[sclug] Pirate Party UK and Free software

John Barron mail at europa.demon.co.uk
Sat Nov 7 22:00:12 UTC 2009

On Saturday 07 November 2009 13:09:48 Alex Butcher wrote:
> I've been following with interest the formation of PPUK policy on your
>  Wiki, especially that with respect to copyright, bearing in mind rms'
>  remarks that the Swedish PP's policy backfires with respect to Free
>  software
> (<http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/pirate-party.html>).

Good to hear you've been interested to follow it - and yes, we've taken this 
concern very seriously, I've had a few email exchanges with RMS a while back, 
and we've been working on incorporating suitable methods to address this into 
our policy.

It's tricky to do right, however, we understand the issue and there are 
excellent principled and pragmatic reasons to address that weakness in the 
Swedish policy. On the other hand, whatever we do has to fit in and make sense 
with regard to the rest of our policy and our proposals for copyright in other 
areas than software, and we want our proposal for free software to be in some 
sense fair and equitable to both open and closed software, and in comparison 
to other works, we wish to avoid making special concessions or giving special 
treatment to _any_ special interest group (even if many of us *do* love free 

> (Presumably) your contribution to the Wiki discussion
> <http://www.pirateparty.org.uk/wiki/Talk:Copyright_Policy_Working_Group>
> mentions that the PPUK's draft policy will address rms' concerns; has the
> draft policy been formulated yet?

Yes - in fairness the wiki was mainly used in the earlier stage of policy 
development, the discussions then moved into the PPUK forums, which I'm afraid 
are members-only. So you are welcome to join in those discussions, direct 
involvement in policy formation is restricted to PPUK members however. You 
will see there our full draft policy, discussions relating, the feedback we 
received from RMS, etc, etc.

However, I don't think I'm spilling any "party secrets" to share a quick 
update on where our policy formation process is at on this area, just bear in 
mind that none of this is official yet and the final manifesto could be different.

Initially we considered in the draft policy the possibility of giving the same 
copyright protection to any software, open or closed, with no difference, but 
requiring that closed vendors place their source code in escrow to be made 
available when copyright expired.

This is clear, and I think there was a consensus that  it was 'in principle' 
sound, and that this would be exactly equitable - older free software could be 
incorporated in closed programs, but any amendments would in time become free, 
and older closed software would become available on the same timescale for 
free use, after the proprietary vendors had enjoyed a limited period of 
exclusive control during which they could earn a reward.

However, there were substantial concerns expressed about the practical 
implications of actually implementating that, and problems which might result. 
The membership therefore rejected the escrow proposal, sending the policy 
group "back to the drawing board".

The alternative suggestion was to give open software a greater duration of 
copyright than closed, which doesn't have the neat equitable balance of the 
escrow options (it's much more a rough-and-ready compromise), however is 
perhaps simpler to implement/administer in the real world. 

So something based on that is in the current draft, to give software where 
source code is released (whatever license) a longer period of protection than 
software released without source code, and which is intended to meet the 
concerns that RMS raised. We would consider other options, I haven't yet seen 
any specific proposals however, and also we'd have to persuade RMS/the FSF it 
was ok... so longer protection for software with source provided is on the 
table at present.

However, I do get some flak on this issue from some PPUK members, who don't see 
a need to treat software/source code differently to any other media, whereas I 
certainly can, in at least two regards. At present it looks like the duration 
we will propose for general copyright (not just software) will be up to a 
maximum of 10 years - that's been reported in the media, so I think it's okay 
for me to mention, again that's not absolutely set in stone yet however.

If you have any views on this, I'd welcome of course any contributions to this 
on the PPUK forums; there is an open forum area, however given that there have 
been extensive internal/member discussions, if any of you are already PPUK 
members or would consider joining then you might want to review those 
discussions and contribute there, rather than comment blind on the open 

OK so I'm just like any other politician, I just want to see more of those 
membership fees rolling in! It's only ?10 for over 21 (?2 for under) however 
if you do sympathise with our overall aims (as, in fact, RMS clearly does), 
and our membership gets direct input as you'll see into our policy formation, 
it's not decided by the executive in a top-down manner.

All the best 

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