The Hon. Joe Fontana, P.C., M.P., hosts Open Source event on Parliament Hill

It is great to see that some members of parliament are taking the time to learn more about FLOSS. While this introduction to the event focuses on using FLOSS to save money, it also provides an opening to discuss some of the policy issues facing our part of the software sector.

I am including below a letter I wrote to the MPs office introducing myself. I also sent a letter to my own MP's office informing them about the event and requesting that they go. In my case my MP is well aware of my interest in FLOSS as a practitioner and a policy person. I recommend that other people reading this write a letter to their MP as well, forwarding the invitation information and quickly informing them why it is important to you as a constituent that they be informed about FLOSS.

From the invitation posted to the OCLUG announce list:

The Hon. Joe Fontana, P.C., M.P., Critic for Science & Research, would like to invite all Members of Parliament, Senators, and their staff to an all party information session on Open Source Software: a viable option to costly software packages. Come find out why governments, businesses, and families around the globe are using Open Source as an alternative to costly proprietary software.

When: Monday June 19th, 2006, 10:00 am * 12:00 pm
Where: Rm 200, West Block

Please RSVP to fontaj at or call 992-0805 and speak with Michael Cairns

In my letter to the MP's office I grouped together things which I thought were bad (IE: DMCA type legislation) as well as things which I thought was good (IE: how FLOSS removes much of the threat of software copyright infringement). It was suggested in another forum that I might have wanted to group these into "good" and "bad" to make my position clear. I am curious what other people think, and whether the things that are bad for FLOSS are bad generally and the things that are good about FLOSS are good generally.

If you attend the event, please consider posting your thoughts and letting us know so we can link to you.

Date: Wed, 14 Jun 2006 11:09:08 -0400
Subject: Re: Invitation about Open Source..

Dear Kevin Langlands,
Office of the Hon. Joe Fontana, P.C., M.P.

I received an announcement through OCLUG oclug-announce/ 2006-June/ 000178.html

I wanted to introduce myself, and to hopefully set up a future meeting.

I'm the Policy Coordinator for CLUE, Canada's Open Source advocacy and education group

I'm the co-coordinator for Getting Open Source Logic INto Government (GOSLING)

I'm the coordinator for the Digital Copyright Canada forum, as well as the Ottawa coordinator for the Petition for Users' Rights

While I would like to attend the session, I would also like to speak with you, other MP staff people, as well as MPs, about some of the policy issues our sector is facing. While the vendors seem to do a good job at promoting the business case for the use of Open Source, much of the discussion of the policy benefits of Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS), as well as the policies which threaten FLOSS, are left to groups such as those I am involved in.

Some examples:

  • There have been proposals to expand copyright in ways which harm software competition, such as legal protection for technical measures (1996 WIPO treaties). There are related techniques being proposed to be legalized (and legally protected) which remove the rights of the owners of technology to decide what software they will use based on their own convictions.

As Stewart Baker, US Department of Homeland Security's assistant secretary for policy, said, "It's very important to remember that it's your intellectual property -- it's not your computer."

  • FLOSS represents the simplest solution to the largest source of software copyright infringement. By using business models that do not involve counting or charging for copies, we avoid all the problems that the vendors that are dependent on charging for copies are allegedly having (Note: Current studies from software manufacturing(1) lobby groups do not adequately differentiate FLOSS competition from copyright infringement). Not only does FLOSS reduce certain costs for customers, it also reduces the large costs associated with enforcement and policing for the suppliers.
  • Some countries are expanding patent law to include information processes such as software. This favours the incumbent business models over FLOSS, since FLOSS has no mechanism to license patents as we do not (and can not under the terms of the FLOSS license agreements) charge customers per copy. In Canada the expansion of patent law was done unilaterally by the the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) based on one-sided "consultations" with specialized patent lawyers, and not via a change in the law though a bill debated by parliamentarians.
  • FLOSS requires full public disclosure of all the methods that exist within software in the form of source code, providing for software all the public benefit (disclosure) that the patent system was created to offer for tangible inventions. FLOSS has also demonstrated that the excessively long and overly broad government granted monopoly of 20 years is not necessary for software innovation, and that software has an entirely different economic analysis than the production of pharmaceuticals or tangible hardware.
  • Existing procurement policy inadvertently favours software manufacturing over services based on FLOSS. There are many cases were existing procurement policy is being ignored to favour incumbent vendors.
  • (1) Software Manufacturing / Software Manufacturers : This is a term used to refer to that subset of the software economy who use analogies to compare software to the production, distribution and funding of tangible products. Software, as a non-rivalrous intangible, has traits that are very different from tangible products, including the fact that software has a marginal cost of zero. These traits are harnessed by FLOSS through Peer Production, Peer Distribution, and not charging royalties.

    Thank you.