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Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Software patents in the Review of the National Innovation System

The Review of the National Innovation System came out yesterday, commissioned by the Department of of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. See all the details, including the full report, at

I'm currently preparing a paper on the Open Source software developer's perspective on software patents (with a friend of mine, Owen Jones, who has the real expertise in patents), and so naturally I was interested in what the expert panel had to say about software patents. I have to admit I haven't thoroughly worked through it yet, but here is a paragraph that I think is very interesting, from the initial overview chapter:
"Intellectual property is also critical to the creation and successful use of new knowledge – particularly the 'cumulative' use of knowledge as an input to further, better knowledge. In this regard, particularly in new areas of patenting such as software and business methods, there is strong evidence that existing intellectual property arrangements are hampering innovation. To address this, the central design aspects of all intellectual property needs to be managed as an aspect of economic policy. Arguably, the current threshold of inventiveness for existing patents is also too low. The inventive steps required to qualify for patents should be considerable, and the resulting patents must be well defined, so as to minimise litigation and maximise the scope for subsequent innovators." (page xii)
I think this is a great admission. First, it recognises that we need to ensure that our current innovations can contribute effectively to future innovations. Then it acknowledges that patents are granted too easily, and specifically mentions software patents as an area where more harm is being done than good.

Maybe I'm reading a little too much into it. Or maybe I'm just reading between the lines.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008


A Practical Guide to GPL Compliance

The Software Freedom Law Centre has put out a guide that tells software vendors how to make sure they're complying with the GPL (see link, above). It's not hard to comply, but there are some good tips in there.

An example is to make sure you don't have a build guru - someone without whom your organisation/team could not build your software. Because if you couldn't build your software without your build guru, then people you distribute it to don't have much of a chance.

It also talks about what your options actually are in terms of basic compliance. So for example one thing I didn't know is that in GPL v3, they made it much more explicit how you can distribute source code, and that technologies such as the Web or Bit Torrents are acceptible. For example, peer-to-peer distribution of source code is acceptible as long as that is the medium being used to distribute the (built) software.

There's more good stuff in there, and even though I'm no Free Software vendor, it's an interesting read just from the perspective of an insight into how Free Sofrware compliance really works.

(Hat tip: Roger Clarke)

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Thursday, August 14, 2008


US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upholds free copyright licence

From the Creative Commons blog:

THE “IP” Court Supports Enforceability of CC Licenses
Brian Rowe, August 13th, 2008

The United States Court of Appeals held that “Open Source” or public license licensors are entitled to copyright infringement relief.

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC), the leading IP court in the United States, has upheld a free copyright license, while explicitly pointing to the work of Creative Commons and others. The Court held that free licenses such as the CC licenses set conditions (rather than covenants) on the use of copyrighted work. As a result, licensors using public licenses are able to seek injunctive relief for alleged copyright infringement, rather than being limited to traditional contract

Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig explained the theory of all free software, open source, and Creative Commons licenses upheld by the court: “When you violate the condition, the license disappears, meaning you’re simply a copyright infringer. This is the theory of the GPL and all CC licenses. Put precisely, whether or not they are also contracts, they are copyright licenses which expire if you fail to abide by the terms of the license.” Lessig said the ruling provided “important clarity and certainty by a critically important US Court.”

Today’s ruling vacated the district court’s decision and affirmed the availability of remedies based on copyright law for violations of open licenses. The federal court noted that ignoring attribution requirements contained in the license caused reputation and economic harm to the original licensor. This opinion demonstrates a strong understanding of a basic economic principles of the internet; attribution is a valuable economic right in the information economy. Read the full opinion.(PDF)

Creative Commons filed a friends of the court brief in this case. Thanks to all the cosponsors Linux Foundation, The Open Source Initiative, Software Freedom Law Center, the Perl Foundation and Wikimedia Foundation. Significant pro bono work on this brief was provided by Anthony T. Falzone and Christopher K. Ridder of Stanford’s Center for Internet & Society. Read the full brief.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Quantifying open software using Google Code Search

Google Code Search lets you search for source code files by licence type, so of course I was interested in whether this could be used for quantifying indexable source code on the web. And luckily GCS lets you search for all works with a given licence. (If you don't understand why that's a big deal, try doing a search for all Creative Commons licensed work using Google Search.) Even better, using the regex facility you can search for all works! You sure as heck can't do that with a regular Google web search.

Okay, so here's the latest results, including hyperlinks to searches for you to try them yourself:

And here's a spreadsheet with graph included: However, note the discontinuity (in absolute and trend terms) between approximate and specific results in that (logarithmic) graph, which suggests Google's approximations are not very good.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Laptops Going Linux

Lenovo, the world's no. 3 computer maker (although on Wikipedia it says it's the no. 4 maker, but I digress), has announced that it will be releasing a line of Linux-based personal computers. Read more in the Sydney Morning Herald report here.

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Monday, August 06, 2007


How to "Trim Down the Obesity of Copyright Law"

I've been absent from the blogosphere for a little while as a I toiled away at my thesis and as more and more chapter deadlines loom this will sadly continue to be the case (although those readers who remember my Wikipedia blogging obsession may be happy about that development). But in other news...

On the Creative Commons blog, Mike Linksvayer has some interesting comments on a new paper, "Preliminary Thoughts on Copyright Reform" by renowned copyright scholar Pamela Samuelson, and the title for this post comes from Samuelson's paper (at p. 7). As Samuelson rightly notes, copyright law is becoming far too long, confusing, irrelevant and outdated, to the point where "virtually every week a new technology issue emerges, presenting questions that existing copyright rules cannot easily answer" (at p. 1).

Samuelson proposes a model law for a new United States Copyright Act, but also rightly notes that major copyright reform in the United States is highly unlikely to happen any time soon, what with the Iraq war, tax reform, global warming etc being more pressing for the US Congress than copyright issues. This is true, although, for example, extraditing individuals for copyright infringement does have wider ramifications for civil liberties, as readers familiar with the case of Hew Griffiths know.

About a fortnight ago now, the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre and Linux Australia co-hosted a Law Tech Talk, given by Maureen O'Sullivan. As Abi reported earlier here, Maureen is from the University of Ireland, Galway, and she gave an excellent presentation titled "The Democratic Deficit in Copyright Law: A Legislative Proposal." Maureen's talk centred on the introduction of a Free Software Act (see version 4 of the Act in SCRIPT-ed here) which would operate to protect free software and free/open source software licences.

So it seems that concurrent to the increase in voluntary licensing practices to release copyright content, there is also an growing push towards legislative change as well, either tackling the bulk of copyright law in one go, as Samuelson has suggested, or by an amending act, as O'Sullivan has proposed. Sadly, however, in an Australian context, legislative copyright reform appears to be a long way off. If anything, as shown by the Copyright Amendment Act 2006, our copyright law will only continue to grow in length and bulk, rather than be substantially reformed.

On a final note, we have a tradition here at the House of Commons of publishing the most spot-on comments made about copyright law (remember Senator Andrew Bartlett's "congealed wobbling blob"?) So, finally, here's Samuelson's take: "...the current statutory framework is akin to an obese Frankensteinian monster" (at p. 6).

Not only is that very apt, but it also managed to integrate a reference to a public domain character as well. Nicely done!

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007


The Democratic Deficit in Copyright Law: A Legislative Proposal

The Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre and Linux Australia are hosting a LawTechTalk by Maureen O'Sullivan (lecturer from the National University of Ireland, Galway). The talk considers issues in Free/Libre and/or Open Source Software (FLOSS) licensing, particularly as manifest in the recently finalised GPL v3 and their impact on Spanish-speaking or civil code countries, and her proposal for an international standard law to help free software licenses work the same in all users' countries.

Topic: The Democratic Deficit in Copyright Law: A Legislative Proposal

Date: Wednesday 25 July

Time: 1-2pm

Venue: Room 101, Faculty of Law Building, University of New South Wales

More information is available here.

All are welcome. Hope to see you there!

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Samba embraces GPLv3

The Samba team have announced they will start using the new version of the GPL, after initially indicating they might not. As I recall Andrew Tridgell saying, they were using GPL version 2 (the previous version) because they liked the words of the licence, and the principles of free software as embodied in it, and GPLv3 seemed to be going in a slightly different direction.

This announcement acknowledges that GPLv3 "is an improved version of the license to better suit the needs of Free Software in the 21st Century," saying "We feel this is an important change to help promote the interests of Samba and other Free Software."

Unfortunately, the announcement doesn't say much about how Samba made their decision or what swayed them.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Software Freedom Day 2007

Last year the House of Commons housemates took part in Software Freedom Day 2006, which, as the name suggests, is a day dedicated to the celebration of software freedom and the promotion of all things free and open source software. This year Software Freedom Day will be held on Saturday 15th September and for those interested in finding out more - either as a participant or attendee - see the Software Freedom Day 2007 page here.

83 teams worldwide have already registered, in places including our hometown of Sydney (with the team headed up by Software Freedom International President and House of Commons friend Pia Waugh), Nigeria, Mexico, Peru, Italy, Scotland and the United States (just to name a few - and with the deadline to register not until 31 July expect that list of locations to grow!)

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Friday, June 15, 2007


Linus on freedom and GPLv3

This e-mail from Linus Torvalds was really interesting to read. Linus likes GPLv2 for GPLv2, not for the FSF foundation that it's built on. And that's a hard viewpoint to argue with, because FSF pushes GPL not only based on its freedoms, but also on its GPL-compatibility (after all, how could you make the Linux kernel so successful without making it GPL?), and also its technical correctness (with GPL, like no other free software license, you know what you're getting, and that it works).

Selected quote:
"You're acting like some Alice-in-Wonderland character, saying that your definition of words is the only one that matter. And that others are "confused". Read up on your humpty-dumpty some day."

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Monday, June 04, 2007


GPLv3: Last Call Draft Released

The 'last call' draft for GPLv3 has just been released. If you are interested in commenting, then do it quickly: interested parties have 29 days from 31 May 2007 to provide feedback to the Free Software Foundation, with the absolutely final GPL version 3 due out on Friday, 29 June 2007.

If you are looking for further information, then see:

FSF Releases 'Last Call' Draft of GPLv3 press release here
Richard Stallman's essay on 'Why Upgrade to GPL version 3' here
The Actual Last Call Draft here


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Thursday, May 17, 2007


Pia Waugh on "How Open is FLOSS?"

House of Commons friend and open-source guru Pia Waugh has a very interesting post on her blog, titled, "Openness- How Open Is FLOSS?". Pia asks some very good questions about the "openness" of FLOSS, leading to the creation of the "5 Foundations of 'Open'" by Pia and her husband, Jeff Waugh. For anyone interested in FLOSS this is a great post to read and it's also worth having a look at the comments section, where there's some great analysis of these types of issues too.

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Monday, December 04, 2006


GPL Philosophy

My part of the Unlocking IP project is obviously the technical perspective. Well, I've already talked about the accessibility issues of the GPL and other software licences from a technical perspective in my conference paper (link to original draft, though it's been much revised since). So today I'm going to tackle the philosophical perspective, not because it's technical as such, but because it's non-legal. Normally I like to keep quiet on this kind of thing because I don't like to inflame anyone, but today I'll make an exception.

Okay, so I can hear you asking already what's my view on the GPL. Should more people use the GPL? Do I think the new draft is doing a good job of improving on version 2? Well, here's my standpoint straight up: before you can discuss the pros and cons of the GPL, you need to figure out where you stand on the philosophy. If you don't agree with the philosophy of free software, you can argue all day with someone who does and never get anywhere.

So when someone says to me "hey Ben, do you think this anti-tivoisation bit's right," I say "do you mean do I think it will stop tivoisation, or do you mean am I happy it's in the new draft?" If they mean the former, I remind them I'm not a lawyer. If they mean the latter, the answer is that I'm not willing to state a view on the philosophy. That's right, I'm a fence sitter.

Okay, the momentum of blogging is carrying me... I will say this much. I am happy that there is such a licence. I am happy that there exists a licence that people who believe in software freedom can use if they choose to. Writing your own on the electronic equivalent of a scrap of paper and shipping it with your software is not a good idea by anyone's estimation.

Andrew Tridgell, who recently won the Free Software Foundation Award for the Advancement of Free Software, said in no uncertain terms at our symposium last week that the GPL is not for everyone - it's not for people who want to restrict the freedom of their software, even if they have a valid or even vital reason to do so. I have to wholeheartedly agree.

And before I go, one last point. Some people out there in law land might think 'What does it matter about the philosophy? If you like what the licence says, that's enough of a reason to use it.' Well, that's not entirely true, because most licensors use the words "General Public Licence version X, or any later version" (emphasis added), and the licence itself clarifies what that means. If you licence like this, you're allowing the licence to be changed based on the underlying philosophy (which the Free Software Foundation strives to stay true to in drafting new versions), so you better be happy with that philosophy. If you're not happy with that philosophy, you can specificly licence under the current version only, but you may as well choose one of the other hundred or so Free and Open Source Software licences out there.

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