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About Open-source and the Pirate Party

Piratpartiet logotype Since I am nowadays a proud member of the Swedish Pirate Party I would like to comment on my view on Open-Source and how this mixes with the principles of the pirates. Of course, the opinions expressed here are just that, opinions, and should in no way be taken as the official stance from either the OSS community or the Pirate Party.

To begin with, patents; Software patents is a growing threat to the OSS culture since it is virtually impossible for OSS developers and users to both know that they are infringing on some software patents and to afford to pay licensing fees. With the current laws it is an infringement just to use (not develop) a program stepping too close to anyones patent. Thus is makes us all liable, and if the proposition to make patent infrigments criminal comes true, then we all will be criminals. The pirate party is against all forms of software patents and are for a reform of the current patenting system.

Copyright; This is a slightly more complicate issue since one of the fundaments of OSS software relies on copyright laws in order to be enforceable. That's right, the GPL licence would be null and void unless there was a threat of copyright infringement if it is not followed. Since one of the fundamental principles of the pirate party is to severely restrict the scope of copyrights this may be perceived as a potential conflict with OSS software. However, this conflict is only an illusion as I will outline below.

For the first (1); Ideologically the goals of the OSS community and the pirates are more or less the same, the free (libre) distribution of software and culture. Allowing the creation of derivative works, fighting against software patents and restrictive Digital Rights Management (DRM) techniques making this a practical impossibility. As such, the pirates are a good complement to the OSS movements (and the OSS community is a good complement to the pirates).

Secondly (2); From a practical standpoint the potential problem is also very small. In their agenda for copyright, the pirate party wants to restrict the length of copyrights to five years and the scope to only affect copying with a commercial interest. Ie, distributing files between individuals is ok.

On the surface this seems to make the GPL licence unenforceable after five years, however do you know of any big OSS project that has not been updated the last five years? These updates would of course still be licenced under the GPL, while the rest of the software would fall into the public domain. This means that a commercial company can take the old sources of an OSS project and incorporate it with their own commercial stuff - fully ignoring the GPL! However, this is not a problem for me simply since; (a) five years down the road, all that "commercial stuff" will also fall into the public domain and can be incorporated back into the OSS community, and (b) this gives a huge boost to the credibility of OSS and the use of the open standards used by OSS software.

What about the fear that the big company locking away their software behind DRM? This is not a problem either since we want to disallow or severely restrict the use of DRM.

What about the money then? How will artists, developers and others earn money? The short answer to this question is again to look at the OSS industry, there exists a multitude of companies whose primary business idea revolves around giving their product away for free (eg. MySQL, Trolltech). If they can survive, so can others.

Besides, many like me produce art (programs) as their hobby, with the goal of distributing it as largely as possible. I do not accept donations for the trackballs project since it is in my own interest and done in my spare time. There are many other OSS projects which could use the money more wisely.

Last but not least, I would like to urge everyone that like me have a professional career in science to also consider the academic tradition of openness, peer review, dissemination of results. Even if it you don't agree with the idea of freely distributing culture you must believe in the free dissemination of knowledge. Please make all your research results, also the programs, publicly available under, for instance, an open-source licence. This does not limit your possibilities for later commercialisation if you choose the right OSS licence.

Mathias Broxvall - mathias.broxvall at
Last modified 01/06/08