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A Group Conversation with Eben Moglen, Part II - page 2

Software as Service and GPL 3

  • May 20, 2007
  • By Brian Proffitt

Question: I wrote a Bill in California which mentions Open Source Software and by that mention it was thought necessary to put in the definition for Open Source. My inclination was to describe the four freedoms and as part of the definition and some people I know and respect said we should refer to the Open Software Institute. So the wording in the Bill actually refers to the OSI definition. Currently the Bill passed--it's working its way through the California State Legislature; that section was amended out recently but it's not done. We're not done. So it may be changed again in June or July but I wonder do you have some thoughts on that?

Moglen: So is the comment on the question--how to define and what phrase to employ?

Question: Well--

Moglen: Look; I mean what happened was as Stallman said a million times, there was a movement out there trying to create free as in freedom in a world of software. And then in the late �90s a bunch of guys said gee, we think we could get more business uptake if we drained a little of the politics out of this... So when you get back into politics how should we describe what we're doing?

Question: Let me just put it this way. If you had occasion that in a Bill that you were involved in that it was necessary to put in a definition about Open Source--would you do it?

Moglen: I wouldn't try to define Open Source Software because I don't think the thing I want the Bill to talk about is what software is like. I think the thing I want the Bill to talk about is what people's rights are like. I like legislation that tells me what people have a right to do.

So I would say for example what do people have a right to do with software that the State acquires? What should people have a right to do with data formats that the State deploys for storage of its public data? What should citizens have a right to expect with respect to technological limitations on their ability to access public data? And if you will permit me to ask a really radical question, what right should citizens expect to have in materials purchased for use in the public education system?

In my judgment, the answer to all those questions are people should be free to use copy, modify, and redistribute the work that their tax dollars go to insuring will exist. When tax dollars are used to create expressive works, in my judgment, tax payers ought to get not just the State's right to use those works; they ought to get the State's right and the right of all the people who live there to copy, modify, and redistribute freely. It seems to me it would make sense for us to ask for that in the deployment of the public [software] because in the 21st Century you can get everything you need on those terms.

If those terms are available for copyrighted works that the State is going to acquire using tax money then those terms are the terms that suppliers ought to be asked to supply because freedom is valuable. See how I would go? I'm not really interested in what the software is called. I'm interested in what people are allowed to do. And I know that that's a good idea because if I don't do it that way somebody is going to come along and insert something else, which talks about what the software is but the people won't get the rights. Because giving the people the rights that they pay for in the public education system, giving the people the rights that they pay for in the software that the State uses, giving people the rights that they pay for in all the public data which is generated, though it seems like a simple idea, is nowhere enforced in the United States because private interests have decided that they should be able to give the States fewer rights than that when our tax dollars are spent and we should refuse to take that deal anymore. That's what I would say, but I'm just speaking as me--not for anybody, not about anybody. If you ask me what I would do that's what I would do.

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