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German Parliamentary Committee Pushes for Open Source Friendly Policy 44

Posted by timothy
from the wouldn't-it-be-nice? dept.
Qedward writes with this except from Computerworld UK: "Germany should change a law to enable public administrations to make their software available as free and open source, a German parliamentary committee has advised. German public administrations currently are not allowed to give away goods, including software, said Jimmy Schulz, a member of Parliament and chairman of the Interoperability, Standards and Free Software Project Group. The current law prohibits governments from being part of the development process in the free software community, he said. 'This is a clear disadvantage because it cuts off all benefits obtained from free software, such as being cost-efficient and state-of-the-art,' he said. Besides a recommendation that the government should explore whether the law can be changed for software, the group also called for the use of open standards in order to make sure that everybody can have access to important information, Schulz said. 'We also called for public administrations in general to make sure that new software is created as platform independent as possible,' he added. While the project group is not in favour of giving priority to one type of software over another, it said in its recommendation to the Parliament earlier this week that free and open source software could be a viable alternative to proprietary software." I think a fair rule is that, barring extraordinary and demonstrated need, all tax dollars for software should go only for the development of software for which source is available gratis to all taxpayers, and that secret-source software makers are free to change to fit this requirement any time they'd like to have their software considered for a bid.
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German Parliamentary Committee Pushes for Open Source Friendly Policy

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Believe it or not, the idea that the government shouldn't give away things has some noble reasoning to it. Not sure of the specific reasoning in Germany, but it might range from avoiding favoritism to the government getting value for the work it produced.

    But like all things, it can lead itself to a less than well-meant outcome.

    • If the government can't give it away then maybe auction it off. Don't auction off the copyright, just auction off a single copy. Then if it is GPL the goverment will have to fulfill its obligation and pay for what it got by posting the source code. Thus posting the source code for free will not be giving anything away, it will be paying a debt.

    • by rioki (1328185)

      It is not about "giving" it away. The government can't make it available in 90% of the cases, period. Why, you ask. Because it is not allowed to interfere with the free market by also participating. So anything that not some super niche product, that technically a private entity could create, the government is not allowed to publish it. They are allowed to build software in house, if the software is not available or cheaper than buying it, but they are not allowed to act as software publisher. True, it is a

      • [...] it is not allowed to interfere with the free market by also participating [...]

        A link to the relevant German law?

        To date, I thought that was pretty unique to USA.

        It is not about "giving" it away.

        My reading is that it's precisely about that: gov't isn't allowed to give stuff away.

        Though I live in Germany, I'm no legal expert and would appreciate a link to the relevant law.

  • In the US... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by girlinatrainingbra (2738457) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @06:02PM (#42620785)
    In the USA, it is possible for public and governmental employees to not only contribute to open source software, but also to have that be part of their particular job.
    .
    ImageJ [wikipedia.org] is a public domain software package [wikipedia.org] developed at the NIH (National INstitute of Health) by Wayne Rasband.
    .
    NIST also has software that is publicly available, though not all of it is "public domain".
    .
    I don't know whether the "public domain" status is used because Gov't entities are not allowed to hold copyright on materials they develop; I know I've seen copyright labels on a lot of NASA products and images and animations. I strongly feel that products developed from our tax dollars ought to be available back to us and between/amongst different governmental departments so as to save us money and development costs.
    • by Trepidity (597)

      NASA images are generally public domain [nasa.gov]; that's why there's a huge pile of them on Wikipedia [wikimedia.org], among other places. There are a few exceptions for stuff created by third-party contractors, though; depending on the terms of the contract, the copyrights might be owned by the contractor. The NASA logo itself is also not in the public domain, so you can't sell knockoff NASA tshirts.

      • by JWW (79176)

        NASA also makes some of its software available as open source.

      • The NASA logo itself is also not in the public domain, so you can't sell knockoff NASA tshirts.

        I'm pretty sure the NASA logo is a trademark, so for making T-Shirts it shouldn't matter at all whether it is in the public domain. You'd still infringe on the trademark.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Copy authored by government employees is the property of the U.S. Government, and is not subject, per se, to copyright law, though there are other laws that restrict the distribution and use of much of it. However, most of what is created by the government is created by contractors. They generally retain copyright and transfer only use rights to the government. We can (and in some times do) get unlimited rights, but the contractors generally extort us for that, as retaining the rights forces us to go back t

    • Re:In the US... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by bmo (77928) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @06:24PM (#42620959)

      >I know I've seen copyright labels on a lot of NASA products and images and animations

      A lot of those were tacked on by third parties.

      There are a few culture thieves (publishers) that have been taking expired copyright/public domain stuff and tacking on a new copyright to it. As if this minimal sweat of the brow is enough to re-copyright.

      --
      BMO

      • Re:In the US... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by tlhIngan (30335) <(ten.frow) (ta) (todhsals)> on Thursday January 17, 2013 @07:21PM (#42621373)

        There are a few culture thieves (publishers) that have been taking expired copyright/public domain stuff and tacking on a new copyright to it. As if this minimal sweat of the brow is enough to re-copyright.

        Actually, it's only the part the publishers add that's copyrighted. If you take a public domain work, and only repackage it, it's actually not under copyright at all, only the repackaged part of it is. If they add a foreword or analysis, that too is copyrighted. But the public domain work is still in public domain and someone could take that work and republish it.

        Of course, publishers don't want you knowing that... so they slap a "All rights reserved. Copyright 2013 blah blah blah" hopin gyou assume it's the entire thing and not whatever value add they put on.

        Otherwise stuff like Project Gutenberg really would have a hard time adding new content as the editions they often use are technically under copyright (because finding an old enough edition is difficult).

  • Requiring a government to "opensource" software is a nice but difficult proposition. The biggest problem I see is this: how can say a Western government justify giving stuff free to Al Qaeda or the Chinese? No, I'm not raising the Beware the Terrorists/Communists argument, simply stating the fact that opensourcing software means that EVERYBODY gets free access to the source, and that includes people outside the political entity. So effectively, you subsidize software development in other countries. Again, t

    • "Requiring a government to "opensource" software is a nice but difficult proposition."

      No, it isn't.

      "The biggest problem I see is this: how can say a Western government justify giving stuff free to Al Qaeda or the Chinese?"

      Simple: they don't. That they can't avoid a third party from giving it away to Al Qaeda doesn't mean they themselves are giving it to Al Qaeda.

      And even then, open source protects *the source code*, not the binaries. Take the GPL as an example: somebody should give you sources only after

      • Nit pick : the requirement to not give the binaries to Al Qaeda would not meed the OSI definition of Open Source software. You're not permitted to add stipulations on who receives sources or what they are used for. If Al Qaeda uses your software to make cluster bombs that drop live kittens packed with C4, that's fair game for Open Source licenses.

        • "Nit pick : the requirement to not give the binaries to Al Qaeda would not meed the OSI definition of Open Source software."

          Probably not. But then again, nitpicking, you don't put the "not for Al-Qaeda" clause in the same contract/license than the software's one and you will be probably in the bright side.

          "You're not permitted to add stipulations on who receives sources or what they are used for."

          But that's a stipulation on the limitations of the second party to third parties. As long as the second party

    • simply stating the fact that opensourcing software means that EVERYBODY gets free access to the source, and that includes people outside the political entity

      Yes, indeed, open sourcing means people "outside the political entity" can get free access to the source. One hopes that they will find it useful for learning something, understanding the benefits of sharing and cooperation, and generally improving their lot in life. Perhaps even you might understand these principles some day.

      • I do understand these principles. For the record I'm against copyright and patents. But I know there are policital realities that make such a stand unfeasible.
        • by terec (2797475)

          What "political reality"? Out of all the silly objections people have raised to FOSS, I have never heard that seriously used in parliament. You're creating an issue that simply hasn't existed before.

  • I think a fair rule is that, barring extraordinary and demonstrated need, all tax dollars for software should go only for the development of software for which source is available gratis to all taxpayers, and that secret-source software makers are free to change to fit this requirement any time they'd like to have their software considered for a bid.

    Requiring this of software developed by the government makes a lot of sense. However the language "considered for a bid" suggests you want this to include all s

    • Re:A Fair Rule (Score:4, Interesting)

      by turbidostato (878842) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @09:22PM (#42622201)

      "While some software (voting machine) should always be open, need ALL software a government uses fit this requirement?"

      A big resounding "YES!"

      Please take the time to read any single open source license. Just to name the most famous two, BSD and GPL, please, read them.

      Imagine we are talking about an ultrasecret software that makes Al Qaeda bosses piss their pants and all [My Beloved Country]'s enemies, past, present or future, surrender on the spot. "Oh, my God! we don't want this to be open source, do we?"

      Well, do we? Now, answer a question to me: being such a software licensed under either GPL or BSD forces the government to give it away to anyone?

      But then, imagine such a software is developed by a contractor and the government forces such a contractor to license it under GPL or BSD. Does such agreement force the contractor to give the software away to anybody else? Does it force the government to give it away to anybody else?

      Just to state the obvious, if you answered "yes" to any of the questions on the paragraphs above, you really need to re-read the GPL and BSD licenses again.

    • Can this fair rule reasonably be extended to engine designs of fighter jets produced by companies in other nations? Let's say Germany needed to buy F-16s. Shouldn't it insist that Lockheed-Martin make public detailed drawings and specs outlining the entire aircraft's design? Of course, the average taxpayer will have no use for it, but then again, the average tax payer will have no use for the source code running the webapp that helps him file his taxes either.
      • I daresay there are far more people who can audit and improve the web-app (and fix bugs that could land you in jail for unintentional tax fraud) than there are people who can improve the design of a fight jet engine.
        And practically everyone who could improve the design of the fighter jet engine is already working for the manufacturer of a fighter jet.

        So your analogy is incredibly flawed.

  • by terec (2797475) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @09:22PM (#42622199)

    Current government policy is downright hostile, this change would make it less so. But I wouldn't characterize the resulting policy as "open source friendly"; at best it would make policy comparable to other European nations.

    Whether this passes remains to be seen. This is just a committee proposal to study the issue; that might be a serious effort, or simply a way of railroading the idea. And industry in Germany is very powerful. They usually don't have to bother with inconveniences like bribery or lobbying, they just say what they want and get it.

  • All tax dollars for software should go only for the development of software for which source is available gratis to all taxpayers, and that secret-source software makers are free to change to fit this requirement any time they'd like to have their software considered for a bid.

    Doing something along these lines is essential to have long term public oversight over government.

    In fact, you need to go a little bit further, and have a requirement not just for the source to be available, but for it to be well-documented, and build-able to exactly produce the binaries being used. Otherwise you'll get people playing all kinds of games with the system, adhering to the letter of the law while massively violating the intent.

    The "well-documented" concept would take some thought to define, bu

  • by Anonymous Coward

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LiMux

    Munich does develop its own Linux distribution. GPL forces them to open source most of their work. I conclude that the news can not be entirely true..

    • by rioki (1328185)

      You miss the point. It is not about the German government not being able to release open source software. The law prohibits the government to enter into competition with private companies, no matter what terms the software is covered. I don't know about LiMux and how they resolved that, maybe employs can contribute to existing open source in limited scope, but not publish new projects.

  • The proposal comes from a parliamentary committee. This means, it has not gone through a legislation process where lobbyists will sink it. The conservative party will sink it, because the idea supports liberal tendencies and the lobby says so, the liberal party will be against it, because it will hurt the established IT companies (or at least be a threat to them, and those might be part of their election force), the social-democrats will kill it, because the conservatives get an increase in votes out of the

  • Look at how long it took Oracle Mysql to get Triggers and Sprocs compared to Oracle and comparing Gimp to PS there is no contest. Though not allowing government to contribute to OS where it make sense is a v bad idea.
    • Oracle MySQL is an awful example: the FLOSS version was always poorly maintained since Sun/Oracle want you to but the comercial version. The development process wan't open either.
      If you want a good comparison of comercial vs open, pick Postgres.

      Also, on the GIMP vs PS side: citation needed.

      • by mjwalshe (1680392)
        um i was comparing Oracle the RDBMS vs MySql - anyone who has used PS and GIMP professionally would agree with me.

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