Software Patents, Microsoft Monopoly, Free Software: Free Software Foundation's George Greve Reports
Free software, copyright issues, software patents remain highly important issues to follow and to understand if you are looking into a future where more of the small businesses and professionals will have an opportunity to play in the marketplace with their ideas and inventions.
But this may be only possible if there is enough awareness and understanding of what is taking place today, as this major law and economic transformation are generally below the threshold of most non-technical people and of those who do not follow the software industry on a daily basis.
One interesting and independent voice on these fronts is the one of Georg Greve, President of the Free Software Foundation Europe, who introduces here below his organization and explains to the non-professionals what free software really is and why the issues of software patents and intellectual rights are so important to be understood today.
Here is Georg Greve's own short audio recorded intro (11 minutes) to the Free Software Foundation mission and to the critical issues mentioned above. Right after it, the full text transcript and a video of the same speech given a few months back in Vienna.
Click the play button above to start listening
I was asked to present to you the Free Software Foundation-Europe and our work.
We are a European non-governmental organization dedicated to all aspects of free software. When we say free software we mean software that gives you freedom. In particular, four freedoms define free software.
It is the freedom of unlimited use for any use.
It is the freedom to study. It is the freedom to modify and it is the freedom to distribute.
Software that gives you these four freedoms is free software.
So, when you think of free software, think of "software libero".
I am speaking to you from Latin America, Porto Alegre in Brazil and I came here from in from the fifth Regional Free Software Days, which were a very special occasion because on Wednesday, this week, the Free Software Foundation-Latin America was officially introduced.
This was very special for us and I had the pleasure and honor to introduce the Free Software Foundation-Latin America and welcome them in the global network of Free Software Foundations, because software is a global issue.
Software is the digital cultural technique, like reading, writing, math, agriculture, all of which were cultural techniques fundamental to an evolutionary step of human-kind.
Software is the digital culture technique.
It is the cultural technique of the digital age, and as such it affects everybody. It concerns the entire world. Therefore, much of our work actually is global.
We have been participating on the United Nations World Summit on Information Society for several years.
I myself have been part of the German governmental delegation on behalf of the German Civil Society for the first phase. I have also been co-coordinating the international civil society working group on patents, copyrights and trademarks also on free software and other related issues.
At the WSIS which took place last week, the issue of software models, of software controls, of power in the digital age was central. Internet governance was highly debated and an internet governance forum was created.
The Free Software Foundation-Europe will take part in that forum as well. We also are an official observer NGO to the United Nations World Intellectual Property Organization, the WIPO, which is the specialized UN agency dealing with all aspects of knowledge regulation, patents, copyrights, trademarks, and other similar monopolies granted by human-kind for the sake of human-kind.
In fact, that already is again debatable because the WIPO has in the past often served only the interest of a very few to the detriment of very many. And, a group of countries, the so-called “Friends of Development” have made a proposal for the so-called “Development Agenda” to change that.
They want WIPO to be dedicated and actually benchmarked in their policies towards human progress, towards the benefit of all of human-kind. This is something that strongly finds the support of the Free Software Foundation-Europe.
We believe that instead of WIPO what we should have is more like a world intellectual wealth organization.
So, an organization dedicated to promotion of human intellectual wealth with all instruments including all monopolies like patents, copyrights, trademarks, but also other tools, like free software, like creative commons that can help foster human creativity.
We have been present on many of these areas, but obviously we can not speak for everybody, and that is why it is so important that the Free Software Foundation-Latin America has finally arrived.
In ???, you will have heard from us in the Microsoft Anti-Trust case. The Free Software Foundation-Europe has helped the European Commission study and understand the issues of Microsoft’s monopoly, and how they use arbitrarily modified standards in order to push that desktop monopoly over into other areas.
When the commission made a decision, and Microsoft appealed in front of European courts against this decision, we once more signed with the commission and are now one of the few remaining third parties in this case because Microsoft has solicited away support from the commission under immense financial effort.
They spent five to six times what they had been fined to get other parties to leave that case.
Free Software Foundation-Europe will not leave this case.
We are dedicated to see it through to the end, to allow competition to re-enable a real competition in the work-up server market in this particular case but also in the related markets that will sooner or later see similar problems.
Another very big issue of the past years were software patents.
The Free Software Foundation-Europe has been very active against software patents along with a large alliance of other NGOs, companies, and individual players.
When you talk about software patents, it is important to understand the fundamental issue between copyrights and patents.
Copyright refers to a concrete implementation, to the concrete manifestation, to the concrete book, the concrete program, the line of code.
Whereas a patent always refers to an idea, to the principle, to vague idea behind the program, of which in fact any program incorporates thousands, hundreds of thousands sometimes.
It is impossible for anyone in a world with software patents to program without violating software patents.
The only problem, the only question you have to ask yourself is not “do I violate software patents?” because you will.
There is no way to program without violating software patents.
The only real issue for you is when you violate them, will you be prosecuted, or are you big enough to resist this?
As it turns out, only very few, very large players are big enough to resist this.
Software patents are nothing but a tool to shut off the market from competition, to make sure that the medium and small enterprises have no way of entering the market, to make sure that certain parts of the software industry are fully under the control of certain players.
Whenever you have such a tightly controlled, a tightly monopolized situation, this results ultimately in lost jobs, because companies can either spend their money on development or on their individual businesses or they can spend that money on lawyers. If they have to spend it on lawyers, ultimately the entire economy will suffer.
Since there is only so many ways to make a system secure, software patents block certain ways, and thus make systems inherently less secure because you may not be able, you may not be allowed to implement the most secure way for any system because that patent may belong to your competitor who has a very vested interest in you not being able to use the most secure way. And, ultimately software patents create incalculable risks.
You can not calculate the damage of software patent litigation which can go into immense sums, way beyond anything a normal company can muster.
Software patents are a killer for the economy in the end.
They are highly detrimental and therefore should not be allowed, which brings me back to the global level, because Free Software Foundation-Europe in fact pushes at the World Intellectual Property Organization for a global evaluation of the value of software patents to determine the limits of the patent system, and to find out where does the patent system work and where it doesn’t work. Where does it more harm than good.
These are some of the issues we are working on, and I hope I was able to give you an idea of what we do.
Please, if you are interested, this is our webpage: go to www.fsfeurope.org. Or, visit our fellowship: www. Fsfe.org. And if you want to support our work, please do, because in the end, these issues concern all of us, and none of us can lean back.
If you have more questions, don’t hesitate to e-mail me. Thank you.
Watch also the video of Georg Greve explaining Free Software, commercial Free Software, and FSFE's view on multiple issues, such as copyright, patents, trademarks, WIPO and more. The interview was taken during the UN WSIS Contributory Conference on ICT & Creativity, Vienna, Austria, June 2005.