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Campaign against Software Patents in Europe

Friday, 11 June 2004, 13:00

André Rebentisch
Media Spokesperson, Forum for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), Munich

Campaign for a Free Information Infrastructure, Foundation for A Free Information Infrastructure (FFII e.V.) and their EU Software Patents debate

In September 2003 the European Parliament accepted that a move to widespread software patenting would create new business costs, new legal dangers, and new ongoing uncertainties for Europe's independent software makers, to no good purpose. Software patents would reduce competitive pressure for innovation, reinforce monopolies and reinforce market domination by the most established, largest and most powerful companies. They would be bad for small businesses, bad for open source, bad for innovation, bad for e-commerce and bad for software users. The Parliament agreed that the needs of software companies and developers and a healthy innovative European marketplace are all much better served by copyright.

But the directive is now in the hands of the European Competitiveness Council of Ministers, which is scheduled to finalise its own recommended text at a meeting in May 2004. Organized activists (i.e. Patent attorneys) are letting loose their full arsenal of resources to try to persuade national governments to reverse the Parliament amendments. And the hostile takeover may be succeeding: a new draft text prepared for the Council by the EU's Irish Presidency appears ready to give them exactly what they are asking for, despite all the
economic advice.

FFII and its partner organisations launched what EU-Parliamentarians called the most successful campaign of citizen participation on European policy. Most of the success so far was the result of new strategies of policy making and due to the strong commitment of the large targeted group.

The intense use of electronic media and pan-European organisation via the Internet made technology a conditio sine qua non. The high swedish Information freedom standards of the European Union were another useful issue.

Both sides, traditional politicians and FFII, learned a lot from each other's expertise. Policy making and software development are similar. A law or directive proposal is changed through amendments. In collaborative software development we call it a "patch" or "bugfix".

Administration and hierachical organisational bodies can learn a lot from the work style of software development. A bug report is no "letter of complaint" but kind advise on how to improve your software. Software is full of bugs and errors. It's important for you to fix them. In Software development you are not blamed for the bugs as they are natural. In Public administration a "bug reporter" is a troublemaker and there is strong organisational pressure to say that everything was alright. The real issue is always mixed up with a power issue and the tendency to avoid conflict and confrontation. Public administration tends to introduce the system of organized lack of responsibility. Whom to phone when a directive or administration guideline is garbage (as everybody on your hierachical level knows)? Bureaucracy can be made more efficient by adopting elements of the Software development style.

FFII learned the lesson of New Economic Policy theory: Administration is often biased, self-intrested and reports false facts and wrong law references to the lawmaker and the public. The old horse-rider problem. Do you ride or are you ridden? FFII created a testsuite for law proposals and proposed a case based approach. This is more true to the role of administration as an independent provider of unbiased information to the lawmaker. A german proverb says: "Public audience kills the king." (Öffentlichkeit ist der Tod des Königs)

The Internet and intense documentation help to improve the control function of parliament and empower the representatives with expertise.

Strong Civil society representation at the European level can reduce the large shortfalls of EU level policy making and avoid that partisan groups like lawyers taking over our business and our freedom rights. The future of our Information Infrastructure depends on key structural decisions, not on big investments or governmental moon rocket programs. It's not an option to ask the Government to abstain from IT-regulation. Libertarianism and elite scepticism in politics do not help against regulation lobbying from the other side and the long march of organised special interest groups. While we agree in substance and pratise with their work, EFF Barlows' Electronic Frontier ideology from 1996 is no policy option for Europe nor the rest of the world.

André Rebentisch, a veteran of the EU debate, will give an overview for exchange of opinions:

- FFII organisational network
- What's a Free Information Infrastructure? A liberal Vision.
- What can politics learn from the software development process in order to increase citizen's involvement and governmental efficiency?
- What new instruments can politics adopt from software development?
- How do you start a substainable campaign on the EU level? Lessons learned by FFII.
- Efficiency of IT Lobbying
- Far from perfect: We can do better. How to create successful alliances.

FFII campaigns to promote competition and innovation in the field of software development. They seek a positive environment for the development of information goods, based on copyright, free competition, and open standards.

More than 700 companies and 60,000 registered supporters have entrusted the FFII to act as their public voice in the area of exclusion rights (intellectual property) in data processing; and the FFII/Eurolinux petition against software patents now has over 320,000 signatories.

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