Law in the Internet Society
-- StephanieLim - 06 Dec 2008

As governments, markets, and global communities become increasingly networked, free and open source software has emerged as a critical platform for a variety of civic institutions worldwide for reasons ranging from cost-efficiency to technological autonomy. This brief will explore how government-sanctioned use of OpenSourceSoftware in developing regions can affect the global nature of intellectual property rights and create an environment that is more conducive to innovation, technological diffusion, and liberalization of the knowledge commons.

A Note on Terminology

In policy discussions on Free/Libre and Open Source Software, some disparities in terminology are telling in how institutions view these developing paradigms. As nations and municipalities move to adopt formal policies toward OSS use in civic institutions, they generally refer to the OSS alternatives to dominant commercial software options without proprietary licensing restrictions. These policy moves are primarily motivated by economic concerns and secondarily by social concerns of freedom of access to information. For the purposes of this discussion, we will use the general term of FOSS and refer to the FSF's definition of free software.

Intellectual Property Rights in the Knowledge Economy

In the United States, the role of FOSS has been dictated largely by market forces. Because it has proven to be more or as efficient as proprietary software in many circumstances, as well as competitive in the commercial sector, FOSS has evolved in a tenuous relationship with proprietary software. The proprietary software companies have a tremendous amount of capital, power, and influence, but faced with the decentralized nature of OSS development and the strength of redistributive copyleft licensing, they continue to fight ambiguous battles of the nature of derivate works and collection of royalties.

Other battles are impacting more directly FOSS development such as reverse engineering as covered under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act attack interoperability issues and protect proprietary software markets.

Stallman points out that as a developing nation in the 1800s, the US refused to recognize foreign copyrights, as it was not advantageous to their markets. As nascent technologies go through cycles of development, emerging markets can adopt similar stances through the adoption of OSS policy and a rejection of foreign copyright law.

In developing regions of the world, where many newly industrializing nations face pressures to rapidly integrate into the knowledge economy, it is critical for governments to take progressive stances on national policies toward use of FOSS. These regions face several threats when dealing with challenges of technological advancement and imperialist regimes of which FOSS policy can address in dynamic ways. Some of the most progressive FOSS policy can be seen in regions of the world with less developed proprietary software sectors, like South Africa, Brazil, Thailand, and Peru.

Technological Autonomy in the Networked Age

Although direct government procurement of specific FOSS platforms is a largely untested model, it can be used as a way to promote a diversity of smaller enterprises, promoting a healthier climate for innovation and equity, particularly for use in civic institutions. Because most government procurement contracts are too large for most small enterprises, this suggests a need for a shift in the way civic institutions are organized.

Taking a regional approach to optimize user-producer dynamics as a means to achieve greater social equity can create a broad base for stable, structural reorganization in social, political, and economic spheres. These are radical changes that stand to be delayed by legacy complexes linked to traditional sectors in many industrialized nations, but present great opportunity for developing nations to create links to the new knowledge economy. An open systems approach to “creative destruction” of existing models of production and technological innovation relies on recreating capitalist structures that rely on property rights, much like intellectual property rights. In the new economy, however, open source software brings up more than economic concerns to be studied by policymakers, but central issues of social justice and freedoms to be debated by ethicists. In the case of open source software, there is much to be learned from its dynamic development model and the motivations of those involved, many of whom develop software without hope for economic gain, but to contribute to a new kind of development that is open and free.

  • There's nothing here about Africa except that the word is used twice. There was no need for all the words about term definition because nothing you wrote depended on the terms. The only point made here about the global market--that countries without developed proprietary software industries are more receptive to free software--can be put in less than twenty words. For this to be successful on its own terms, it needs a there there.



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r6 - 08 Feb 2009 - 15:03:09 - EbenMoglen
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