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Archive for 'Copyright/IP'

Defending Free Software Against Privatizers

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
13th March 2015

Christoph Hellwig

Christoph Hellwig

How can you protect a commons of software code from free riders who attempt to take it private for their commercial gain?

The traditional answer has been copyright-based licenses such as the General Public License, a legendary legal hack on copyright law that ensures the perpetual “shareability” of all licensed code. The GPL requires that third parties make any derivative software programs freely available to everyone and that they use the same license, thus ensuring that all future downstream uses of the code will also remain shareable.

But what happens if a company simply ignores the GPL and continues to free ride?  We are about to find out.

After a long period of alleged non-compliance with the GPL, the software firm VMware is being sued by the Software Freedom Conservancy, a nonprofit home and infrastructure for free, libre and open source software projects. Most companies respect the GPL and other open source licenses, which is why this lawsuit is a rare enforcement action.

The Software Freedom Conservancy reports that it attempted to reason with VMWare, a $36 billion company traded on the New York Stock Exchange, before finally realizing that the company had no intention of complying. The last straw came when VMWare demanded that that lawyers sign a nondisclosure agreement just to discuss settlement terms.

The plaintiff is German Christophe Hellwig, a key developer of the Linux kernel in this case,  The lawsuit was filed in a German court last week. The Conservancy describes Hellwig’s experience this way:

Christoph is among the most active developers of Linux. As of Feburary 19, 2015, Christoph has contributed 279,653 lines of code to the Linux kernel, and ranks twentieth among the 1,340 developers involved in the latest 3.19 kernel release. Christoph also ranks fourth among those who have reviewed third-party source code, tirelessly corrected and commented on other developers’ contributions. Christoph licenses his code to the public under the terms of the GPL for practical and ideological reasons.

VMware, a company with net revenue of over $1 billion and over 14,000 employees, ignored Christoph’s choice. They took Christoph’s code from Linux and modified it to work with their own kernel without releasing source code of the resulting complete work. This is precisely the kind of activity Christoph and other kernel developers seek to prevent by choosing the GPL. The GPL was written to prevent this specific scenario!

…..What point is there for companies to make sure that they’re compliant if there are no consequences when the GPL is violated? Many will continue to ignore the rules without enforcement. We know that there are so many companies that willingly comply and embrace GPL as part of their business. Some are temporarily out of compliance and need to be brought up to speed, but willingly comply once they realize there is an issue. Sadly, VMware sits in the rare but infamous class of perpetually non-compliant companies. VMware has been aware of their noncompliance for years but actively refuses to do the right thing. Help us do right by those who take the code in the spirit it was given and comply with copyleft, and stop those don’t.

Here is a FAQ about the lawsuit.  The court ruling promises to be a landmark not just in clarifying the scope and enforceability of the GPL, but in showing that FLOSS users have the will and capacity to defend their software commons.  So, in this spirit, consider a contribution to the legal fund for enforcing the GPL, and consider joining the Free Software Conservancy.

Why care about the GPL? Check out the recent blog post by Mike Linksvayer, former Creative Commons Chief Technology Officer, “Six reasons for GPL lovers, haters, exploiters and others to enjoy and support GPL enforcement.”


Posted in Anti-P2P, Commons, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Original Content, P2P Legal Dev., Peer Property | No Comments »

Island in the net or an alternative to the net?

photo of Manuel Ortega

Manuel Ortega
8th March 2015

Could new free systems, thought of as alternatives to Facebook and Twitter, and with a distributed structure, create a different logic and dynamic from these born on centralized services?

Mar_de_floresAt the end of 2010, we published several posts on the nature and the consequences of the FbT-model, that is, socialization on Facebook + Twitter. The conversations that fed these posts were born of the question of whether new, free systems, thought of as alternatives to Facebook + Twitter and with a distributed structure, could create a different logic and dynamic from these born on centralized services.

We knew well the general dangers of centralized services, but beyond that, it became clear and obvious that the FbT-model had serious consequences for the culture that was born on the Internet. Little by little, it endangers the birth of conversational communities, and consequently limits the birth of new identities and social models.

Three years later

Not long ago, we installed two nodes of GNUsocial, one of these alternative systems. The two nodes are lamatriz.org and pluvio.net. In these first days of experience with GNUsocial, we learned a lot and begin discover interesting and important contributions to the above-mentioned conversation.

David: On the other quitter nodes, I think there is less sharing of links than on Twitter, and more characters and conversation.

Jacinto: How nice to have a space for calm conversation without all the noise.

First David and later Jacinto made reference to the existence of conversations in the nodes of GNUsocial. Reading their messages and rereading past posts, I believe I have found the key to understanding where this difference comes from.

It’s curious that when service is thought of for a real community and the software on which it is based is released… it loses its centralizing role (like Facebook’s), because it focuses on the building of an “island in the net,” provides tools for others, and distances itself from the totalitarian idea of making an alternative to the net.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Esperanto)


Posted in Commons, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Free Software, Networks, Open Content, Original Content, P2P Development, P2P Technology, Social Media | No Comments »

Guerrilla Translation: Welcome Back, and Looking Forward

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
26th February 2015

Reposted from GuerrillaTranslation.org, my partner Ann Marie Utratel describes Guerrilla Translation’s journey in the last year and gives an overview of our new websites and our plans for 2015.

GT supercollage

Images from some of our articles

We know it may have seemed as if we’ve been inactive, or even as if we’d given up. Nothing could be further from the truth, so let me tell you a bit about our feverish year. Stacco attended the 2014 OuiShare Fest in Paris, France, and we were voted one among five winners. Together, we attended the subsequent OuiShare Acceleration Week in Paris. The two of us with Guy James helped represent the P2P Foundation at the OpenEverything Convergence held in Dublin and Cloughjordan, Ireland in September. With Arianne Sved and Susa Oñate, we developed our member screening and testing processes, and open governance model. The latter is directly inspired by the work of Enspiral (the group that developed Loomio); we had the chance to meet Ben Knight and Hannah Salmon of Loomio when they visited Madrid in the autumn. Stacco, with help from the team, built our GT wiki full of information for both public view and internal reference. Stacco also appeared on national Spanish television to talk about the project. We’ve subtitled the interview in the video below.

Arianne headed up a conference in Barcelona centered on a universal basic income proposal for Spain, participated in her local Guanyem and Podemos circles, and was even a local Podemos citizens’ council candidate. Carmen Lozano Bright came on board near the end of the year, and helped greatly with strategic planning for the relaunch. Carmen also received an ECF research grant for a project called P2P Plazas; Guy and I helped her during the proposal stage. Carmen will also lead one of our upcoming special projects centered on David Bollier’s book “Think like a Commoner”. Again with Guy, we got involved in some other related synergistic initiatives including FairCoop. I had an article published in STIR magazine. To finish off the year, the three of us hackathoned our way through building and launching the Commons Transition platform, wiki and e-book! And the entire team (including Lara, Rocío, Cristopher, and Georgina) prepared all of the new translations.

It was a truly action-packed year full of surprises, lessons and connections. Individually and as a team, we intensified our participation in the fields we’re passionate about, and developed new relationships with like-minded people. We aren’t a very large team, though, so between these events, we actively engaged some new collaborating members. Being a collective means that we always need to work on our collaborative relationships, and sometimes things don’t work out as hoped. In the end, we’re grateful for the experience and the work. Finally, in the autumn of 2014, we began working in earnest to re-launch the site with a number of objectives in mind. Allow me to take you through our recent changes and near-future plans.

We hope you like our redesigned web magazine; we’ve made a lot of changes with our readers in mind. Our original site presented a generous selection of translations, transcriptions, and other texts – roughly 100 pieces in total, ranging from 500 to 9,000 words, plus an abundance of subtitled videos. But with the constraints of our WordPress theme and other limitations, we had both target languages (Spanish and English) lumped together. Also, the menus and other factors made navigation less than ideal. We simply outgrew our original site. To address these obvious flaws, we spent several months creating two new, separate sites: guerrillatranslation.org for target English content, and guerrillatranslation.es for target Spanish (tell all your friends!)


Guerrilla Translation, FairCoop and P2P Foundation superhero, Guy James

We’ve preserved the large, “widescreen” image effect in the featured content section, which includes long-form narrative texts with a healthy shelf life. The revamped menus now make the site more navigable and logically organized. We’ve also created a dedicated space for our subtitled videos. We’ve updated and enlarged our static content pages, including our Founding Principles and FAQ, author pages and our regular team bios.

Since launching in 2013, we’ve never had a means to receive any donations for our pro-bono work; we now have a donations page. You can also learn about the services we offer as a complement to our pro-bono work here on this page.

We’re especially proud to share this series of generous testimonials from some of the authors we’ve worked with.

We worked very hard this year on our mission to share information with our peers worldwide, and to help change the overall narrative of our times by incorporating new stories that carry human and environmentally-grounded values.

Looking forward to what we intend to do in 2015, it’s hard to imagine our plates being much fuller, but an abundance of choices is not something to complain about. Here are some of our plans and intentions:

  • Developing a project in collaboration with the author David Bollier, using his book “Think Like a Commoner” in a Spanish translation as a pilot self-publishing and co- or crowd-financed project.
  • Some of us will continue working with the P2P Foundation on a regular basis, including maintaining the Commons Transition site, developing the commons-based reciprocity license (“Copyfair”) project, and collaborating with general management and fundraising strategizing, among other activities.
  • We’ll keep expanding our collaboration with our friends in the Catalan Integral Cooperative, FairCoop, las Indias, DIWOland, Shareable, MediaLab-Prado, la Plataforma por la Libertad de Prensa, Platoniq/Goteo, and many others. As different as these groups may seem, we’ve had the benefit of direct relationships with them all, and have learned a lot about their common ground, collaborative spirit and rich diversity.
  • Ongoing participation in the customized development of specialized value-tracking software for our unique economic redistribution model, in conjunction with Mikorizal Software, Sensorica and other players.
  • Team-building and -strengthening, striking a balance between being selective (regarding skills, independence/teamwork flexibility, commitment, reliability and time management) contrasted with the level of inclusion and cohesive, familiar dynamics we prefer.
  • Finally, I will be joining the Platoniq and Goteo teams for a six-month international project.

Thank you for being part of our growing circle of readers, authors and translators. We hope you enjoy our work and feel moved to share it widely, and we welcome your feedback.

Ann Marie Utratel

Co-founder, Guerrilla Translation

Ann Marie presents GT at the Ouishare Acceleration week

Ann Marie presents GT at the Ouishare Acceleration week

PPLicense mockup small
Produced by Guerrilla Translation
under a Peer Production License.

Backgound image to “Welcome Back and Looking Forward” side widget by Sami Farin


Posted in Activism, Collective Intelligence, Commons Transition, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Ethical Economy, Featured Project, Original Content, P2P Collaboration, P2P Company Watch, P2P Development, P2P Labor, Sharing | No Comments »

The Soaring Use of Creative Commons Licenses

photo of David Bollier

David Bollier
19th February 2015


Creative Commons has just issued a report documenting usage patterns of its licenses.  It’s great to learn that the number of works using CC licenses has soared since this vital (and voluntary) workaround to copyright law was introduced twelve years ago, in 2003.

According to a new report, the State of the Commons, recently released by Creative Commons, the licenses were used on an estimated 50 million works in 2006 and on 400 million works in 2010.  By 2014, that number had climbed to 882 million CC-licensed works.  Nine million websites now use CC licenses, including major sites like YouTube, Wikipedia, Flickr, Public Library of Science, Scribd and Jamendo.  The report includes a great series of infographics  that illustrate key findings.

For any latecomers, CC licenses are a free set of public licenses that let copyright holders of books, films, websites, music, photography and other creative works choose to make their works legally shareable.  The licenses are necessary because copyright law makes no provisions for sharing beyond a vaguely defined set of “fair use” principles.  Copyright law is mostly about automatically locking up all works in a strict envelope of private property rights.  This makes it complicated and costly to let others legally share and re-use works.

The CC licenses were invented as a solution, just as Web 2.0 was getting going.  It has functioned as a vital element of infrastructure for building commons of knowledge and creativity.  It did this by providing a sound legal basis for sharing digital content, helping to leverage the power of network-driven sharing.

The licenses have also helped commoners develop their own alternatives to conventional, proprietary forms of corporate culture – Hollywood, commercial television, the major record labels, the big book publishers. Instead of a system that separates producers from consumers, and privileges the power of (corporate) intermediaries in market-based culture, CC licenses have enabled commoners to collaborate among themselves, generating a bottom-up flow of mostly noncommercial creative content.

A big issue in many free culture circles is how “free” are the licenses.  Some CC licenses prohibit commercial and derivative uses of a work, which makes them “less free,” while other licenses that allow both adaptations of a work and commercial use are “free.”  (“Free as in freedom, not as in free beer,” as Richard Stallman famously put it.)  According to the new CC report, roughly 56% of the 882 million CC-licensed works out there allow for both adaptations and commercial uses of a work (“free culture licenses”).  This percentage is up from 40% in 2010.  A full 76% of works counted allow adaptations, and 58% allow commercial use.

A breakdown of license usage showed these interesting numbers:


CC BY:19%

CC BY-SA:33%





Usage of CC licenses around the world fall into these inter-continental percentages, as this infographic shows:

The international proliferation of the licenses has spurred an interest in all sorts of initiatives to make government information, scholarly journals, culture and educational curricula more accessible to people.  Fourteen countries have made formal national commitments to open education through legislation or projects that “lead to the creation, increased use, or improvement of open educational resources by requiring an open license like CC BY.  Open textbooks – i.e., CC licensed and therefore more easily shareable and inexpensively produced – have saved students over $100 million.

For years, there were CC licenses for more than 170 legal jurisdictions around the world.  This was the only way to make the licenses legally enforceable.  But as the legal terms of the licenses were gradually adapted to the laws of more than 35 countries, there has been a greater convergence of licensing terms transnationally.  To reflect this, Creative Commons in December 2014 released Version 4.0 licenses that are designed to be more useable by the global user community.

The new licenses include new provisions related to database rights, personality rights, and data mining – provisions that have already been endorsed by the European Commission for use by public sector institutions, and by the White House for federal government datasets.

The CC report concludes with a few warnings about the threats to the sharing of information and culture. These include things like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a treaty that, if passed, will extend copyright terms by another 20 years beyond its current, mandatory term.  In other words, a giveaway worth billions of dollars to existing copyright holders (primarily large corporations) that will do little to serve the public.  Creative Commons also hopes to improve the technologies that will enable wider usage of its licenses.


Posted in Commons, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Open Access, Open Content, Open Models, Original Content, P2P Art and Culture, Sharing | No Comments »

Essay of the Day: Free Software and the Law

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
28th January 2015

* Article: Free software and the law. Out of the frying pan and into the fire: how shaking up intellectual property suits competition just fine. By Angela Daly. Journal of Peer Production, Issue 3, July 2013

From the Abstract:

“Free software is viewed as a revolutionary and subversive practice, and in particular has dealt a strong blow to the traditional conception of intellectual property law (although in its current form could be considered a ‘hack’ of IP rights). However, other (capitalist) areas of law have been swift to embrace free software, or at least incorporate it into its own tenets. One area in particular is that of competition (antitrust) law, which itself has long been in theoretical conflict with intellectual property, due to the restriction on competition inherent in the grant of ‘monopoly’ rights by copyrights, patents and trademarks. This contribution will examine how competition law has approached free software by examining instances in which courts have had to deal with such initiatives, for instance in the Oracle Sun Systems merger, and the implications that these decisions have on free software initiatives. The presence or absence of corporate involvement in initiatives will be an important factor in this investigation, with it being posited that true instances of ‘commons-based peer production’ can still subvert the capitalist system, including perplexing its laws beyond intellectual property.”


Posted in Copyright/IP, Featured Essay, Free Software, P2P Legal Dev. | No Comments »

SELC and Shareable Kickoff Campaign to Save Seed Sharing in the U.S.

photo of Stacco Troncoso

Stacco Troncoso
26th January 2015


Reposted from our friends at Shareable, please share the following article, written by Cat Johnson, as widely as possible.

Neil Thapar first encountered seed issues in law school when he worked with the Center for Food Safety against genetically-modified food. But it was a season spent working on an organic farm in Santa Cruz, California when he began to understand, first-hand, the importance of seeds as a foundation of our agricultural system. He explains, “When I came off the farm I said, ‘If I’m going to be a lawyer, I’m going to be a lawyer doing things that I think are making a positive difference.’”

Thapar is now the point person for Save Seed Sharing, an advocacy and education campaign to protect and promote seed sharing in the U.S. He’s leading the campaign for the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC)—where he’s a staff attorney—and campaign partner Shareable.

At the heart of the seed issue, which started in June when agriculture officials in Pennsylvania cracked down on the Joseph T. Simpson public library’s seed library, is that a number of states are now applying laws meant for big, commercial seed producers to small, citizen-run seed libraries. According to SELC, “in order to give out member-donated seeds, the Simpson Seed Library would have to put around 400 seeds of each variety through impractical seed testing procedures in order to determine quality, germination rate, and so on.” The concern among seed activists is that seed libraries (about 300 in the U.S.) will be regulated out of existence if this trend continues.

“The goal [of seed sharing],” says Thapar, “is to preserve and promote genetic diversity by having people grow tons of different plants all over the place rather than having one single crop being grown on a massive scale that becomes more and more susceptible to a shock to the system and it will be harder and harder to recover from.” He adds, “It represents a strategy that we have to follow if we want to develop a more resilient agricultural system.”

For the Save Seed Sharing campaign, SELC is partnering with Shareable, Richmond Grows, several other organizations including Seed Matters, SeedSavers Exchange, and concerned citizens. The campaign is designed to educate people about seed sharing issues, support seed sharing communities, and reform overzealous seed laws. The campaign goals are:

The tactics to be taken for the campaign are as follows:

Key resources for the campaign are an online petition urging state officials to protect seed libraries from inappropriate regulation; an in-the-works guide to seed libraries that will include best practices, how to start a seed library, how to introduce people to the concept of seed libraries, and how to train seed librarians and library users; and a set of policy recommendations for people to use to change seed laws and engage city and state officials in supporting seed libraries.

For Thapar, the best case scenario for the campaign is to gather 10,000 signatures on the Save Seed Sharing petition; pass laws in at least two states this year that amend the seed law to support seed libraries and explicitly exempt seed libraries from seed laws; and that other states look to those laws as models and incorporate the changes into their state seed laws. Ultimately, what he would like is that this becomes the new standard for what a seed law is and that the amended draft gets put into the Revised Seed Law, a model bill that the Association of American Seed Control Officials creates.

“If we could get an explicit exemption in there,” says Thapar, “that would really have a lot of effect in terms of protection and the stability that seed sharing would have moving forward.”

Please sign the petition today to help protect seed sharing in the U.S.


Posted in Campaigns, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Food and Agriculture, Open Content, P2P Collaboration, Peer Property, Sharing | No Comments »

Four bets on change that will come in 2015

photo of David de Ugarte

David de Ugarte
17th January 2015


  1. Bruce Sterling said back in 2002 that the new political movements that would reflect the social changes that were taking shape with the start of the century would have “passion for the vote.” In the English-speaking world, we had an advance this year with Loomio, and in our cultural surroundings, with the release of the code of Democracia OS. But things are already moving politically and socially with the founding of Podemos and the debates on how to create mass online participation.Bet 1 2015 will be the year hundreds of municipalities start up the first systems of citizen co-government using the Internet.

  3. We began 2014 with mandatory single servings of olive oil, a law that sought transfer rents from small producers and restaurants to oil multinationals. The cherry on top of the electric reform was to make us pay big electric companies for the solar energy we produced ourselves, and we closed 2014 with the AEDE tax and the government saying that “the Government created the legislation just the way the editors of the mass media proposed it.” In 2015, things will be clear even to the most blind: the only future project Big Business is capable of in our day is trying to capture more and more rents through the State. Imagination is only useful for feeding a self-interested nationalism in which, at best, innovation means that multinationals get grants to compete against the young and the innovative.Bet 2 With this narrative and this political collusion, Big Business will become even more unpopular in 2015. The startup narrative will go from an uninspiring media mantra to being denounced as pure and simple speculation in jobs.

  5. In contrast, the technological revolution is moving more than ever. If it doesn’t seem to fascinate the major media any more, that’s because what interests them and what they support are technologies that recentralize power, especially economic power. They give the cold shoulder, and sometimes bared fangs, to new technologies and social practices that redistribute power. But, even though there’s no hype, these things are unstoppable. With the pioneers of the direct economy maturing and opening factories in the middle of industrial desertification, the idea of crisis of scale will become part of social debate, and industrial policies driven by citizen participation will focus on new models of production.Bet 3 If last year was the year of collaborative consumption, this will be the year of the emergence of a direct economy that brings the industrial world closer to the P2P mode of production.

  7. In an environment of alternative reflections and P2P movements, if in 2014 the rise of Syriza and Podemos served to show that a change of scene was starting to happen in Europe, 2015, with the forseeable electoral triumphs of “new Left,” will bring the focus back towards what that scenario allows. The P2P Foundation will go into greater depth with its “Open Coop” model with allies like the CIC and its own interpretation of the phyle, initiatives born at the periphery of the Anglo-Saxon world like Enspiral and Sensorica wll turn platform models that serve as an interface between the market and hacker networks and SMEs into a “replicable system.” Meanwhile, our own, dear An?ovoligo will continue growing and organizing networks and activities after its debut last October.Bet 4 In 2015, the topic among activists and researchers of P2P and other alternative models will not be theoretical debate, but rather in the practical organization of networks and little transnational “clusters” of cooperatives and P2P collectives with a view to creating a space productive of their own, a phyle. We will likely see — and have — big slip-ups and many attempts that come to nothing, but also the first seeds of a new kind of networks that are able to “take care of” their members beyond sporadic solidarity.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)


Posted in Collective Intelligence, Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, Economy and Business, Open Innovation, Original Content, P2P Business Models, P2P Collaboration, P2P Lifestyles | No Comments »

Julia Reda: Correcting Copywrongs

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
14th January 2015

On Monday Jan 12th we featured an article from TorrentFreak by Rick Falkvinge “In Europe, Pirates Are Writing The Copyright Law” in which Falkvinge discusses the success of the Pirate Party movement and in particular the work of MEP Julia Read.

Today we feature a comprehensive talk on the state of EU copyright reform by Julia Read which took place at 31c3.

Julia Reda -

After years of debate, EU copyright law is finally being revisited. The Commission will present a proposal for reform within 4 months of 31c3. And it’s high time: There has never been a bigger discrepancy between the technical feasibility to share information and knowledge across all physical borders and the legal restrictions to actually do so. This talk outlines the unique opportunity and the challenge to bring copyright into the 21st century that lies in front of us. Hackers ensured that people were heard during last winter’s public consultation. Can they now also ensure a progressive outcome of the reform process?

See also – https://juliareda.eu/en/


Posted in Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, P2P Movements, Politics | No Comments »

In Europe, Pirates Are Writing The Copyright Law

photo of Kevin Flanagan

Kevin Flanagan
12th January 2015

By / Source: TorrentFreak

Julia Reda - Piratenpartei

Strangely unreported by mainstream media, there is a major revision of the copyright monopoly underway in the European Union. And the person in charge, Julia Reda, is a Pirate Party representative. The tide is turning.

For years – nay, for decades – net activists and freedom-of-speech activists have been fighting against the copyright industry’s corrupt initiatives. In country after country, the copyright industry was practically calling out for mail-order legislation, and receiving it every time.

The collateral damage to liberties has been immense, and has spilled far outside the net. In the US, people are complaining that copyright monopoly law is now unintentionally preventing them to modify items they legally own, such as cars or games consoles. They’re absolutely wrong: that was the exact intention with the most recent round of revisions to copyright monopoly law – to limit property rights and to lock people out of their own possessions. (The copyright monopoly is, and has always been, a limitation on property rights.)

Further, that collateral damage includes making messengers (“intermediaries”) liable for any damages caused by a message they carry, unless they immediately take sites offline – which they would of course rather do, rather than risking immense lawsuits. The messenger immunity was gutted around the turn of the century, by the EUCD and the DMCA alike. “Notice-and-takedown” has been abused by everybody and their corporate brother, up to and including the oil company Neste Oil who attacked a Greenpeace protest site by threatening the Internet provider of Greenpeace, thereby killing the protest site.

As activists fought – and won! – against software patent monopolies in Europe in 2005, it became clear that we couldn’t fight one bad thing after another, never having the initiative, always being on the defense against onslaught from corporate mail-order legislation. For every exhausting victory, there were nine bad laws being passed in the shadows. We had to go on the offense. We had to aspire to write the law ourselves, keeping corporate lobbyists firmly out of any corrupt influence.

On January 1, 2006, I founded the Swedish and first Pirate Party. It’s now on its tenth year, and on its second term in the European Parliament. This term, that European Parliament is revising the copyright monopoly – definitely once, possibly twice. It starts out by evaluating what works and what doesn’t with the current set of laws on the matter. And the rapporteur for that dossier – meaning “the person writing the actual legislative document” – is Julia Reda, representative for the Pirate Party from Germany.

Let’s take that again: a Pirate Party representative is writing the European Union’s official evaluation of the copyright monopoly, and listing a set of necessary changes.

In 2006, did I imagine that a pirate would be writing the European Parliament’s official evaluation of how well the copyright monopoly has worked – and what needs to be changed – in the European Union, the world’s largest economy? No, I didn’t, to be honest. But neither did I expect that the Pirate Party representatives would manage to get “three strikes” schemes outlawed across all of Europe in 2009, or take a radical reform proposal (allowing file-sharing and more) into the political mainstream in 2012. When you open the floodgates of the unrepresented, things can apparently happen fast.

Now, just because it’s a pirate writing the legislative document, that doesn’t mean that document is going to pass a vote in the European Parliament no matter what it contains. It needs to be negotiated to get majority support, as usual and as appropriate in a parliamentary democracy. The first of those votes is in the Legal Affairs committee on April 16, and the vote in the European Parliament as a whole is on May 20. So pirates aren’t “in charge”; democracy is, as it should be.

But the initiative has shifted. It is no longer solely initiated by mail-order lobbyists for corrupt incumbents who gladly sacrifice civil liberties and the entire Internet to preserve an unjust and immoral lucrative monopoly. For the first time, legislation on the matter is initiated by net liberty activists.

This shift of the initiative was what we set out to accomplish ten years ago. I think it went faster than most people had expected.

This article is CC licensed – http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/


Posted in Copyright/IP, Culture & Ideas, P2P Movements, P2P Public Policy, Politics | No Comments »

Gongkai, the Chinese ‘reciprocal’ way of sharing IP, one of the factors of their industrial success ?

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
3rd January 2015

Excerpted from “Bunnie”:

“About a year and a half ago, I wrote about a $12 “Gongkai” cell phone (pictured above) that I stumbled across in the markets of Shenzhen, China. My most striking impression was that Chinese entrepreneurs had relatively unfettered access to cutting-edge technology, enabling start-ups to innovate while bootstrapping. Meanwhile, Western entrepreneurs often find themselves trapped in a spiderweb of IP frameworks, spending more money on lawyers than on tooling. Further investigation taught me that the Chinese have a parallel system of traditions and ethics around sharing IP, which lead me to coin the term “gongkai”. This is deliberately not the Chinese word for “Open Source”, because that word (kaiyuan) refers to openness in a Western-style IP framework, which this not. Gongkai is more a reference to the fact that copyrighted documents, sometimes labeled “confidential” and “proprietary”, are made known to the public and shared overtly, but not necessarily according to the letter of the law. However, this copying isn’t a one-way flow of value, as it would be in the case of copied movies or music. Rather, these documents are the knowledge base needed to build a phone using the copyright owner’s chips, and as such, this sharing of documents helps to promote the sales of their chips. There is ultimately, if you will, a quid-pro-quo between the copyright holders and the copiers.

Western vs Chinese vision of shared IP

This fuzzy, gray relationship between companies and entrepreneurs is just one manifestation of a much broader cultural gap between the East and the West. The West has a “broadcast” view of IP and ownership: good ideas and innovation are credited to a clearly specified set of authors or inventors, and society pays them a royalty for their initiative and good works. China has a “network” view of IP and ownership: the far-sight necessary to create good ideas and innovations is attained by standing on the shoulders of others, and as such there is a network of people who trade these ideas as favors among each other. In a system with such a loose attitude toward IP, sharing with the network is necessary as tomorrow it could be your friend standing on your shoulders, and you’ll be looking to them for favors. This is unlike the West, where rule of law enables IP to be amassed over a long period of time, creating impenetrable monopoly positions. It’s good for the guys on top, but tough for the upstarts.

This brings us to the situation we have today: Apple and Google are building amazing phones of outstanding quality, and start-ups can only hope to build an appcessory for their ecosystem. I’ve reviewed business plans of over a hundred hardware startups by now, and most of them are using overpriced chipsets built using antiquated process technologies as their foundation. I’m no exception to this rule – we use the Freescale i.MX6 for Novena, which is neither the cheapest nor the fastest chip on the market, but it is the one chip where anyone can freely download almost complete documentation and anyone can buy it on Digikey. This parallel constraint of scarce documentation and scarce supply for cutting edge technology forces Western hardware entrepreneurs to look primarily at Arduino, Beaglebone and Raspberry Pi as starting points for their good ideas.

Chinese entrepreneurs, on the other hand, churn out new phones at an almost alarming pace. Phone models change on a seasonal basis. Entrepreneurs experiment all the time, integrating whacky features into phones, such as cigarette lighters, extra-large battery packs (that can be used to charge another phone), huge buttons (for the visually impaired), reduced buttons (to give to children as emergency-call phones), watch form factors, and so forth. This is enabled because very small teams of engineers can obtain complete design packages for working phones – case, board, and firmware – allowing them to fork the design and focus only on the pieces they really care about.

As a hardware engineer, I want that. I want to be able to fork existing cell phone designs. I want to be able to use a 364 MHz 32-bit microcontroller with megabytes of integrated RAM and dozens of peripherals costing $3 in single quantities, instead of a 16 MHz 8-bit microcontroller with a few kilobytes of RAM and a smattering of peripherals costing $6 in single quantities. Unfortunately, queries into getting a Western-licensed EDK for the chips used in the Chinese phones were met with a cold shoulder – our volumes are too small, or we have to enter minimum purchase agreements backed by hundreds of thousands of dollars in a cash deposit; and even then, these EDKs don’t include all the reference material the Chinese get to play with. The datasheets are incomplete and as a result you’re forced to use their proprietary OS ports. It feels like a case of the nice guys finishing last. Can we find a way to still get ahead, yet still play nice?

We did some research into the legal frameworks and challenges around absorbing Gongkai IP into the Western ecosystem, and we believe we’ve found a path to repatriate some of the IP from Gongkai into proper Open Source. However, I must interject with a standard disclaimer: we’re not lawyers, so we’ll tell you our beliefs but don’t construe them as legal advice. Our intention is to exercise our right to reverse engineer in a careful, educated fashion to increase the likelihood that, if push comes to shove, the courts will agree with our actions. However, we also feel that shying away from reverse engineering simply because it’s controversial is a slippery slope: you must exercise your rights to have them. If women didn’t vote and black people sat in the back of the bus because they were afraid of controversy, the US would still be segregated and without universal suffrage.”


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