John Ford's FSOSS Paper
Open Source and Copyright Policy
This talk was done by David Fewer. He is legal counsel for the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic and the Canadian Software Innovation Alliance. He also conducts a technology law clinic at the University of Ottawa. He was speaking about how open source development is affected by copyright law, specifically, the Canadian Software Innovation Alliance. This is an organization that encourages government to continue to support the open software industry which has enabled Canadian developers to have a competitive advantage compared to developers of more restricted countries like the USA. A point that was stressed was that copyright law is about balancing the rights of consumers and the compensation of the author. Licensing and copyright laws need to have limits and exceptions to ensure that consumers are protected. Three essential exceptions and limits are the ability to enforce a license, ability reverse engineering and the ability to interoperate with other technologies.
These new anti-circumvention laws would severely hinder competition in the market place. Currently, Canada has a very hands-off attitude towards consumer protection where it is believed that if consumers feel that they are not being treated fairly they will not purchase the product and that the market will protect itself. This is a flawed ideal in the context of the proposed legal framework as the market will no longer be open to competitors and will stifle innovation at every point possible. It is suggested that Canada need to have a much stronger consumer protection voice in government. I believe that part of this problem is that for people to be able to make decisions as to which products to support, they must have an understanding of the product at a conceptual level. This is fairly easy with tangible goods like a car but very difficult with intangibles like software. This is especially true in an ecosystem where proprietary, closed solutions are considered to be not only the norm, but the ideal.
An important concept which was discussed was that copyright laws and patent laws are very different. Copyright laws protect the expression of an idea where patent laws protect invention and innovation. This is highlighted in the interoperability exception, where the ideas are being locked up by a new level of protection which removes the ability to look at the implementation of a technology. Currently there is a fair dealings exception in copyright law which allows for reverse engineering for the purposes of interoperability. These are all things which would be removed by a new copyright law. These new proposed anti-circumvention laws protect the technologies which protect content. This brings the number of layers of protection to three. There is the copyright law which protects the content, technological locks which protect the copyright and now anti-circumvention laws which protect the technological locks. The laws proposed in Canada with bill C-61 represent the strongest anti-circumvention laws anywhere in the world. They are even more severe than those which are embodied in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. A previously proposed law, bill C-60, was brought up by the Liberal government which would have balanced, only targeting non-fair dealing actions. Unfortunately, the new Conservative government has included their version of the bill in their election platform, and even with a minority government, will likely be able to push it through.
As a lawyer, I believe that David’s view on open source is that people should be treated fairly and just. I do not believe that he is an open source or free software zealot but does believe in the principals of these movements. He seems to have a great understanding of the balance between the need to have open software and fair compensation of the author. He believes that copyright laws should be fair and should properly balance the values of the authors and the consumers.
Fedora: The Future, First
This talk was done by Paul Frields who is the Project Leader of Fedora. He is employed by Red Hat software in this position. Previous to his involvement in the Fedora project he was a public servant working many jobs including being a forensic scientist. He started using Red Hat Linux 11 years ago in his work because he was able to show the entire source code of the software he used which allowed him to provide further transparency regarding his evidence. Five years ago he starting teaching Linux use to other people in his field and a year later he learned about source code management and got involved in software packaging. Two years ago he became involved in Fedora governance and six months later was part of the release team. Paul's main point seemed to be that when creating and managing an open software development community, it is best if the community is not treated as a second class member. He described how once Red Hat decided to stop distributing Red Hat Linux to the consumer market space that the company expanded the existing Fedora project to replace the offering represented by Red Hat Linux. When this was done Red Hat started developing and supporting Red Hat Enterprise Linux for the business world. They also marketed a corporate desktop version of their operating system, but like the enterprise server, this was only for paying customers. Early in the process there were a lot of impediments to the success of Fedora like the lack of a single repository for their packages. This caused Fedora to lose almost its entire community. During the first two Fedora releases Red Hat had no way to get people in the community involved in development. This makes it very difficult to have a sustainable community. During the Fedora Core 3-6 time period, Red Hat was only interested in not breaking anything. At this time there was also a division between the Fedora Core where Red Hat engineers worked and Fedora Extras where the community worked. This highlighted that Red Hat was still considering contributions of community members to be inferior to their own engineers work. What ended up happening is that the community developed its own packaging guidelines and build systems. These systems and guidelines were superior to the internal Red Hat policies and systems and as a result Red Hat decided that for the Fedora 7 release there would be no distinction between Core and Extras. For the first time Fedora was not fragmented. This meant that there was no longer any special membership requirements. It was clear to me that the key message of this presentation is that Open Source and Free software principles and processes must be adopted fully in order to maximize results. A company like Red Hat which has been built on free and open source software can still make the mistake of acting like a cathedral instead of a bazaar. This is a problem in many mature open source projects, especially those which are closed source software conversions. Like the Gnu Compiler Collection before it, Fedora stagnated when it shut its doors to the community and was eventually replaced by what the community (egcs) created. I believe that Paul's view on open source is that it is key to never bend principles for a short term improvement and to value a strong community. This is highlighted by some of the Fedora Project's recent decisions. They have adopted unreleased versions of some upstream packages (X Server 1.5) in their final releases and in their upcoming release they are using a new boot splash screen program that makes use of driver features which are only supported in a very small subset of supported hardware (Plymouth). This helps free and open source software in two main ways. It drives innovation and makes it nearly impossible for closed source applications to keep working with the latest software. This could cause a company to open their product in order to get their share of the Linux user base.
I feel that both speakers value open source ideals, however, I feel that David is more interested in the letter of the license than the spirit. This is to be expected as he is legal counsel to a software alliance. Paul seemed to think of the copyright laws as an enabler of free and open development. I learned quite a bit about copyright, especially the differences between US copyright law and Canadian law. It was also really interesting to learn how much is allowed under the current copyright law in Canada. Both presenters stressed how important free and open development is to software, but looked at it from different viewpoints. The similarities are demonstrated in the example of proprietary drivers. David's organisation is against blocking reverse engineering as it limits competition and Paul's takes advantage of the opportunity by performing the reverse engineering.
I learned a lot from both presenters and found both presentations to be very interesting. I believe that my views on Open Source and Free software are very similar to both presenters. Where I feel I learned the most is in the history and context. Through David I learned a lot about how Open Source and Free software works in copyright and patent law while I learned a lot of the history of community relations between Fedora and Red hat from Paul. I used Red Hat Linux from version 5.2 to version 9. I found that these operating systems were overly complex and noticed that there was a lot of work to be done on them. After the Fedora Core was started, I found that my needs weren't being met as well as they could be. It was at this point when I switched to using the Ubuntu distribution. At this point I didn't understand why this distribution was meeting my needs. I later figured out that it is solely because Ubuntu is developed in a community. This allows people who care about a specific area of the project to work on what they want. This makes sure that there is enough labour to produce the end result as well as ensuring that motivated people are working on the system. The next realisation I came to regarding Open Source and Free software was that some projects make tremendous use of other peoples work and provide their enhancements but do it in a way that it is of little help to the originators. This leads to situations where software distributors have so many bits of divergent code that aren't ever assimilated into their upstream project's code that the distribution becomes a barnacle. This is a situation where the project makes so many advancements that you can't forget about them, but they aren't really helping because they are causing so much turbulence to adopt in the upstream project to use. This is not to say that these distributors have their place, only that they need to re-evaluate their goals.
It was great to hear from many of the presenters that my views of Open Source and Free software aren't unique to me. This means that I am not totally insane. This conference has solidified in my mind that Open Source and Free software represent more than the letter of the licenses which they use. For a Free or Open Source project to be successful, it has to take on the full philosophy of the Open and Free approach. It has to develop and maintain a community of developers, testers, documentation writers and graphic designers to ensure that there is enough muscle to do the work. It has to be an open and classless community where all contributors are valued on their merits instead of their employer. Finally it has to give back in a useful manner to the people who have built the infrastructure that make the project possible.