés sur les modifications de la partie « patent peace » (NdT: la paix des brevets) et autres ajustements des clauses (adieu, Netscape !), mais le changement le plus important apporté par la version 2 de la licence Mozilla est à mon sens l’inclusion d’une compatibilité particulière avec la GPL (GNU General Public License). Par le passé, le projet Mozilla jonglait avec un système complexe et peu clair de triple licence afin de composer avec les univers des licences copyleft et non copyleft. De manière générale, les autres utilisateurs de la MPL (et ses nombreux clones rebaptisés) ne prenaient pas cette peine, et par conséquent certains codebases se sont retrouvés exclus de toute collaboration possible avec l’immense univers des logiciels placés sous licence GPL.

Selon un procédé inédit que la Commission européenne a inauguré pour la licence publique de l’Union européenne (EUPL), la MPLv2 inclut des clauses permettant à un projet de stipuler, de façon optionnelle et explicite, sa compatibilité avec d’autres licences, en particulier celles de la famille GPL. À mes yeux, la MPLv2 représente une mise à jour d’envergure de la famille précédente des v1.x, justement grâce à cette compatibilité explicite avec la GPL, laquelle offre pour la première fois une passerelle praticable entre les paradigmes permissifs et copyleft. Elle ne satisfera pas les puristes des deux mondes, mais propose avec pragmatisme une nouvelle solution aux projets open-source appuyés par des entreprises. Celles-ci pourront disposer d’une communauté qui produit du code sous licence permissive tout en fournissant à cette même communauté un moyen d’entretenir des relations avec d’autres communautés travaillant sur du code sous licence copyleft.

Avec le déclin continu du business model de la double licence (ce que d’aucuns nomment « exceptions commerciales au copyleft »), il devient de plus en plus évident que les licences permissives sont importantes pour les entreprises commerciales qui contribuent à l’open-source. De la même façon, l’écosystème GPL ne disparaîtra pas, aussi les conceptions qui reposent sur une opposition idéologique – y compris celles qui prônent l’élimination de tout code sous GPL – sont néfastes pour toutes les entreprises.
Je salue l’arrivée de la MPLv2, un pas en avant vers l’unification de la cause commune de nombreux développeurs open-source. Bravo, Mozilla !
[Traduction par/Translation by Rico Moro – thanks! The original article was posted to ComputerWorldUK]

☝ Insecurity By Obscurity

I was so shocked by the way Symantec has left its customers to twist in the wind for five years I had to write down some serious questions about their  pcAnywhere advisory this week.  Read them on ComputerWorldUK.

☆ OSI Reform at FOSDEM

I was interviewed about my upcoming FOSDEM keynote and gave this concise summary of the background to the changes I’m working on with the Board of the Open Source Initiative.

Why exactly did OSI decide to reorganize its governance from a board-only organization into a member-based structure? How will this new governance allow OSI to address its mission better?

As you’ll read at its website, “the Open Source Initiative is a non-profit corporation with global scope formed in 1998 to educate about and advocate for the benefits of open source and to build bridges among different constituencies in the open source community.” Despite the breadth of that mission, it has focussed almost exclusively on approval of licenses as compliant with the Open Source Definition. The Board felt that it was time to return to that initial mission and work on the broader goals too.

We hope that as a consequence of the switch to a member organisation, OSI will be able to educate, advocate and build bridges as well as continuing as a “standards body for licenses”. Our success opposing CPTN’s attempt to buy Novell’s patents (among other things we did in 2011) has given a hint of the force that could be unleashed for software freedom by having a neutral and uniting venue for education and advocacy.

Come along at noon on February 4th for more.

☝ Back To The Library?

There’s a big market for digital books, but I think they’re being sold badly. If eBooks were sold as library loans, maybe I’d like them more – I explain more in my article today on ComputerWorldUK.

☂ People’s Choice?

My postings from here and ComputerWorldUK are often reposted at opensource.com by the folk at Red Hat who run the site. They are once again running a “People’s Choice” ballot for all there usual authors, and I’d be rather pleased to get a good score so do please go other and vote for me!  Thanks!

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