Open Source Agreed In UN Information Society Summit Preparations 10/10/2005 by William New, Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) tradução em português (IP-Watch is not responsible for the accuracy of this translation) Encouragement for the use of free and open source software and open standards for science and technology has quietly worked its way into the draft texts being prepared for the November second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). Such ideas have gained significant support in recent years as potentially low-cost, easy-access solutions for developing countries, but as they are put forward in the WSIS context they are balanced by stronger calls for proprietary approaches. The draft WSIS texts are lengthy and detailed, and intellectual property (IP) issues play a comparatively small role overall, but the stakes are high enough to draw top government IP officials and industry lobbyists to the meetings. Agreement on the issue was reached at the 19-30 September WSIS preparatory committee meeting held in Geneva. The provisions will be included in those forwarded to senior officials at the 16-18 November summit in Tunis. In the introductory chapter of the texts, called the “political chapeau” an agreement was reached on paragraph 21 after bolstering the neutrality of the reference to different types of software models. According to one participating official, proposed text referencing free and open source was put forward by the Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries with the support of Canada, China, South Africa, and the Arab Group represented by Egypt. The text reflected regional agreements. The official said, “You could say we have the support of 3 billion people.” Modifications to make the language more technology neutral were sought by the United States, the source said. But informal charges that efforts were made to drop references to free and open source from the summit’s second phase could not be confirmed. At least one senior lobbyist from proprietary software maker Microsoft, Fred Tipson, made the trip from Washington. The US government had an extensive team of diplomats and technical experts, several of whom were shuttling back and forth to the nearby General Assembly of the UN World Intellectual Property Organisation. During the preparatory committee meeting, developing countries threatened to disagree if they perceived the modifications to throw the balance of the provision too far in the direction of proprietary models, an official said. But agreement appears to have been reached with only one notable modification: the addition of the phrase, “in ways that reflect the possibilities of different software models” after the reference to free and open source software. Paragraph 21 of the political chapeau now reads: “Our conviction that governments, the private sector, civil society, the scientific and academic community, and users can utilize various technologies and licensing models, including those developed under proprietary schemes and those developed under open-source and free modalities, in accordance with their interests and with the needs to have reliable services and implement effective programmes for their people. Taking into account the importance of proprietary software in the markets of the countries, we reiterate the need to encourage and foster collaborative development, inter-operative platforms and free and open source software, in ways that reflect the possibilities of different software models, notably for education, science and digital inclusion programs. (Agreed)” A side note is that the American spelling of the word “programs” at the end only appears in the latest version, having replaced the British “programmes” (which is still used earlier in the paragraph), further suggesting the modification was a US proposal. Also in the political chapeau, paragraph 11 states: [We affirm that the sharing and strengthening of global knowledge for development can be enhanced by removing obstacles to equitable access to information for economic, social, political, health, cultural, educational and scientific activities and by facilitating access to public domain information, including by universal design and use of assistive technologies, in this context we underline that media play an important role.] The paragraph has gone through several changes and remains in brackets. Open Source As A Measure For Development The open-source issue also appears alongside other hotly debated “measures to promote development” like interconnection costs (the cost to complete a call within a country) in paragraph 70 of the latest version of chapter 3, which itself is the highly debated Internet governance section. (Officials agreed at the preparatory committee meeting to leave Internet governance for experts meeting just prior to the Tunis summit. All other issues will continue to be negotiated by the less-technical Geneva-based missions up to the Tunis summit). Chapter 3, paragraph 70 states: “We reaffirm our commitment to turning the digital divide into digital opportunity, and we commit to ensuring harmonious and equitable development for all. We commit to foster and provide guidance on development areas in the broader Internet governance arrangements, and to include, amongst other issues, international interconnection costs, capacity-building and technology / know-how transfer. We encourage the realization of multilingualism in the Internet development environment, and we support the development of software that renders itself easily to localisation, and enables the user to choose appropriate solutions from different software models including open-source, free and proprietary software. (Agreed)” The final reference to software, found in Chapter 1, paragraph 7.e, does not explicitly mention open versus proprietary. It calls for achieving internationally-agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, through a series of steps including “promoting public policies aimed at providing affordable access to hardware as well as software, connectivity, increasingly converging technological environment, capacity-building and local content.” The provision is not in brackets, signalling that it is agreed. Nothing Agreed Till All Agreed? David Gross, the US lead delegate, told reporters during the preparatory committee meeting that “none of the language is formally agreed to until all of the language is agreed.” Further creating an environment in each country for continued global growth of the Internet and of information technology is paramount for the United States. But the US must be convinced that the UN is not creating “backdoor” ways to regulate sectors, Gross said. In particular, he referenced the proposed creation of a forum for Internet governance issues, perhaps the most debated issue of the summit. A dramatic proposal by the European Union to move many of the core functions of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) under a “new international co-operation model” attracted most of the outside attention of third preparatory committee meeting as it created a division with the US, which has a contract with ICANN to oversee much of the technical operation of the Internet. It is less clear whether the EU’s departure from the US position extends to the free and open source versus proprietary software issue. But Europe’s renewed effort to pursue a legal challenge of Microsoft might give some indication. 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