At the end of this week, March 31, I’ll be the kick off speaker at the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s symposium on Open Source in the International Marketplace: What the Open Source Intellectual Property Movement Means for the Developed and Developing Worlds sponsored by The University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Economic Law.
My topic is “Open IP Practice and its Discontents: Open Source, Open Content, and Open Access vs Contracts, Laws and Treaties.” I’ll contend that the need for openness in content and in access is perhaps better understood in some developing than in those with strong intellectual property regimes. Open source software could be very easily understood in such cultures and they could and will likely be the engines of FLOSS development as we have seen in Brazil and India and with the recent explosion of Ubantu Linux in and from Africa. But barriers and confusion caused by the ladder of restrictions in IP from End User License Agreements to difficult local laws to complex international law to one-sided treaties that supercede national sovereignty place contributors and users of software in an awkward bind. Should they just break the contract/law/treaty? Or should they innovate? What can be done to encourage more innovation if IP as practiced does not? Can FLOSS move from a quasi-political movement to a better, if not well, understood business practice? Can national databases on both patented and copyrighted materials as well as open prior art be coordinated better and more effeciently and in a way that a group of software developers spread around the world can depend on a common pool of resources?
One quick story: At a panel on IP held at UNC Law this fall, Cory Doctorow suggested to Mary Beth Peters and John Whealan that perhaps developing nations should follow the US example when it comes to IP. The US of the 19th Century, when we were developing ourselves. That is strong protection for national actors; almost no protection for foreign actors. “Worked well for the USA” said Cory.
Also want to point to how much Jamie Boyle’s Shamans, Software and Spleens: Law and the Construction of the Information Society influenced my thinking on all of this. Jamie remembers that I gave him grief over the book being over 1/3 footnotes. Now we have more footnotes, he reminds me. And yes those footnotes inform me as they accumulate, but how does the message translate to others who would be developers and users of FLOSS?
What to say about how restraints like Digital Rights Management however badly done cripple innovation? There is almost too much to say in fact.
Dykki says that Intra is “eveloping a comprehensive FOSS package for Human Resources for Health Information Systems for Ministries of Health. We are currently actively developing HRIS strengthening activities in Bangladesh, Rwanda, Uganda, Lesotho, Swaziland, and now Tanzania/Zanzibar, with Kenya, Namibia, Zambia, Ghana, Senegal and Armenia (?!) expressing interest.
Of course, we are using Ubuntu, Apache, MySQL and PHP as the core architecture. One system focuses on public sector HRH management. Another on whole-country HRH training, registration and licensure. The
third is a workforce planning tool that uses predictive modeling to project actuals, needs and models interventions to close the gaps.”
Dykki and I wrote about how hard it can be to get people to gain skills and innovate when they can simply steal software — as I saw in Russia and in Africa.
http://wiki.africasource2.tacticaltech.org/ is an African conference that looks like it was very productive (but how does it address this topic?
Richard Schafer suggests that Open Source software could have a function in the IT area much like generic drugs do in the pharma area, that is, closed source vendors would have to deliver obvious quality differences in their products in order to compete and/or drop their prices (as the invisible hand would dictate).
Who is the author? What is the work? Who is the inventor? What is the invention? How do those basic questions play out in FLOSS and in non-European cultures?