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  1. <?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
  2. <html>
  3. <head>
  4. <title>WSIS and the Software Challenge</title>
  5. </head>
  6. <body>
  7. <center>
  8. <h1>WSIS and the Software Challenge</h1>
  9. <h3>
  10. <a href="/about/greve/greve.html">Georg C.F. Greve</a><br />
  11. Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), President
  12. </h3>
  13. </center>
  14. <br />
  15. <h3>Introduction: The role of software in our digital world</h3>
  16. <p>
  17. Software is codified power in the digital domain. In other words -- to
  18. quote Stanford Professor Lawrence Lessig -- Code is a regulator that
  19. governs cyberspace in ways similar to Law governing the real world.
  20. </p>
  21. <p>
  22. In the Northern world, most people are already depending upon software
  23. for very basic tasks of communication, education and work. The grade of
  24. dependency is generally lower in the Southern world today. But if the
  25. digital literacy and inclusion projects show the intended effect, the
  26. dependency will be as high, potentially even higher, as many areas aim to
  27. skip the intermediate steps of analog infrastructure and directly enter
  28. the digital world.
  29. </p>
  30. <p>
  31. Much of this interaction with and dependency upon software remains
  32. unreflected and in fact unnoticed -- fulfilling a prediction that
  33. Professor Weizenbaum of MIT made many years ago. Unless sitting in front
  34. of a physical machine explicitly marked as "Computer", the majority of
  35. users will often remain unaware of using software. A common example for
  36. this are mobile phones. With the trend towards ambient computing, this
  37. effect is likely to increase.
  38. </p>
  39. <p>
  40. While access to software determines our ability to participate in a
  41. digital society and governs our ability for communication, education and
  42. work, software itself represents a reservoir of codified skill.
  43. </p>
  44. <p>
  45. Software allows humankind to collectively refine and exercise sets of
  46. codified skills that most of the individuals do not possess.
  47. </p>
  48. <p>
  49. An example are graphical applications, which in the scope of complex
  50. image editing make complex mathematical transformations like Fast Fourier
  51. Transformation (FFT) available to everyone capable of understanding the
  52. applications' menu symbols.
  53. </p>
  54. <p>
  55. While the issues of software are centrally connected to many of the
  56. issues discussed during the World Summit on the Information Society, the
  57. lack of awareness on all sides for software as the cultural technique of
  58. the digital age often complicated the situation.
  59. </p>
  60. <h3>Clash of the software models</h3>
  61. <p>
  62. While most governments often see software from a purely economic
  63. perspective, some large industrial players have begun understanding the
  64. amount of political power embedded in it. By propertizing the software,
  65. they gain almost absolute control over the users -- be they private
  66. people, other companies or governments -- and the rules these have to
  67. obey.
  68. </p>
  69. <p>
  70. Proprietary software always remains under control of the licensor of the
  71. software, not the user. And in a networked world, that control can even
  72. be remotely exercised -- independent of whether the user of the software
  73. is an individual or a government.
  74. </p>
  75. <p>
  76. That dependency on proprietary software is infectious.
  77. </p>
  78. <p>
  79. Protocols are kept secret, standards are being broken. These protocols
  80. are not secret because they are valuable, they draw their value from
  81. being secret. The company Microsoft poses a very good example for both
  82. cases, as the
  83. <a href="/activities/ms-vs-eu/ms-vs-eu.html">European Commission antitrust
  84. case</a>
  85. and the
  86. <a href="http://www.nwfusion.com/news/2000/0511kerberos.html">modification
  87. of the Kerberos standard</a>
  88. have shown.
  89. </p>
  90. <p>
  91. The countermodel to proprietary software is based on breaking that
  92. dependency and putting an equal amount of power into the hands of all
  93. people. It is defined by four fundamental freedoms: the freedom of
  94. unlimited use for any purpose, the freedom to study, the freedom to
  95. modify and the freedom to distribute the software both in original and
  96. modified form.
  97. </p>
  98. <p>
  99. The original name for this model is
  100. <a href="/documents/freesoftware.html">Free Software</a>.
  101. It is sometimes also referred to as &quot;Open Source&quot;, a marketing
  102. synonym proposed in 1998 to attract venture capital that is frequently
  103. abused these days to sell proprietary software under the guise of Free
  104. Software.
  105. </p>
  106. <p>
  107. Other synonyms frequently encountered are "FOSS" -- for "Free and Open
  108. Source Software" -- and "FLOSS" -- for "Free, Libre and Open Source
  109. Software" -- which, besides being redundant terms, seek to spread the
  110. ideology that software should not be seen as a political issue.
  111. </p>
  112. <p>
  113. As all these are synonyms and in the interest of clarity, this paper is
  114. using the original term, Free Software.
  115. </p>
  116. <h3>Free Software at WSIS</h3>
  117. <p>
  118. The Free Software groups became truly involved in the WSIS during the
  119. <a href="/campaigns/wsis/debriefing-paris.html">Intersessional Meeting in
  120. Paris in July 2003</a>.
  121. At this point, the proprietary software advocates had almost succeeded in
  122. eliminating the political issues around software from the documents by
  123. portraying them as a purely technical choice of software development.
  124. </p>
  125. <p>
  126. Within Civil Society, software issues were part of the
  127. <a href="http://www.wsis-pct.org">Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks
  128. (PCT) Working Group</a>,
  129. which centrally dealt with all issues around
  130. <a href="/campaigns/wsis/issues.html">intellectual poverty as well as
  131. equal and inclusive access to software, the digital cultural
  132. technique</a>.
  133. </p>
  134. <p>
  135. In a concerted effort between the PCT working group and a handful of
  136. governments, most notably Brazil, it was possible to put an end to
  137. further erosion of software issues from the documents and revert the
  138. trend.
  139. </p>
  140. <p>
  141. This positive trend continued in the following Preparatory Committee
  142. Conferences, during which Free Software and Patents, Copyrights and
  143. Trademarks (PCT) were among the most controversial issues.
  144. </p>
  145. <p>
  146. While there was still a dialog going on within Civil Society to explain
  147. the <a href="/campaigns/wsis/fs.html">connection of Free Software to
  148. other fundamental issues of Civil Society during the WSIS</a>,
  149. in a motion coordinated by the PCT working group, global Civil Society
  150. took a strong position for the WSIS to take a
  151. <a href="/campaigns/wsis/ps-20030923.html">clear position on the software
  152. issue in general and Free Software in particular</a>:
  153. </p>
  154. <p class="indent">
  155. &quot;Software is the medium of and structuring entity for the digital
  156. domain. The information age will rest upon it. Having been denounced as a
  157. technical development model, Free Software is much more than that. It is
  158. a paradigm that secures equal chances and freedom for governments,
  159. economy and civil society alike. It provides a truly sustainable model
  160. for all areas of society, bringing back competition and furthering
  161. innovation for a prosperous and inclusive information and knowledge
  162. society for all.&quot;
  163. </p>
  164. <p>
  165. and later
  166. <a href="/campaigns/wsis/cs-benchmarks-03-11-14.html">chose Free Software
  167. as one of its essential benchmarks</a>:
  168. </p>
  169. <p class="indent">
  170. &quot;Software is the cultural technique of the digital age and access to
  171. it determines who may participate in a digital world. Free Software with
  172. its freedoms of use for any purpose, studying, modification and
  173. redistribution is an essential building block for an empowering,
  174. sustainable and inclusive information society. No software model should
  175. be forbidden or negatively regulated, but Free Software should be
  176. promoted for its unique social, educational, scientific, political and
  177. economic benefits and opportunities.&quot;
  178. </p>
  179. <p>
  180. Despite the massive presence of proprietary software support from both
  181. industry and several governments, in particular the United States and
  182. several European Union states, such as the UK, this made it impossible to
  183. deny the political consequences and impact of software.
  184. </p>
  185. <p>
  186. In the finally adopted version, both the Declaration of Principles and
  187. the Plan of Action have adopted the denomination of 'software model' and
  188. the Plan of Action asks all governments to
  189. <a href="/campaigns/wsis/debriefing-geneva.html">"Encourage research and
  190. promote awareness among all stakeholders of the possibilities offered
  191. by different software models, [...]"</a>
  192. </p>
  193. <h3>After WSIS</h3>
  194. <p>
  195. Free Software gained much political visibility during WSIS, but while
  196. Civil Society has adopted it widely as a principle, many organisations
  197. still use proprietary software themselves. The effect of this practice on
  198. developing countries has never been subject of deep research, but seeral
  199. consequences are to be expected.
  200. </p>
  201. <p>
  202. The psychological damage of organisations telling others to follow
  203. policies that they ignore themselves can be considerable. Especially in
  204. Southern countries, this can easily create the impression of a policy
  205. trying to satisfy people with breadcrumbs while keeping the more valuable
  206. things to themselves. That would be tragic, as the opposite is indeed
  207. true.
  208. </p>
  209. <p>
  210. More severely, by showing to use proprietary software themselves or even
  211. advocating use of proprietary software in Southern countries,
  212. organisations can involuntarily destroy the effect of their work.
  213. </p>
  214. <p>
  215. While trying to rid Southern countries from dependency on the North and
  216. strengthening democracy, they do the opposite. To gain a seeming
  217. short-term improvement of the situation, they create strong mid-term
  218. dependencies for participation in the Information Society.
  219. </p>
  220. <p>
  221. That is why Sergio Amadeu da Silveira, president of the National
  222. Information Technology Institute (ITI) in Brasil likened the proprietary
  223. software model to that of drug dealers -- the first shot is gratis.
  224. </p>
  225. <p>
  226. So while much progress has been made, there is still need for further
  227. development on all sides: Governments, Industry and Civil Society. As is
  228. already inherent in the Declaration of Principles and the Plan of Action,
  229. all sides will need to develop a practice of evaluating the political,
  230. social and economic side of software along with its technological
  231. capabilities.
  232. </p>
  233. <p>
  234. To uphold their political independence and democratic basis, Governments
  235. will need to make deliberate efforts to further economic and social
  236. empowerment based on commercial and non-commercial Free Software. To
  237. protect their commercial interests, Industry based on and active in Free
  238. Software will need to provide a counterweight to proprietary software
  239. voices. And to maintain its credibility, Civil Society will need to
  240. consistently use Free Software as well as advocate it.
  241. </p>
  242. <p class="indent">
  243. <strong>This article was published in:</strong><br />
  244. ICT Task Force Series 8 (2005):<br />
  245. The World Summit on the Information Society -- Moving from the Past into
  246. the Future.<br />
  247. Opening Statement by Kofi Annan, Preface by Yoshio Utsumi<br />
  248. Edited by Daniel Stauffacher and Wolfgang Kleinwächter
  249. </p>
  250. </body>
  251. <timestamp>$Date$ $Author$</timestamp>
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