Celebrating Software Freedom Day in Ghana

This press release below is from AITI-KACE concerning the upcoming Software Freedom Day Celebrations in Ghana

Celebrating Software Freedom Day 2010 in Ghana!

We are proud to announce that the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT (AITI-KACE) in collaboration with the FLOSSInclude Project will again be hosting a special event on Saturday, September 18th under the theme “Knowing the alternative software solutions”. The venue for this year’s celebrations is the AITI-KACE premises and the time is 9:30 – 15:00. This is the biggest international celebration and outreach event for Software Freedom globally involving hundreds of teams from all around the world.

In an increasingly digital age, more and more of our everyday experiences depend upon software. Software influences how we interact with each other, enjoy different media, get paid, and even navigate our roads. Software underpins our very way of life, our basic freedoms such as freedom of association, freedom of thought, freedom of choice and much more, yet many people do not realize the importance and influence of software and other technologies on their lives.

What do we mean by Software Freedom? Software Freedom is about a technology future that we can trust, that is sustainable, and that doesn’t negatively impact on the basic human freedoms we take for granted. For instance, spyware is a software that monitors what we listen to, our banking details and who we email. This software can be installed on our computers without our knowledge. Proprietary data formats can mean lockout to accessing your own information! Software Freedom can be maintained by transparent systems (such asFree and Open Source Software – FOSS) that are based on open, secure and sustainable standards including data formats and communications protocols.

Software Freedom Day is a yearly celebration of Software Freedom and why it is important; our purpose is public education about these important issues which we believe will eventually ensure that all barriers to the use and deployment of software are eliminated.

The AITI-KACE and its partners have been celebrating Software Freedom Day for a number of year and we have had many members of the general public and IT Community participate through the doors. We would like those that have attended or are attending for the first time to bring a friend along. Share with us the possibilities. Come and see demonstrations of open source software to suit just about every usage that you might think of. Take home some ideas, and CDs/DVDs full of software that you can use straight away.

People in the Eastern Region of Ghana can also join the Computer Science Department at the Koforidua Polytechnic to celebrate the day.

AITI-KACE is located near Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ), adjacent to the Council of State Building on 2nd Avenue, Ridge, Accra.

Members of the media are invited to cover the event.

Contacts : Fred Yeboah – Tel 0302 679542-4 or e-mail: fredericky@aiti-kace.com.gh

This post originally appeared on The Gamelian World via Gamelmag

The Ubuntu Software Management- A little clarification

One of the greatest strengths of Linux over other OS is the centralized software and update management tools that come built in. This means that whenever there is an update to any of the packages or softwares you have installed, you are sure to not miss it. This alone goes a long way to improve the security of a Linux system.
However, I noted a common misconception (I believe it’s not just one person who has this notion) that every software in the Ubuntu repository is checked for malicious code by Canonical before it is uploaded. This I believe is not what happens since the USC currently lists over 30000 applications. Checking every single one of them for malicious code could easily take a lifetime.
What I believe happens is that given the centralized nature of package management, when a flaw is detected in any piece of software, it is easy to distribute a fix to all those running that application, sometimes within hours. Packages in the USC simply mean they will receive regular updates as and when they become available. 
Regardless, it still behooves you the end user to be circumspect of software you install on your system and to apply updates as soon as possible. There is no sure fire way against malicious code, but the centralized nature of package management makes containing such malice easy and hassle free.

New Zealand- Blazing the trail in the anti-patent struggle

According to this New Zealand Computer Society article, software will no longer be patentable in the country. This is because 

“…they [patents] represent a far greater risk to smaller New Zealand-based software providers than opportunity, and there are many cases where they have significantly stifled innovation.”

This has long been the argument of anti-patent advocates like myself. I believe people should be able to benefit from their invention and also recoup costs incurred in bringing about that invention. But the way that the capitalist machinery in many Western countries, notably the US goes about it is just harmful to small businesses.
As the article notes, young startups just cannot come up with anything without having to look over their shoulders constantly for fear of being sued for violating patents that extend beyond the imagination of the mind. The SCO group and their saber rattling at Linux is a typical example.
As I said yesterday, the future of innovation and development especially in the software realm, will be gravely affected should the current rate at which patents are doled out is not reconsidered. In any case, patents were originally devised with the noble intention of helping one recover R&D costs, not to lock out the innovation of others via the threat of lawsuits.
The intellectual properties of individuals and companies ought to be respected, but at the same time, care should be taken to ensure that innovation is not going to be stifled. Patents are doubled edged swords that can cut both ways. In other words, the adoption and promotion of the principles of Free and Open Source Software should be encouraged.

With all these patents- Can the future generation innovate?

Thomas Jefferson once wrote

“It would be curious then, if an idea, the fugitive fermentation of an individual brain, could, of natural right, be claimed in exclusive and stable property.”

There is no doubt that people need to be properly compensated for whatever it is that they invent. Some choose to give away their findings for the good of the public. Those who choose to be compensated should also not be condemned in anyway whatsoever. 

However, the problem arises when people use the smokescreen term called Intellectual Property to take out patents the size of Africa, so much so that the mere thought of their invention can attract a law suit.
I am no legal expert nor an attorney, but what bugs my mind is how the future is going to be like given how governments keep doling out patents like biscuits to mega corporations.
Is there going to be room for innovation? Can people keep coming up with ideas without fear of being sued to the stone age? To what extent can small firms flourish in the future if mega corporations own all the patents of the world?
These and more other questions really bug my mind. Perhaps you might help me find answers to them?

FSF Opposes More Copyright Enforcement in Joint Strategic Plan

The United States’ newly-created “Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator” asked for public comments on a Joint Strategic Plan to make copyright enforcement more effective. The FSF submitted an argument that the government should adopt free software and encourage its use elsewhere to provide more freedom to computer users and reduce the need for such enforcement. The full text of the comment appears below.

March 24, 2010

Victoria Espinel
Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator
Office of Management and Budget
Executive Office of the President
Filed via email

Re: Comments on the Joint Strategic Plan

Dear Ms. Espinel:

I am writing on behalf of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Boston, Massachusetts, with comments for the Joint Strategic Plan. The FSF believes that everyone should be allowed to share and change the software that they use[1], and that people are harmed when they are prohibited from doing so. When software is licensed under terms that permit such modification and redistribution, we call that software free software. We provide technical and informational resources to developers who are releasing free software. We also hold the copyright for more than 200 such programs.

The FSF believes that the Joint Strategic Plan should not envision baroque schemes to help enforce overbearing proprietary software licenses, but instead should advocate the adoption of free software at all levels of government and industry. This strategy would provide the government with full control over its own software and offer maximum transparency and freedom to its constituents, while simultaneously reducing the demand to provide structures for copyright and license enforcement.

Our suggestions here are focused on software copyrights and the licenses that typically accompany them. We want to be clear on this point, since the term “intellectual property” lumps together very different areas of law, and encourages people to assume similarities between them where none exist.

I. Government Benefits from Free Software Adoption

All free software users benefit from the right to modify that software and distribute it to others. In the context of government, however, those rights take on special significance: they make it possible to serve the people in this digital age in ways that cannot be matched by proprietary software.

President Obama made transparency of the government a staple of his election campaign, promising to make it easier for people to understand the decisions that elected and appointed officials make on our behalf. Using free software would provide government agencies with numerous opportunities to make good on that promise. Free software generally favors free data formats and standards, to provide both developers and users with as many opportunities as possible to access the data and interoperate with other software. Releasing data in these formats is well-recognized as a crucial component of digital government transparency, and free software supports them best.

Furthermore, even in cases where free software does not support a free format or standard, agencies would still be able to help the public make sense of their data simply by distributing the same software that they used to create it. Following such a policy would be the next-best thing to releasing the information in a free format, providing everyone not only with the raw data, but the information necessary to understand it. This practice would only be possible with free software, which ensures that the government has the source code for programs it uses, and can release it to the public.

Free software also offers the government greater control over its own computers—an increasingly important consideration as they affect more aspects of our daily lives and our interactions with each other. Because the software can be easily modified, agencies would be able to adjust or remove features which may be extraneous or even dangerous in their specific use of it. When customized solutions are needed, they can be developed on top of existing free software in whatever manner is most effective and economical. When defects are discovered, agencies can determine for themselves how the issue is resolved—and if there is an urgent problem, they would not need to wait on a single company to provide assistance.

Finally, adopting free software in government makes more effective use of tax dollars. Whenever an organization purchases a proprietary software license that limits the number of users or installations, it must spend time and money ensuring it stays in compliance with those terms—an administrative task with little economic impact. Free software will eliminate the need for that bureaucratic overhead, freeing the funds for use elsewhere. And if there is no ready free software solution for a particular task, the government could maximize economic benefit by contracting developers to fill in the gaps, and releasing the work as free software in turn—giving the public the most possible benefit from the work it paid for.

For all these reasons, numerous government organizations worldwide—from individual agencies to entire federal governments—have started using free software. The Department of Defense has long used free software for countless projects. In 2006, the Federal Aviation Administration switched to a free software operating system for its traffic management systems. More recently, in 2009 the White House web site migrated to a free software platform as well. Elsewhere, substantial deployments have been carried out in Brazil, Germany, Spain, France, Czechoslovakia, and Macedonia. All this activity has brought many benefits to the adopters while reducing the need to spend government resources on copyright enforcement.

II. Free Software Reduces Demand for License Enforcement

All free software, by definition, must allow an organization to use the work for any purpose, commercial or noncommercial, without restriction. Furthermore, most free software licenses have, at most, relatively simple conditions for organizations to follow when they modify the software but do not distribute it. Most of the conditions in free software licenses concern themselves solely with distribution of that software.

The FSF’s flagship license, the GNU General Public License (GPL)[2], serves as a clear example of this point. In the latest version of the license, version 3, section 2 explicitly states that the software can be run and modified “without conditions.” The following five sections list conditions that licensees must follow when they distribute the software in various different ways, and comprise the bulk of the conditions in the license.

Because free software licenses have so few conditions for private activity, they dramatically reduce the costs of license enforcement for both distributors and users. A proprietary software license, by contrast, typically limits the number of copies that can be installed and/or run. To enforce this, the software developer often invests time and money programming features to prevent license violations, and the user must spend resources to ensure they do not exceed the stated limits. The problem is so severe that worried organizations can buy software that is dedicated to tracking compliance with these proprietary licenses. All of these costs can be avoided by adopting free software.

In a similar way, free software developers require less assistance from the government in pursuing compliance with their licenses, even when they engage in active enforcement activity. Because license compliance in these cases is so focused on distribution of the software, which is often an activity conducted in public (e.g., a company distributes the software to the public as part of a product for sale), free software developers can often confirm that a license violation has occurred without any government assistance. 

As an example, the FSF has successfully enforced the terms of its licenses in a number of cases without serving subpoenas, overseeing office raids, or resorting to other expensive executive functions. In fact, the FSF has only felt it necessary to sue in court over a license violation in a single case, out of hundreds of cases it has handled over more than a decade.

III. Conclusion

Tax dollars spent to enforce the copyrights and licenses of proprietary software act as a subsidy for a particular kind of business—one that harms our society by dictating arbitrary rules for how we use our computers. This spending continues despite the fact that the most egregious harms to the public interest in the areas of copyright and patents come not from a lack of enforcement, but from extraordinarily excessive enforcement. 

If the U.S. government began consistently using free software throughout its operations, and advocating for its adoption elsewhere, we could reduce demand for these activities and productively invest the funds elsewhere. The FSF urges IPEC to advocate for increased free software adoption in government as a means to promote freedom in computing for everyone, reduce demand for copyright enforcement resources, and accomplish the goals of the Joint Strategic Plan.

Sincerely,

Brett Smith
License Compliance Engineer
Free Software Foundation

[FSF] Open letter to Google: free VP8, and use it on YouTube

With its purchase of the On2 video compression technology company having been completed on Wednesday February 16, 2010, Google now has the opportunity to make free video formats the standard, freeing the web from both Flash and the proprietary H.264 codec.
Dear Google,

With your purchase of On2, you now own both the world’s largest video site (YouTube) and all the patents behind a new high performance video codec — VP8. Just think what you can achieve by releasing the VP8 codec under an irrevocable royalty-free license and pushing it out to users on YouTube? You can end the web’s dependence on patent-encumbered video formats and proprietary software (Flash).

To sit on this technology or merely use it as a bargaining chip would be a disservice to the free world, while bringing at best limited short-term benefits to your company. To free VP8 without recommending it to YouTube users would be a wasted opportunity and damaging to free software browsers like Firefox. We all want you to do the right thing. Free VP8, and use it on YouTube!

Why this would be amazing

The world would have a new free format unencumbered by software patents. Viewers, video creators, free software developers, hardware makers — everyone — would have another way to distribute video without patents, fees, and restrictions. The free video format Ogg Theora was already at least as good for web video (see a comparison) as its nonfree competitor H.264, and we never did agree with your objections to using it. But since you made the decision to purchase VP8, presumably you’re confident it can meet even those objections, and using it on YouTube is a no-brainer.

You have the leverage to make such free formats a global standard. YouTube is the world’s largest video site, home to nearly every digital video ever made. If YouTube merely offered a free format as an option, that alone would bring support from a slew of device makers and applications.

This ability to offer a free format on YouTube, however, is only a tiny fraction of your real leverage. The real party starts when you begin to encourage users’ browsers to support free formats. There are lots of ways to do this. Our favorite would be for YouTube to switch from Flash to free formats and HTML, offering users with obsolete browsers a plugin or a new browser (free software, of course). 

Apple has had the mettle to ditch Flash on the iPhone and the iPad — albeit for suspect reasons and using abhorrent methods (DRM) — and this has pushed web developers to make Flash-free alternatives of their pages. You could do the same with YouTube, for better reasons, and it would be a death-blow to Flash’s dominance in web video.

But even some smaller actions would also have an impact. You could interest users with HD videos in free formats, for example, or aggressively invite users to upgrade their browsers (instead of upgrading Flash). Steps like these on YouTube would quickly push browser support for free formats to 50% and beyond, and they would slowly increase the number of people who never bother installing Flash.

If you care about free software and the free web (a movement and medium to which you owe your success) you must take bold action to replace Flash with free standards and free formats. Patented video codecs have already done untold harm to the web and its users, and this will continue until we stop it. Because patent-encumbered formats were costly to incorporate into browsers, a bloated, ill-suited piece of proprietary software (Flash) became the de facto standard for online video. Until we move to free formats, the threat of patent lawsuits and licensing fees hangs over every software developer, video creator, hardware maker, web site and corporation — including you.

You can use your purchase of On2 merely as a bargaining chip to achieve your own private solution to the problem, but that’s both a cop-out and a strategic mistake. Without making VP8 a free format, it’s just another video codec. And what use is another video format with patent-limited browser support? You owe it to the public and to the medium that made you successful to solve this problem, for all of us, forever. 

Organizations like Xiph, Mozilla, Wikimedia, the FSF, and even On2 itself have recognized the need for free formats and fought hard to make it happen. Now it’s your turn. We’ll know if you do otherwise that your interest is not user freedom on the web, but Google’s dominance.

We all want you to do the right thing. Free VP8, and use it on YouTube

Free Software- To sell or not to sell?!

This post from the the FSF has helped to clear a misconception that myself, and I believe lots of other people have about Free Software. In case you also have some nagging questions about the sale of Free Software, I hope this post will help clarify things for you as it did for me.

Many people believe that the spirit of the GNU Project is that you should not charge money for distributing copies of software, or that you should charge as little as possible — just enough to cover the cost. This is a misunderstanding.

Actually, we encourage people who redistribute free software to charge as much as they wish or can. If this seems surprising to you, please read on.

The word “free” has two legitimate general meanings; it can refer either to freedom or to price. When we speak of “free software”, we’re talking about freedom, not price. (Think of “free speech”, not “free beer”.) Specifically, it means that a user is free to run the program, change the program, and redistribute the program with or without changes.

Free programs are sometimes distributed gratis, and sometimes for a substantial price. Often the same program is available in both ways from different places. The program is free regardless of the price, because users have freedom in using it.

Nonfree programs are usually sold for a high price, but sometimes a store will give you a copy at no charge. That doesn’t make it free software, though. Price or no price, the program is nonfree because users don’t have freedom.

Since free software is not a matter of price, a low price doesn’t make the software free, or even closer to free. So if you are redistributing copies of free software, you might as well charge a substantial fee and make some money. Redistributing free software is a good and legitimate activity; if you do it, you might as well make a profit from it.

Free software is a community project, and everyone who depends on it ought to look for ways to contribute to building the community. For a distributor, the way to do this is to give a part of the profit to free software development projects or to the Free Software Foundation. This way you can advance the world of free software.

Distributing free software is an opportunity to raise funds for development. Don’t waste it!

In order to contribute funds, you need to have some extra. If you charge too low a fee, you won’t have anything to spare to support development.

Will a higher distribution price hurt some users?

People sometimes worry that a high distribution fee will put free software out of range for users who don’t have a lot of money. With proprietary software, a high price does exactly that — but free software is different.

The difference is that free software naturally tends to spread around, and there are many ways to get it.

Software hoarders try their damnedest to stop you from running a proprietary program without paying the standard price. If this price is high, that does make it hard for some users to use the program.

With free software, users don’t have to pay the distribution fee in order to use the software. They can copy the program from a friend who has a copy, or with the help of a friend who has network access. Or several users can join together, split the price of one CD-ROM, then each in turn can install the software. A high CD-ROM price is not a major obstacle when the software is free.

Will a higher distribution price discourage use of free software?
Another common concern is for the popularity of free software. People think that a high price for distribution would reduce the number of users, or that a low price is likely to encourage users.

This is true for proprietary software — but free software is different. With so many ways to get copies, the price of distribution service has less effect on popularity.

In the long run, how many people use free software is determined mainly by how much free software can do, and how easy it is to use. Many users do not make freedom their priority; they may continue to use proprietary software if free software can’t do all the jobs they want done. Thus, if we want to increase the number of users in the long run, we should above all develop more free software.

The most direct way to do this is by writing needed free software or manuals yourself. But if you do distribution rather than writing, the best way you can help is by raising funds for others to write them.

The term “selling software” can be confusing too

Strictly speaking, “selling” means trading goods for money. Selling a copy of a free program is legitimate, and we encourage it.

However, when people think of “selling software”, they usually imagine doing it the way most companies do it: making the software proprietary rather than free.

So unless you’re going to draw distinctions carefully, the way this article does, we suggest it is better to avoid using the term “selling software” and choose some other wording instead. For example, you could say “distributing free software for a fee”—that is unambiguous.

High or low fees, and the GNU GPL
Except for one special situation, the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL) has no requirements about how much you can charge for distributing a copy of free software. You can charge nothing, a penny, a dollar, or a billion dollars. It’s up to you, and the marketplace, so don’t complain to us if nobody wants to pay a billion dollars for a copy.

The one exception is in the case where binaries are distributed without the corresponding complete source code. Those who do this are required by the GNU GPL to provide source code on subsequent request. Without a limit on the fee for the source code, they would be able set a fee too large for anyone to pay—such as a billion dollars—and thus pretend to release source code while in truth concealing it. So in this case we have to limit the fee for source in order to ensure the user’s freedom. In ordinary situations, however, there is no such justification for limiting distribution fees, so we do not limit them.

Sometimes companies whose activities cross the line stated in the GNU GPL plead for permission, saying that they “won’t charge money for the GNU software” or such like. That won’t get them anywhere with us. Free software is about freedom, and enforcing the GPL is defending freedom. When we defend users’ freedom, we are not distracted by side issues such as how much of a distribution fee is charged. Freedom is the issue, the whole issue, and the only issue.

5 open source and free software books that are worth your time

Aside from the book Open Source Licensing and Intellectual Property, there are other freely available books that will enrich your knowledge and understanding of the concept of  Free Software and Open Source. The following are 5 of such books that are worth your time.
As the name suggests, you probably do not have time to read through a 500 page book so as to understand FOSS, right? Then this is your book. According to the author, this book is focused on cost-effective uses of computers. I assume that you are not a computer professional – but if you have used email or the web in the past, then you know enough to make use of Free Software. This book will show you how.” Worth your time.
The author of this book aims at showing us how the advent of the computer and the Internet have given rise to the expansion of the academic/scholarly notions of sharing, and how this in turn has brought us free and open software, which will bring about a major change in the way we do business.
Licensing is a major part of what open source and free software are all about, but it’s still one of the most complicated areas of law. Understanding Open Source and Free Software Licensing explains your licensing options, how they compare and interoperate, and how license choices affect project possibilities. If you’re an open source/free software developer, this book is an absolute necessity.
What is the status of the Free and Open Source Software (F/OSS) revolution? Has the creation of software that can be freely used, modified, and redistributed transformed industry and society, as some predicted, or is this transformation still a work in progress? Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software brings together leading analysts and researchers to address this question, examining specific aspects of F/OSS in a way that is both scientifically rigorous and highly relevant to real-life managerial and technical concerns.
It is common to argue that intellectual property in the form of copyright and patent is necessary for the innovation and creation of ideas and inventions such as machines, drugs, computer software, books, music, literature and movies. In fact intellectual property is a government grant of a costly and dangerous private monopoly over ideas. We show through theory and example that intellectual monopoly is not necessary for innovation and as a practical matter is damaging to growth, prosperity and liberty.

EDIT– Please note that because of the Apture plugin I’m using on this blog, you’d have to right-click and choose save as to download the direct PDF linked books. 

[BOOK] Open Source Licensing and Intellectual Property Law

Open Source Licensing  Software Freedom and Intellectual Property Law is a great book written by Lawrence Rosen that gives a deep insight into the various open source licenses.
It has 13 chapters:
  1. Freedom and Open Source
  2. Intellectual Property
  3. Distribution of Software
  4. Taxonomy of Licenses
  5. Academic Licenses
  6. Reciprocity and the GPL
  7. The Mozilla Public License (MPL)
  8. The Common Public License (CPL)
  9. The OSL and the AFL
  10. Choosing an Open Source License
  11. Shared Source, Eventual Source, and Other Licensing Models
  12. Open Source Litigation
  13. Open Standards
The book was originally published by Prentice Hall in 2004 and is now available online Academic Free License version 3.0. You could consider supporting the author by purchasing a printed copy of the book. 
Whether you are new to the world of Free Software and Open Source or a seasoned pro, this book is a must read. You are certain to find something new in there that you did not know.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) on Patents and Free Software.

Adapted from the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790).

In order of time, I should have mentioned before, that having, in 1742, invented an open stove for the better warming of rooms, and at the same time saving fuel, as the fresh air admitted was warmed in entering, I made a present of the model to Mr. Robert Grace, one of my early friends, who, having an iron-furnace, found the casting of the plates for these stoves a profitable thing, as they were growing in demand. 
To promote that demand, I wrote and published a pamphlet, entitled “An Account of the new-invented Pennsylvania Fireplaces; wherein their Construction and Manner of Operation is particularly explained; their Advantages above every other Method of warming Rooms demonstrated; and all Objections that have been raised against the Use of them answered and obviated,” etc. 
This pamphlet had a good effect. Gov’r. Thomas was so pleas’d with the construction of this stove, as described in it, that he offered to give me a patent for the sole vending of them for a term of years; but I declin’d it from a principle which has ever weighed with me on such occasions, viz., That, as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.

An ironmonger in London however, assuming a good deal of my pamphlet, and working it up into his own, and making some small changes in the machine, which rather hurt its operation, got a patent for it there, and made, as I was told, a little fortune by it. 

And this is not the only instance of patents taken out for my inventions by others, tho’ not always with the same success, which I never contested, as having no desire of profiting by patents myself, and hating disputes. The use of these fireplaces in very many houses, both of this and the neighbouring colonies, has been, and is, a great saving of wood to the inhabitants.

So there you have it. Benjamin Franklin somehow believed that people should not restrict access to their inventions, though they are enjoying those of others. 

You might interpret the above synopsis differently, but from my understanding of it (do correct me if I am wrong), Ben Franklin was sympathetic to open sharing of knowledge. How do you understand it?