Web summit focuses on intellectual property

The World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva has had a long and often heated debate over two particularly thorny issues:...

The World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva has had a long and often heated debate over two particularly thorny issues: open software and intellectual property rights.

Georg Greve, president of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) Europe, said that what differentiates free software from open source is the freedom it gives users to modify, distribute and use the software in an unlimited way.

Open source is a term that even Microsoft is using when it talks about opening its code for governments to view, he said, adding that "Microsoft software is proprietary software".

Earlier language advocating the wide use of open-source software has been toned down in the final draft because of demands by US and European Union government delegates that commercial software interests receive fair representation in the plan.

The language in the endorsed declaration of principles has gone from outright "support" of open-source software to "promoting" an "increased awareness" of the "different software models, including proprietary, open source and free software," he said.

The fact that free software is listed in the final draft in addition to open source is the result of intensive lobbying by several groups, including FSF Europe.

Talks on IPR were a major battle, according to Greve. "I don't know of any group that met more often and argued more intensively than this group," he said. "The US delegation went so far as to invite a group of motion pictures executives to attend a session and argue their case."

To avoid any wording that would undermine existing international IPR accords and efforts by big content holders, the US delegation agreed to "let us squeeze in the word 'free' " in the paragraph on software in return for "a very general statement on intellectual property right protection", Greve said. He referred to the final draft as "a very tender steak that has been beaten for a long time".

"When it comes to software and IPR, I have to admit that we haven't made a quantum leap," Greve said. "But we have taken steps nevertheless in creating an awareness at a very high political level of the need to make software and content more easily available to poorer nations, and that's better than we expected."

John Blau writes for IDG News Service

Read more on IT strategy