Issue #20
March, 2007

1. Softwares Impostos by Receita Federal in Brazil
2. The fifth freedom, revisited
3. GPLv3
4. News and events
5. FSFLA.ORG outage
6. Help wanted

1. Softwares Impostos by Receita Federal in Brazil

How would you react to headlines such as "Government agency pushes red meat down vegetarian's throats!" during a (hypothetical?) law-mandated fast? How about "Non-smokers forced to smoke marijuana at public offices", where smoking is forbidden in closed offices and marijuana is a controlled substance? And "Pro-life activist must undergo abortion, says health minister", where abortion is forbidden by law? Make that "must perform abortions, executions or euthanasia", if you will.

This wouldn't amount to mere disrespect for legitimate and thoughtful choices (even if you don't agree with them). It's government agencies breaking the law so as to force citizens to break the law, against citizens' own personal legal choices, and in detriment of the citizens themselves.

Fewer people feel that strongly about rejecting non-Free Software than about the issues above. But should our thoughtful and legitimate choices be disrespected just because we aren't that many?

Last week we launched the latest phase of the campaign against Softwares Impostos in Brazil. Citizens were invited to write letters to Receita Federal, the government agency in charge of federal taxes, requesting that the software they release to the public, and that some taxpayers are required to use, be Free Software, and that specifications of file formats and protocols be published, which citizens have a constitutional right to demand.

Failure to do so, as explains the referenced article, would amount to infringing on citizens' constitutional rights to legal safety, because of the many risks involved in the inauditable electronic submission programs; to abuse of power it doesn't have, to limit citizens' constitutional rights to exercise their philosophical beliefs; to failure to comply with the constitutional principles of publicness (transparency), impersonality, legality and efficiency; and to imposition of compulsory copyright infringement, on taxpayers who choose to or are required to use its programs, which is punishable by law even in the absence of complaint by a public copyright holder.
http://www.fsfla.org/?q=pt/node/143 (in Portuguese)

Given the unsatisfactory response, we've then invited citizens to denounce Receita Federal's lack of respect for the constitution to Ministério da Fazenda, and to take other actions to draw Receita Federal's management towards addressing the problem.

Although we do mention as a problem the choice of platform for the programs released by Receita Federal (MS-Windows and a few implementations of Java), this is not the main focus of this campaign.

In fact, it was possible to run Receita Federal's programs last year on Free Software-only platforms such as wine, a Free Software environment for running MS-Windows applications on Free Software operating systems such as GNU/Linux, FreeBSD and OpenSolaris.

We've also seen claims that people could run the Java programs on e.g. the Kaffe Free Java Virtual Machine, but we know at least some of the programs required classes that are not present in Kaffe's class library (GNU Classpath). Nor in the Java specification, for that matter. It's likely that those who succeeded had non-Free Java libraries installed, and accidentally or intentionally used them to supplement Kaffe's class library. If they had insisted on using only Free Software, they'd have failed to run the programs, like we have.

Others were confused by Sun's announcement last year about Freeing Java, assuming it means Sun's implementation of Java is Free Software already. Alas, it's not. Only part of the code that amounts to a complete Java Virtual Machine was released as Free Software so far. The entire class library is still non-Free. Besides, the code already released as Free Software, and the corresponding yet-to-be-freed class library, are expected to be part of Java version 7, but Java version 6 is yet to be released.

Our goal is rather to ensure that citizens have the ability to comply with their tax obligations in digital freedom, i.e., without using any non-Free Software whatsoever. To this end, unless they're all permitted to use paper forms, they need at the very least the specifications of file formats and protocols, such that they can implement their own applications as Free Software.

Even more useful would be the complete applications that implement these formats and protocols, under a Free Software License, or at least the portions that are copyrighted by Receita Federal itself, such that the Free Software community could fill in whatever missing pieces there were to make them complete Free Software applications, and proceed to port them to Free Software platforms as needed.

Being unable to do any of this, due to lack of specifications, source code and licenses, taxpayers end up required, by illegal rules published by Receita Federal, to use the non-Free Software (that induces copyright infringement) distributed by Receita Federal.

Since this is about software freedom, FSFLA must intervene. Unfortunately, information we have received so far appears to indicate that legal action is going to be unavoidable. So, if you'd like to donate to our legal fund, or to join legal action, please write to info@fsfla.org (private communication) or legales@fsfla.org (archives are publicly-available).

2. The fifth freedom, revisited

Last month's editorial made headlines shortly before our web site went down. The extra traffic we got doesn't seem to be related with the disk failure, but a number of events during February make sense (or not) under the light of the arguments presented there. Reading it first is recommended, otherwise what follows is unlikely to make sense for you.

Fedora and Ubuntu have both revisited their policies about inclusion of non-Free firmware in their distributions, even though no actual policy changes were made at this time. That said, Ubuntu appears to be looking into a 100% Free Software variant, and Fedora has long refrained from exercising the freedom to include the non-Free firmware permitted by its policy, although this may change for release 7.

This unwillingness to include non-Free firmware, and other wise uses of the fifth freedom on Fedora's part, have led to a perfect example of a bad use of the fifth freedom: someone switched from a GNU/Linux distribution that is committed to rejecting most non-Free Software, to one that openly rejects such commitment. And this difference in their stances was cited as one of the major reasons for the switch.

This is not just about the fifth freedom we discussed in last month's editorial (freedom of choice, or freedom to shoot one's own feet), but also about Tom Clancy's (or Noam Chomsky's?) fifth freedom: the freedom to "disregard any law, agreement, or framework of ethical behavior in order to accomplish [one's] mission".

The willingness to do "whatever it takes to accomplish some mission" is what gets so many people to resort to using non-Free Software for certain tasks, when they don't trust, don't know, don't want to know, and don't want to invest in development of, Free Software for those tasks.

It often takes additional effort to do something in freedom. If it weren't so, freedom would probably not be so valuable. The sooner you undertake such efforts, the sooner you make sure you can keep your freedom. If you don't, you may very well find yourself in the future worried about not having it, and regretting not having done what you could, when you could.

3. GPLv3

The third draft of GPLv3 has run late, but it's probably going to be published by or around the time this newsletter goes out. Keep an eye on http://gplv3.fsf.org/, read the drafts as they come out and submit your comments, such that they can be taken into account for the final release. Watch our translators web page for translations of the draft as well.

Don't miss this opportunity to participate in the development of the first major Free Software license created under a Free Software development model!

4. News and events

Conversations are ongoing about establishing a Free Culture Network in Brazil, with FSFLA's presence. The first meeting took place in São Paulo on February 2nd. A set of principles is being worked on, such that, when an open invitation to participate is extended to the general public, the goals are clear for everybody.

Fernanda Weiden spoke on Free Software gender issues at the Free Software World Conference 3.0, in Badajoz, Spain, and she attended FOSDEM, in Brussels, Belgium.

Richard Stallman spoke in Cuba in February, and, according to many news reports all over the world, he's succeeded in convincing the federal government to switch to Free Software. Unfortunately we didn't get information about his speeches before they took place, so we couldn't publish them on our web site.

We invite the Cuban Free Software community to participate in FSFLA and we offer to help however we can. The same goes for all other countries in Latin America, of course!

Alexandre Oliva will participate in a debate about "Proprietary and Free Software" at the 3rd Regional Symposium of Digital Inclusion promoted by CDI Campinas, on March 27 in Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil, and will speak about Free Software at AtualTec III, promoted by Faculdade Atual da Amazônia, on March 28-30 in Boa Vista, Roraima, Brazil.
http://www.cdicampinas.org.br/simposio/ (in Portuguese)
http://www.faculdadeatual.edu.br/atualtec2007 (in Portuguese)

5. FSFLA.ORG outage

The server that runs our lists and web sites has been down for a big portion of the month of February. So we've extended some periods for comments, see below.

6. Help wanted

We're giving people more time to comment on our draft constitution, because of the outage. We also ask people to check whether any comments they might have sent during the outage period bounced, and to please resend them if appropriate.

We renew our invitation for people to participate in ongoing translations.
http://wiki.fsfla.org/wiki/index.php/Traductores (in Spanish)

Please help us verify the automatic conversion of the Drupal web site contents to svnwiki and keep on testing svnwiki and sending feedback on it to sitio@fsfla.org, with an eye on its potential adoption as the our main web site engine.

FSFLA depends on voluntary work from Free Software enthusiasts. If you can and want to help, please join our workgroups listed at http://www.fsfla.org/?q=en/node/121. If you'd prefer to work on another workgroup we haven't set up yet, please bring it up at discusion@fsfla.org.

Copyright 2007 FSFLA

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