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Open Source United Kingdom News

UK: Open Standards Must Be Restriction Free 90

Posted by samzenpus
from the keeping-it-free dept.
Glyn Moody writes "There has been a big battle in the UK over whether open standards should be Restriction/Royalty-Free (RF) or Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND). That matters, because open source can't in general implement FRAND standards (there are legal hacks that can be applied in a few special circumstances.) First it seemed that RF had the upper hand [.pdf], but later comments from officials cast doubt on that. Now we have the definitive answer from the UK Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude: 'The Government require that their ICT should be built on open standards, wherever possible, to improve competition and avoid lock-in to a particular technology or supplier. Fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) specifications may present some difficulties for the open source software development model in terms of patents and royalties. To deliver a level playing field for both open source and proprietary software, open standards are needed.' Will UK government use of open source finally take off, or is this a hollow victory?"
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UK: Open Standards Must Be Restriction Free

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  • Waiting for the "disallowing proprietary standards will impede innovation!" reply...

    Where are the lobbyists when you kneed (I wish!) them?

    • It does say "wherever possible". If some technology really needs new application protocols or storage specifications then so be it. As long as they are properly documented, I don't see the problem.

    • Was the 'kneed' intentional? I for one would love to knee a few lobbyists.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 12, 2011 @08:15AM (#37375398)

    While both discussions are worthwhile to have.

    Opensource vs closed source and open standards vs proprietary they not the same discussion.

    As archivist I am a full supporter of open standards but don't really care whether my software is opensource or closed... as long as I can still look at my archives in 10-20-50 years.

    • As archivist I am a full supporter of open standards but don't really care whether my software is opensource or closed... as long as I can still look at my archives in 10-20-50 years.

      And how useful is that standard to you if no one can afford to pay for the license required to implement the software to read your archives?

      • If no one can afford to pay for the license required to implement the software then that you break the FRAND as the pricing would not be Fair and Reasonable.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          If no one can afford to pay for the license required to implement the software then that you break the FRAND as the pricing would not be Fair and Reasonable.

          who decides what price is "fair" and what price is "reasonable"? Do I have to take someone to court if it isn't? How mutch time and money will that cost me?

          FRAND is a joke. ban it.

    • by Trepidity (597)

      They're related in this case due to the licensing involved in implementing a standard that includes patented components. Under FRAND licensing, patent-holders pool patents and agree to license them in a uniform way, but not for free. This makes it impossible to distribute software that implements the patents for free, which makes the general way open-source projects are run impossible.

      I suppose it depends in part on what you define as an "open standard" to begin with. Is something really an open standard if

      • They're related in this case due to the licensing involved in implementing a standard that includes patented components. Under FRAND licensing, patent-holders pool patents and agree to license them in a uniform way, but not for free. This makes it impossible to distribute software that implements the patents for free, which makes the general way open-source projects are run impossible.

        Typical terms are: You can use these patents for free to implement this standard, as long as you agree that all your patents can be used for free to implement this standard. This is without doubt fair, cheap, and not compatible with GPL because of the restriction "to implement this standard". The problem is not the cost, the problem us the specific terms in the GPL license. Now of course some people will like terms that are free, cheap and not GPL compatible.

        • by Trepidity (597)

          Typical FRAND licensing doesn't imply royalty-free (that's what "royalty-free" licensing is). It's common to impose a few cents royalty per copy, or something of that sort, with the fee shared out among consortium members. That's how the MPEG standard is managed, for example.

          • by grahammm (9083) *

            In which case they should not include the term 'Non-Discriminatory' in the title as it is blatantly discriminating against implementations (such as open source) which are freely distributable.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      So you do care whether your software is open source or closed. Only the open source software will still be available to you in 50 years. It might be a bit of a PITA to get it back up and running again, but it's possible. It's even more of a PITA to do your own support, but it's possible.

      Proprietary software support can be dropped at any time whenever it is no longer profitable to support, or even if people just feel like it, at which point you're SOL.

    • Opensource and open standards are different things

      But closely intertwined. In particular "open" standards can be divided into two main categories.

      Open and unencumbered standards where anyone can implement the standard without having to sign license agreements or pay royalties.
      Open but encumbered standards where anyone can buy and read a copy but to implement the standard legally you have to sign a patent license agreement and pay license fees.

      Of couse there is the further complication that thanks to how patents work it is impossible to be sure a standard i

      • by BitZtream (692029)

        Open and unencumbered standards where anyone can implement the standard without having to sign license agreements or pay royalties.
        Open but encumbered standards where anyone can buy and read a copy but to implement the standard legally you have to sign a patent license agreement and pay license fees.

        You're confusing Open and Free. You seem to think Open means Free. It does not. Open does not have any relation to fees other than they are fair. 0 fee is fair, and so is $100 billion per copy, as long as its the same for everyone.

        Stop trying to project your agenda on everyone else by using open to mean something it does not. You clearly want 0 cost, so you want free, not open.

        • $100 billion per copy??? If I download that please don't count it as a lost sale. :)
        • I think you're a bit too defensive about this. GP clearly laid out the distinction that there are open standards that are free and those that are not. He then went on to argue that the ones that are free are better, which is the question at stake in this article. You're welcome to disagree with that, but you're going to need an argument to do it, since he laid his views out fairly and clearly.

    • by SkunkPussy (85271)

      Open source software means that if the original developer goes out of business, then somebody else can take it over. Also it means that the software can be ported to whatever devices people use in 50 years, instead of having to keep alive an archaic 2011 PC.

      Open source has huge implications for archiving.

    • by sjames (1099)

      If you give it a bit of thought, you DO care. If the only software that reads a format TODAY is closed and proprietary, will it even exist in 50 years? If you can come up with a copy and an emulator to run it on, can you come up with a license key?

      If your software stack is all Free software, you don't need a key and quite possibly won't need an emulator. The Free nature of the software means you can legally keep copies in any form and format shift and port incrementally.

  • by advocate_one (662832) on Monday September 12, 2011 @08:19AM (#37375414)
    organised by Microsoft and their little weasels subvert this measure... Just ask Brazil about what Microsoft was up to in their fight against .odt usage by Brazilian government departments... Just remember what Microsoft got up to when the State of Massachusetts wanted to mandate open formats for documents... Just watch Microsoft start their little tricks to get OOXML manddated in UK Government because it's an ISO standard... a standard which is impossible to implement by third parties because of the legacy backwards compatibility required by the binary blobs that they were able to get away with and an ISO standard which should never have been accepted in the first place if it hadn't have been for Microsoft's behind the scenes shenanigans in perverting national standards bodies.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      ISO has been proven not to be a standards body.

  • Open ISO.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kulnor (856639) on Monday September 12, 2011 @08:34AM (#37375482)
    A good place to start would be with ISO. Few know that most ISO standards are licensed products: http://www.iso.org/iso/licence_agreement [iso.org] Yes, you technically need to pay if you want to use standard country codes.... *K
    • Re:Open ISO.... (Score:4, Informative)

      by EsbenMoseHansen (731150) on Monday September 12, 2011 @09:01AM (#37375652) Homepage

      No, you are not. You could even compile your own list of country codes (from wikipedia, e.g.), and publish it. What you cannot do is to buy a copy of an ISO standard, and print out 10 copies for your friends.

      But yes, I too wish it wasn't so. That would in practice mean that the price of being a member of ISO for a country would have to rise significantly, with the obvious consequences.

      • by kulnor (856639)
        You're right, thanks for the clarification. But isn't then WIkiPedia doing exactly that? Republishing without licensing? What about all the other web pages listing ISO classifications?
        • You can only copyright an expression of an idea, not the idea itself. So the list of ISO country codes --- not much to copyright there. The format, how the table is set up, perhaps, if it isn't done too generically.

  • by Manip (656104) on Monday September 12, 2011 @08:44AM (#37375562)
    You're asking if Open Source will "take off" in the UK government but last time I checked Linux servers were already heavily used within UK government organisations (although, granted, Windows Server is also).
    • Yup, here in the bosom of the NHS IT programme I can tell you we are using Linux, Apache, PHP, MySQL, Python, Bazaar, Git, Subversion, Trac, Eclipse, etc.

      For internal tooling projects I'll use essentially any open-source licensed code that I can lay my hands on to do the job, rather than shell out for commercial components that inevitably don't quite fit our needs and don't provide great support. To be honest... by the time you go through the utterly barmy procurement process for these things - you could ha

  • by Hatta (162192) on Monday September 12, 2011 @08:55AM (#37375614) Journal

    Why can't open source be fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory? All of those adjectives apply to any open source license better than they apply to any proprietary license.

    • Especially considering software patents are not legal in the UK

      • by dkf (304284)

        Especially considering software patents are not legal in the UK

        Not true! They're legal, but significantly harder to get than in the US.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Because much of open source is discriminatory: If you're dealing with GPL code, there is the restriction that any reuse of that has to be GPL'd (LGPL sorta doesn't have that effect, and BSD obviously doesn't).

      • Except BSD suffers from this issue just as much as GPL. If the 'fair and reasonable' terms say that the producer owes .02 $CURRENCY for each copy made, then I can't put it under a license that allows you to make as many copies as you want without paying the fee.

    • Why can't open source be fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory? All of those adjectives apply to any open source license better than they apply to any proprietary license.

      Yes, but that is not what FRAND means. That term is like The People's Republic of China -- an inversion of meaning. Here is what it actually means:

      Fair -- you pay us as much as we want. That's fair, right?
      Reasonable -- isn't it reasonable to pay us whatever we want?
      And -- there's more coming, so bend over.
      Non-Discriminatory -- we're going to make everyone else pay through the nose, so what makes you so special?

      • Re:FRAND? (Score:4, Informative)

        by jellomizer (103300) on Monday September 12, 2011 @09:36AM (#37375958)

        Fair - We control the standard however we cannot restrict you too much on how you decide to use it.
        Reasonable - The pricing should not be enough to put you in the poor house however you may pay something to compensate for our work
        And - (we need a vowel in our acronym, so it sounds like a word)
        Non-Discriminatory - We cannot make sure that particular groups get advantages while others don't.

        • by wagnerrp (1305589)
          By charging, they are ensuring that larger commercial groups can afford the licenses, while shutting smaller or open source groups out of the market. Anything that is not free is by very definition discriminatory. They're not discriminating based off race or religion, they're discriminating based off wealth.
          • Anything that is not free is by very definition discriminatory.

            Are you being discriminated daily when you're expected to pay for housing, food etc?

            • by wagnerrp (1305589)

              I am being discriminated against by caviar producers. I can't afford to subsist on caviar alone, but that doesn't matter, because there are alternative food sources.

              Now compare that to something like broadcast TV. There is only one form of broadcast TV, as mandated by the FCC. That form requires the use of MPEG2 video and AC3 audio, both of which include patented technology. If I want to produce a piece of software or hardware that can play back broadcast TV, I have no option but to license those techno

              • In cases where this is to be an enforced standard, the standard should either use technologies that are guaranteed to be licensed freely, or the government should seize the patents using eminent domain, compulsory purchase, expropriation, or whatever you want to call it, and release the technology into the public domain.

                I can agree with that. Most certainly, if the government mandates some standard, any expenses associated with it being usable by all members of the public should also be borne by that government - i.e. if it decides to adopt a standard that requires licensing, it should acquire a blanket license for the use of that standard (but only for that country... others can have their own arrangements).

                I don't think eminent domain is needed here, though. It's a simple matter of negotiating with the license holder. If

    • by Karellen (104380)

      FRAND is in respect to the licensing of the standard, not the software.

      If a standard is licensed in a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory way, then the licensor can impose a term such as "you owe the standard author $0.10 for every unit you ship." If that licensing term applies to anyone who wishes to distribute any software that implements the standard, it is fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory.

      However, such a licensing term on the standard, which is still FRAND, makes the standard unimplementable

      • by wagnerrp (1305589)
        It can be fair and reasonable, but it is absolutely discriminatory. As you state, free software cannot afford the licensing, because they are not making any money to offset the license fees. They restricts the field only to commercial players.
        • by Karellen (104380)

          The word discriminatory has a different, more specific, meaning in legal documents - like standards licenses - than the meaning you are ascribing to it.

    • by yacwroy (1558349)

      Does RF imply FRAND?

      Having no restrictions at all is Fair.
      It's also Reasonable to charge nothing (at least from an implementer's perspective, which is what counts here).
      Everybody is charged nothing and not restricted in any way, so it's Non Discriminatory.

      So there's nothing actually bad about FRAND compared to nothing, but RF is at least equally as good (from an implementer's perspective).

      Is that 100% accurate? (I haven't been following this debate).

    • by sjames (1099)

      The open source is, it's just that the FRAND patents are only fair and reasonable for proprietary software.

      For FRAND to be actually FRAND, license fees would need to be a percentage of sale price with no minimum.

  • Open Standards (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ledow (319597) on Monday September 12, 2011 @08:58AM (#37375636) Homepage

    I don't care about open-source so much (despite being a heavy advocate for its use and even contributing myself). That's neither here nor there in terms of government projects and it's hardly likely to make a difference either way.

    But when you define a standard, say a document interoperability format, etc. then you should damn well be able to do what you like to implement it, and shouldn't have to license anything or pay any money to use it.

    I don't care if we standardise on Word 2000 format - so long as there is a way for EVERYONE, even Joe Bloggs who works in government department X and is sick of dealing with the software's inconsistencies, to knock up something that can do a better job because he has a copy of the standard and EVERY POSSIBLE VARIATION that could occur in a file like that. I don't care if he then goes on to leave government, start a company and sells the software he makes back to government - that's just healthy enterprise.

    Schools have a "common transfer format" file for telling other schools which pupils they are sending there. It's a simple standard, works perfectly and everywhere and it doesn't matter one iota what software is on the other end. I've seen the file import straight into large management systems, and hand-edited some of my one to pipe through batch files. The point is that it's either standards-compliant or not. If my utility/application can't handle a standard-compliant format, then it's NOT standards-compliant. If it can, it doesn't matter WHO made it or how much it cost.

    What I care about is that the standard should exist and do what a standard should do - be a definitive, complete, reference to a particular way of doing things that ANYONE can become compliant with. It really wouldn't matter if every dentist in Britain used a different piece of healthcare software (as they no doubt do for finance, PAYE, taxation, etc.) - if they stuck to the standard, it would all just work and then you'd have some true competition to get into dentist's surgeries form software companies.

    Open source is another matter entirely, to do with transparency and code-security (both arguments of which have a point but are really things that matter infinitely less than just giving the locked-in proprietary vendors a kick-up-the-arse by making them deal with standards-compliant competitors).

    Open standards, however, are a no-brainer. The only reason NOT to have an open standard is to give one of the bidders an unfair advantage. That's it.

    • Open source is another matter entirely, to do with transparency and code-security

      More to the point, it's to do with lock-in and long-term support. Open source software is supported as long as you're willing to pay for the support. Proprietary software is supported as long as you are a sufficiently valuable customer for the company not to be able to make more money by ignoring you. If the original provider goes out of business or doesn't want to support your deployment anymore, then with open source you can always get someone else in, and there are big companies like IBM and HP that w

      • by ledow (319597)

        Sorry, that assertion isn't necessarily true.

        If there's only one guy paying for support for package X, it won't be long before the maintainer of package X (the larger / more complex it is, the WORSE) is actually spending more time on fixing it than they are being paid.

        At that point, support becomes incredibly expensive or non-existent. Just because it's open-source doesn't automatically mean that herds of students will turn up to maintain it for you. Though you *should* be able to hire a programmer (at in

        • Don't forget that we're talking about government IT here, not you in your basement. A cheap project costs a couple of million. For that price, you could hire the entire development team of something like OpenOffice.org for a couple of years to work on the features that you need. For smaller things, I can point you to half a dozen small businesses within 20 miles of here that will happily take contracts to add features to or fix bugs in pretty much any open source project that you need - if it's one that
          • The NHS had, until recently, an enterprise-wide license agreement for Office. We employ just shy of 1.2M people. Imagine what could be done for LibreOffice with some small fraction of the cost of a few hundred thousand Office licenses.

        • by sjames (1099)

          Nobody said anything about that support being free, just that you can get it if you're willing to pay a fair price. With proprietary software, that isn't the case. You can easily be in a situation where you're willing to pay many times the fair price and still can't get any support for an EOLed proprietary product. Reasons vary from "we're not doint that anymore", vendor is out of business, or vendor wants everyone to take their next lap on the upgrade treadmill and it's megabucks this time around.

  • This is a vexing problem because not all patent holders participate in the standard making. If a company participates in the standard making, the standard organization has leverage: guarantee that others can use your patents under reasonable conditions, preferably free, or we will not consider your contributions. But if a company does not participate, the standard making organization has no leverage at all.

    Consider for example what happen to Wi-Fi. The IEEE has a fairly detailed patent policy, and the Wi-F

  • The irony in this criticism is that Ordnance Survey isn't open itself, which was the impetus for the creation of OpenStreetMap.

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