The Open Source movement is consistent with a larger democratic proposition that the more that we can all be involved in affairs that concern them, the better off we’ll all be. But sometimes the involvement of some people, whose concern is the maintenance of monopoly and control, doesn’t serve the great good. Glynn Moody uncovers the sinister results that are threatening to emerge from a committee in Europe in a blog posting titled EU Wants to Re-define “Closed” as “Nearly Open”.
I think the EU got it right the first time in 2004, when they said this about open systems:
To attain interoperability in the context of pan-European eGovernment services, guidance needs to focus on open standards. The following are the minimal characteristics that a specification and its attendant documents must have in order to be considered an open standard:
The standard is adopted and will be maintained by a not-for-profit organisation, and its ongoing development occurs on the basis of an open decision-making procedure available to all interested parties (consensus or majority decision etc.).
The standard has been published and the standard specification document is available either freely or at a nominal charge. It must be permissible to all to copy, distribute and use it for no fee or at a nominal fee.
The intellectual property – i.e. patents possibly present – of (parts of) the standard is made irrevocably available on a royalty-free basis.
There are no constraints on the re-use of the standard.
Indeed, that position is tolerably close to what the OSI itself developed as our consensus position on the topic.
According to Glynn’s reporting, the EU wants to switch to this wording:
Within the context of the EIF, openness is the willingness of persons, organisations or other members of a community of interest to share knowledge and to stimulate debate within that community of interest, having as ultimate goal the advancement of knowledge and the use thereof to solve relevant problems. In that sense, openness leads to considerable gains in efficiency.
Which means nothing. If anybody believes it means anything, then I would think that a similar declaration could solve all the world’s problems, for example the use of torture by sovereign governments to extract “information” from its adversaries:
Within the context of the EIF, prohibition of torture is the willingness of persons, organisations or other members of a community of interest to share knowledge and to stimulate debate within that community of interest, having as ultimate goal the advancement of knowledge and the use thereof to solve relevant problems by whatever means necessary.
One can easily see how torture itself could be used as a justification of a non-torture policy. And this is the problem that results from a reduction of openness from an absolute standard to a relative one (and relatively absurd one at that). There are such things as absolutes, and those absolutes have value. The EU should not walk backwards from a position that is not only perfectly serviceable, but also meaningful.