FOSS Manifesto - Projeto Software Livre Brasil
III Ministerial Forum European Union - Latin America and Caribean on Information SocietyNovember 22, 2004
Pedro A D Rezende
Projeto Software Livre Brasil (PSL) is a loosely coupled collective of people, institutions and multilayered organizations from a broad spectrum of Brazilian civil society, with branches in 18 of its 26 states. PSL's core interests include cooperation with governments, private enterprises and international organizations, in actions aimed at preserving human values across the digital divide and through the digital revolution.
In PSL's broad vision, the Free and Open Source Software movement (FOSS) engenders a distinct mode of production, validated by deeds, for IT untangible goods. A mode able to balance the steps of an emerging Information Society wherein human values are ever more threatened by untamed forces, set loose by unchartered doses of monopolistic accumulation, technological prowess, economic dogma and corporate desdain for social responsibility.
In a way, modes of production for Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) untangibles are unique, for input resources are of the same kind as output's: Information. But FOSS is specially unique, in the way it challenges both marxist and market fundamentalist economic theories: In FOSS, the product, the source code as mold for object code, is also a major mean of production, for the source and object codes are support for more code. So much so as technologies for reuse, such as object-oriented programming, evolve and mature.
What is left from this picture is hardware, electricity and knowledge. Thus, in some sense FOSS mimics the evolutionary drive of ecosystems. Synergy, as life, creates semiological value for pieces of code, as it does for beings, which in turn can be converted into economic value, as nourishable procriation, through and as knowledge able to unleash creativity in the form of source code, as do genes, memes, and sexual drives.
Seen through the ecological metaphor, FOSS introduces a new competing paradigm into ICT markets at our Information Society. As mamals and their species did in the Paleocene age, against the dominant but inefficient dinossaurs, in the global struggle for limited resources. Resourses of which the virtual counterparts are hardware and human culture, under business model cycles lasting historically about 20 years.
Under current conditions, in which source code is no longer a scarce resource, there is no single reason for evolutionary forces to favor the FOSS model, but an overall combination of small, blured ones. From a humanistic perspective, FOSS streches the limits of economic theories, pushing them to evolve, since greed may be neither the only, nor the main, drive in an ethos that flourishes over bits and bytes.
As Andrew Orlowski says in an article at The Gardian on-line (http://www.theregister.co.uk/ 2004/11/19/microsoft_wto_winning_without_firing), the main licensing model for free software doesn't do any of the things many people suspect it does: it does not stop anyone from making money, it is not designed to torpedo capitalism, nor is it a virus attacking intelectual property. The GPL is entirely founded on the legal privilege of the holder of the rights to do exactly what he wants with his intellectual work.
While it's no guarantee that a software is any good, the GPL does exactly what it says: which is to prevent developers hoarding code. It regulates commons-based peer production of information of a kind, as law professor Yochai Benkler summarises. Mainly, it inverts the contractual relation of power between ICT enterprise and coder, waving maximal direct economic return to aim for the long social-economic haul.
By inverting that power relation, FOSS sets new horizons for individual human growth on freedom to know, and for Information Society to develop at higher efficiency levels, through new modes of commons-based peer production. But there's a price. The power of IT monopolistic venues, sustained by net-effect market forces, shall dilute into a monopolistic semilogical freedom, driven by human values.
PSL harbors a somber view of the main challenge now facing Information Society. In what can be the main war of the digital revolution, monopolistic powers entrenched in ICT enterprises and related markets are launching a global, all-out, costly legal and legislative war to escalate their grip on political processes, in an attempt to stall IT-driven social evolution and avert dillution of power gathered or aspired.
To defend the freedom to choose software licensing and development regimes that do not hinder access to use or to source, against what is becoming ever more like digital enslavement, some virtual communities are being formed around models of colaborative activism, aimed at aiding institutions that are cought in the weaker but human side of the intelectual property war. We will cite two successful cases, as models.
One is Groklaw.net. It grows around the site, set up by a paralegal journalist under a Creative Commons (CC) license, to counter the attack SCO launched to hijack the rights to the Linux code base and capitalize on the uncertainties. SCO sued IBM for billions, based on a lunatic theory of contract law, with a weird case on Unix but no facts or even evidence. While gaming the courts with delay tatics, SCO throws FUD and lies to a hungry press, and extorsive threats to big users of GNU/Linux.
After sueing right and left, including former clients who migrated to GNU/Linux, SCO is becoming the first sacrificial pawn in the intelectual property war. With every misrepresentation in court fillings or press releases promptly dissected by Groklaw watchers, its bullying tactics backfires. Its software business dwindles. Its extorsion scheme, disguised as intelectual property protection license, serves up only to expose covert (?) allies.
Through a venture capitalist, the name of the main broker for the sacrifice surfaces. No surprise, Microsoft helped raise more than US$ 80 million to finance the adventure (http://www.opensource.org/halloween/halloween10.html). And when its legal guns point to a Brazilian IT authority, threatening a lawsuit for slander, time came for PSL to learn from Groklaw: a PSL watcher linked to a quote from the broker's founder, himself uttering the drug dealer's metaphor for his business, the purported slander (http://news.com.com/2100-1023-212942.html?legacy=cnet). And they, at least for now, retreated (http://www.cic.unb.br/~rezende/trabs/eucaristia.html#deb)
The so called patent war started with a rush by large ICT companies to gain exclusive rights to economic exploration of programming ideas, followed by strong lobbying for more radical intelectual property laws worldwide, raises the risk and the cost of software development whatever the legal regime, free or proprietary. So where is the catch? The president of Microsoft has recently shown, in Cingapure.
As Howard Tayler's cartoon depicts, the catch is a drive to sell compulsory litigation protection as part of licensing, they hope with the help of the WTO (http://www.groklaw.net/article.php? story=20041118224916429).
To help neutralize the use of software patents as weapons of extornion against free software developers and users, communites are forming around NGO sites and blogs, like The Public Patent Foundation and IP justice, for colaborative defensive work under CC licenses. They collaborate in challenging frivolous and ridiculous patents in USPTO and in courts. For instance, Pubpat won the revokation of a microsoft patent to the FAT file format, by showing prior art. Are they being sucessful?
Judge for yourself. Just last week, in a meeting of the WIPO standing committee on copyright, papers from IP Justice and other NGOs found their way to a toilet trash basket within minutes of being deposited at the meeting's table floor (http://www.ipjustice.org/WIPO/ NGO_stmt_stolen_docs.shtml). While the imperial secretary of commerce, at the APEC meeting, urges Mercosul countries to accept the international Intelectual Property laws, this is how they are being debated and voted.
We must collaborate to find a better way to build our Information Society, as the Creative Commons project (http://crativecommons.org), for example, is showing.
Pedro A D Rezende, a Computer Science professor at the University of Brasilia, wrote and issued this manifesto on behalf of Projeto Software Livre Brasil at the plenary session "Cooperation models between Civil Society and Private Sector", held at the Third Ministerial Forum of European Union, Latin America and the Caribean on Information Society on November 23, 2004, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Bibliography: The drafting of this manifesto has been partly based on the following research documents
- O'Sullivan, M.: "Best and Worst Practices in Top-Down & Bottom up Legislation" Presented at Brazil's Ministry of Foreign Relations, Aug. 2004.
- O'Sullivan, M.: "Law and Law Making Process in the Age of High Technology" Presented at Brazil's House of Representative's Science and Technology Committee Public Hearing on Software Licensing, Aug. 2004.