[LINK] Letter warns of open source 'threat to eco-system'

brd at iimetro.com.au brd at iimetro.com.au
Tue Oct 17 10:48:26 AEST 2006

Letter warns of open source 'threat to eco-system'
Microsoft-funded pressure group warns against encouraging open source software
Matthew Broersma
17/10/2006 08:40:34

A leaked letter to the European Commission has revealed the extent of lobbying
by proprietary software groups to prevent the widespread adoption of
open-source software.

Sent in response to a recent report on the role of open-source software in the
European economy, Microsoft-funded pressure group, the Initiative for Software
Choice (ISC) warned of potentially dire effects if too much encouragement was
given to open source software development.

Any action by the EC would "disrupt the entire software eco-system" and the
report itself looked "more like a marketing document than a serious survey"
according to the letter -- written by Hugo Lueders, director of the European
branch of the ISC, addressed to Mrs Francoise Le Bail, the deputy director
general of the European Commission's industry arm, and provided to Techworld.

You can view the entire letter here.

The ISC is an organization created to oppose government efforts in Europe, the
U.S., South America and elsewhere, to give preference to open-source or open
standards-based systems. According to critics such as Bruce Perens, the ISC
largely pursues a pro-Microsoft agenda, though the group itself emphasizes that
it has more than 300 members.

Lueders sent the letter on Oct. 10 to leaders of the Commission's Directorate
General for Enterprise and Industry, in response to an EC-commissioned study
into the role of open source software in the European economy (referred to by
Lueders as Free/Libre/Open Source, or FLOSS).

In the letter, he criticized the study as biased and warns that its policy
recommendations, if carried out, could derail the European software economy.
The report, titled "Study on the Economic Impact of Open Source Software on
Innovation and the Competitiveness of the Information and Communication
Technologies (ICT) Sectors in the EU", found that open source plays a positive
role in the economy and recommended its development be encouraged through
measures such as tax credits.


Lueders said the report seemed biased, since it paid little attention to the
non-open source economy. "Balance in this regard is missing... making the study
look more like a marketing document than a serious survey," he wrote.

The E.U. shouldn't encourage open source development, he argued. First of all,
it's unnecessary, since open source is already successful -- the report notes
that 40 percent of companies are using open source, a figure expected to grow
by 20 percent a year. In any case, if open source isn't more widely used, it
isn't for the Commission to say that that is a bad thing, since the market
should be left to make its own decisions, according to Lueders. "In practice
the market so far has largely opted for the proprietary model, a choice which
should not be ignored, regardless of the purported advantages that the FLOSS
system offers," he wrote.

Those in favor of encouraging open source say that market decisions aren't
enough to result in a healthy economy, since proprietary software often locks
users into particular choices.

Lueders argued that open standards -- those that don't require a licence to
implement -- aren't necessarily such a great thing. Rather, "a variety of
different standards" should be maintained for the market to run most
efficiently. That includes both "licensed and non-licensed (FLOSS-friendly)
standards (i.e. non-RAND standards)". Any action that could dislodge
non-open-source-friendly standards "would significantly disrupt the entire
software ecosystem", Lueders argued.

The RAND issue

The issue of standards licensed under RAND (reasonable and non discriminatory)
terms has been key to the ongoing Microsoft anti-trust negotiations with the
Commission. As part of its anti-trust remedies, Microsoft has been required to
license Windows communications protocols, and so far has only licensed them
under RAND terms, meaning they can't be implemented in open source projects
such as Samba. Open source groups and the Commission have been pushing
Microsoft to use non-RAND terms.

Lueders said the report's recommendation to use tax credits to encourage open
source development "seems extreme", since it would distort the market and would
be difficult to enforce. In any case, open source developers get enough economic
encouragement as it is, he wrote, since, as the report notes, more than half of
open source developers now earn income from their open source activities.

"With this in mind it is hard to see the need for considering the development of
FLOSS as a 'charitable donation to society', as suggested by the report,"
Lueders wrote. Instead, the ISC Europe recommends allowing developers using
public funds to choose what type of licence to use.

Like proprietary standards, intellectual property rights (IPR) shouldn't be
tinkered with, Lueders said. "Many of the proposed policy recommendations as
identified within the report could further weaken IPR throughout Europe,
potentially deflating venture capital levels and EU innovation," Lueders wrote.

All lobbyists are not the same

ISC shares its physical address -- 6 Rond Pont Schuman in Brussels -- with
another lobbying group, CompTIA, which was one of the main groups lobbying for
the controversial patent directive thrown out by the European Parliament last
year. CompTIA has also lobbied against measures in favor of open standards and
anti-trust measures against Microsoft. Lueders is also European head of

CompTIA justified its support for the failed patent directive on the grounds
that it would only make minor adjustments to the European patent system, such
as making it more consistent. Critics of that directive said it would have made
software patents widely enforceable in Europe, leading to U.S.-style software
patent warfare. The Commission is currently pushing a measure called the
European Patent Litigation Agreement (EPLA) that critics say would have a
similar effect. CompTIA is in favor of the EPLA.

In the ISC letter, Lueders criticized the Commission for giving the ISC only 10
days to respond to the report. "From this, one might surmise that the
Commission is intolerant to opposing comments," he wrote. He accused the
Commission of engaging in a "closed process" that limits input from dissenting
points of view: "We perceive this ironic lack of transparency - i.e., open
source but closed process - as becoming more widespread."


Bernard Robertson-Dunn
Sydney Australia
brd at iimetro.com.au

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