FSFLA News
Issue #17
December, 2006

1. Editorial: Problems with "Intellectual Property"
2. (GNU)^2 FAQ
3. "Softwares Impostos"
4. Events
5. Participate in FSFLA
6. Farewell

1. Editorial: Problems with "Intellectual Property"

As well explained in [NIP], "Intellectual Property" is a term often used to encompass copyright, patents, trademarks and other laws, but often a subset thereof, since the laws are so different that generalizations don't make sense. When people understand statements made in the context of implicit subsets as legitimate generalizations, confusion ensues.

We dispute and reject this term, because it is not only confusing, it is actually harmful. The presence of the word "Property" in it induces thoughts along the lines of physical objects. Not everyone realizes that it makes little sense to try to extend what applies to physical objects to immaterial creations. Adopting other terms, such as "Improper Privileges", would address one of the points, but it would still be confusing for referring to such disparate concepts. We should thus leave the IP acronym for the Internet Protocol, and refer to copyright, patents and trademarks by their names.

Property over physical objects, land, etc was legitimized by societies because, when someone takes an object away from someone else, this other person is deprived of the object, and is no longer able to use it. This is not so with immaterial works: when you give someone an idea, you don't end up with fewer ideas. When you take a picture of someone, this person does not end up with fewer pictures. When you smile at someone, you often get a smile back. Such is the nature of immaterial creations: once they exist, duplicating them costs nothing, or nearly nothing. This is a fundamental difference from physical objects, and it goes to show how inappropriate the term "Intellectual Property" is.

Just like property, copyright, patents and trademarks were each introduced by society as means to benefit society itself. Copyright, for example, is intended to grow the public domain. Patents were meant to promote the publication of ideas whose inventors might otherwise choose to keep them secret. Trademarks were created to enable consumers to have confidence in products they purchase. Such mechanisms should only be adopted when it is clear that they benefit society.

The private interests that introduced the term "Intellectual Property" attempt to subvert the public interest, by focusing on the means, rather than the purpose, of these mechanisms. They make it seem like the whole point of these laws is not to benefit society, but to enable them to make a profit out of such immaterial creations.

That's how they manage to extend copyright monopolies longer and longer, as if that would somehow grow the public domain larger or faster. That's how they manage to extend patents to fields of endeavour such as software [SwP], in which benefits to society are unclear or inexistent.

FSFLA opposes software patents, just like other FSFs and the League for Programming Freedom [LPF], and we campaign against them, along the lines of the NoSoftwarePatents.com campaign [NSP].

We also dispute the current non-obviousness criteria [Obv], since it does not reject patents that bring no benefit whatsoever to society. Consider US patents such as the 1-click patent [1CK], or the web shopping cart patent [WSC], as well as a number of other e-commerce patents [ECm].

Even if software patents were a good thing and these ideas were indeed inventive and non-obvious for someone familiar with the state of the art at the time of the filing, they fail to fulfill the purpose of the patent system, which is to benefit society. Keeping in mind that patents are an incentive for the publication of an invention, one should ponder whether the publication of such an invention is worth granting a 20-year monopoly on its use.

For the inventions cited above, their very use would render the invention obvious. Anyone would be able to figure it out by just watching it at work. Therefore the publication brings no actual benefit to the society. So why should society grant a monopoly on its use? We thus defend a revision of the non-obviousness criteria to ensure it serves the common good.

Copyrights also have their share of problems. Besides the ever-longer copyright monopolies mentioned before, we notice the growing presence of legislation that supports Digital Restrictions Management, trampling over and even criminalizing long-established fair-use rights. Other FSFs have already launched their campaigns against this abuse [DbD, DRM], and FSFLA shall soon launch its own [EyC]. Join us at anti-drm@fsfla.org [LAD].

Per international treaties [Brn, TRI], copyright applies to software, even if through specific law based on copyright, as is the case in Brazil. Source code is indeed a form of expression that serves a technical purpose, like manuals and textbooks; a cultural one, by carrying society's knowledge; and an aesthetic one, bringing delight to people who appreciate it, like other forms of art.

On the other hand, object code is incomprehensible for (most) humans, does not cause the delight experienced through art and, unlike human-made translations, is completely automated, not involving any creative work of authorship. More seriously, when object code goes into the public domain without source code, it fails to serve the purpose of copyright, since the creation of derived works is too limited without the source code.

It would make far more sense to only grant copyright monopoly over object code if its source code could be guaranteed to be available at the time it went into the public domain. This could be achieved by accompanying the object code by the source code, publishing it to the general public, or registering it with copyright authorities.

Although we would obviously appreciate the freedoms associated with Free Software along with source code, this is not what we are arguing for here. This is only about making sure that, at the time software goes into the public domain, all the society can benefit from it, as intended by copyright.

WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) treaties, such as the Berne convention, are optional, such that each country can choose individually whether to sign a treaty or not. WTO (World Trade Organization) treaties, on the other hand, are mandatory, and countries that refuse to abide by them are subject to commercial sanctions.

Given that copyright, patents and trademarks are designed to benefit society, one gets to wonder why the failure to adopt such beneficial measures should be further punished with commercial sanctions.

[NIP] http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/not-ipr.xhtml

[SwP] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software_patent

[LPF] http://progfree.org/

[NSP] http://www.nosoftwarepatents.com/

[Obv] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inventivestepand_non-obviousness

[1CK] http://cse.stanford.edu/class/cs201/projects-99-00/software-patents/amazon.html

[WSC] http://patft.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/srchnum.htm (Enter 6,101,482 in the form)

[ECm] http://www.chillingeffects.org/ecom/

[DbD] http://defectivebydesign.org/

[DRM] http://drm.info/

[EyC] http://entretenidosycontrolados.info/ (in Spanish)

[LAD] http://www.fsfla.org/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/anti-drm/

[Brn] http://www.wipo.int/treaties/en/ip/berne/trtdocs_wo001.html

[TRI] http://www.wto.org/english/tratope/tripse/trips_e.htm

2. (GNU)^2 FAQ

The (GNU)^2 announcement in last month's newsletter triggered a number of doubts and questions. After long threads in both gnugnu@fsfla.org and discusion@fsfla.org, we've settled on a FAQ that will hopefully address all of them.

It's now available at http://www.fsfla.org/?q=en/node/126

We restate our invitation for Free Software activists all over Latin America to join this group and help us strengthen and integrate the Free Software communities in Latin America.

3. "Softwares Impostos"

The campaign against proprietary software and standards imposed by the Latin American governments keeps on making progress. It was covered in Rets (Third Sector Magazine), published by RITS (Third Sector Information Network), in Portuguese, at http://arruda.rits.org.br/notitia1/servlet/newstorm.notitia.apresentacao.ServletDeSecao?codigoDaSecao=58&dataDoJornal=1164376840000

The government of the state of São Paulo had published information about automobile taxes for 2007 as MS-Windows programs that, when executed, would install spreadsheets and text files. As a result of protests from activists, including FSFLA members, the files are now available in regular ZIP files containing.rtf and.xls files, that Free Software applications such as OpenOffice.org and Gnumeric can successfully open, even if not all of them are open formats. http://www.fazenda.sp.gov.br/download/ipva.shtm (in Portuguese)

The Brazilian house of representatives runs a TV channel that can be watched over the Internet, but it uses proprietary multimedia formats and requires Microsoft's Windows Media Player. Some activists have managed to watch it on Free Software platforms, but only by sacrificing their freedom installing proprietary decoders. Olival Gomes Barboza Júnior filed a complaint at the web site and got a response indicating the problem is already being worked on. Let's keep them on check! http://www.camara.gov.br/internet/tvcamara/default.asp?selecao=VIVO (in Portuguese)

If you know of other situations in which governments require the use of proprietary software, let us know about your complaint at softwares-impostos@fsfla.org

4. Events

Alexandre Oliva spoke on behalf of FSFLA at the Brazilian finals of the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest, in Rio de Janeiro; at the 5th International GPLv3 Conference in Tokyo, Japan; and at the Colóquio de Ciências Exatas da Uninove (Uninove's Exact Sciences Colloquium) in São Paulo.

Sebastián D. Criado, activist in FSFLA's anti-DRM campaign, will speak about DRM and the campaign on December 5, 2006 at Segundas Jornadas Abiertas de Informática (Second Informatics Open Summit) in Rosario, Argentina. http://rosario.sadio.org.ar/jai2/ (in Spanish)

Sebastián is a member of the GNU/Linux User Group Rosario (http://www.lugro.org.ar, in Spanish) and President of Asociación de Nuevas Tecnologías (New Technologies Association, http://www.ant.org.ar, in Spanish). He thanks Beatriz Busaniche and Franco Iacomella, both also active members in the anti-DRM campaign, for the help in preparing the presentation.

Richard Stallman will visit Colombia and Ecuador in early December. Check out the schedule for speeches in the URLs below (all in Spanish):

In Bogotá, Colombia, on December 4-5, 2006: http://www.orfeogpl.org http://www.orfeogpl.org?q=node/5 http://www.orfeogpl.org?q=node/16 http://wiki.superservicios.gov.co/aportes2006

In Guayaquil, Ecuador, on December 6-7, 2006: http://softwarelibre.espol.edu.ec/ http://softwarelibre.espol.edu.ec/index.php?Itemid=44

In Quito, Ecuador, on December 9-12, 2006: http://rmsenecuador.info/ http://rmsenecuador.info/node/20 http://rmsenecuador.info/lunes11 http://rmsenecuador.info/martes12 http://rmsenecuador.info/node/23

5. Participate in FSFLA

FSFLA is constantly seeking for people interested in working in our various workgroups, listed in http://www.fsfla.org/?q=en/node/121.

If you have an idea of a workgroup that FSFLA should set up, please bring it up at the discusion@fsfla.org mailing list.

6. Farewell

After more than a year participating in FSFLA, Juan José Ciarlante, Beatriz Busaniche and Federico Heinz leave the Board because of work-related and personal reasons, to focus on other tasks and projects that demand the attention of each one of them. We wish them success in their activism tasks, and hope to keep on counting on their contributions to FSFLA's mission.