Brussels / 2 & 3 February 2013


Interview: Amelia Andersdotter:
The Devil is in the Details

Amelia Andersdotter will give a talk about The Devil is in the Details at FOSDEM 2013

Q: Could you briefly introduce yourself?

My name is Amelia Andersdotter. I work as a Member of the European Parliament in the current legislature on behalf of Piratpartiet, a political party from Sweden which entered into elected assemblies for the first time in 2009. My focus is on information policy topics, loosely defined as those things which affect our communications or the information that we transmit or receive from each other in the course of our day-to-day lives. My goals are to make those communications and interactions to be in the control of the individual as far as possible - I believe society benefits from people interacting and having influence over how and when and with whom they interact and about what. Me and the legal system have some difficulties in this regard reconciliating our ideas on the importance of that individual autonomy.

Q: What will your talk be about, exactly? Why this topic?

It is about the legislation in the European Union affecting free software. Probably it will touch issues that both directly and indirectly affect free software. I hope to integrate some perspectives on the status of political support or reluctance to free software and the implications of that on the policy debates in Brussels and member states.

It’s an interesting topic for FOSDEM for two reasons: many of the visitors are Europeans, and I have followed the conference for a few years and very often legal discussions end up inviting legal teams from large American FOSS projects which of course are interesting, but that deal with jurisdictional issues and considerations that are very unlikely to be relevant for the vast majority of the audience. The interpretation of American laws in American courts simply has no bearing for most European developers, and we can usually disregard them if we are not actively planning to establish our project commercially inside of US borders. So for this reason it’s good if the community as a whole starts thinking of European policy development as relevant and, perhaps even more, influenceable.

The other reason is that I perceive there to be a relatively widespread support for FLOSS models in the European public sector, including in the legislatures. The support is even so large that sometimes we get political reactions and responses that mean to support FLOSS, but actually create harm to FLOSS. Normally the reason is a fear of forced migration in the public sector, or at least this is how I’ve seen it. It also takes time for all levels of the political system to identify all things which may affect FLOSS. The public procurement directive discussed in parliament presently, thus, does not contain really objectives or exceptions for open or free ICT solutions, even though this is clearly a value that should permeate public procurement, and which would be very suitable to include as an option for public sector institutions wanting to go in that direction. But at the local and regional level, even some national governments? The political support is, I deem it, more or less there.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish by giving this talk? What do you expect?

I hope to change the world. This is what I strive to accomplish with every talk. Maybe also I hope that I can contribute with something that I know is important to a lot of people but that many people don’t really know how to unwind or get to grips with.

Q: In what ways is the European Union helping or promoting free software?

The eGovernment projects from the Commission are predominantly open source, although I can’t be completely certain about the licenses. Also software developed by the institutions themselves are released as open source code, mostly. The AT4AM from the European Parliament is a prime example. There is also the JoinUp project from the Commission which collects open source and free software best practices from the member states, and the EC has invested in open platforms for mobile phones (that Nokia-esque project a few years ago) through some budget program. I think there is a fair bit of stuff going on.

Q: Which roadblocks does the European legislation have for free software?

I guess the patent legislation would be a prime example. The software copyright directive of 2009 surely also does no good. There are also lots of things which are sort of hindering free software, but sort of not. The Standards Directive doesn’t set up clear procedures for actually having open, free standards that are available to all developers, for instance. We have problems getting to terms with how to regulate business standard setting organisations in the competition framework, as well as with the fair and reasonable, non-discriminatory licensing. There’s also the problems I already addressed above: that people who may actually be in favour of open solutions try to avoid definitive obligations by inserting safeguards that actually actively harm a cause that the person suggesting it does not technically mind at all.

Q: How are open source developers affected by the EU unitary patent?

This is extremely difficult to anticipate. The EU Unitary Patent is a political hack made to finalize the dossier rather than to make a functioning patent system. If the biggest problem with patent granting and conflict resolution in Europe used to be the jurisdictional issues, they will continue to be the jurisdictional issues. It is unclear who gets to solve which conflict on behalf of whom, and probably we will just see a larger concentration of major multinational companies in those jurisdictions most likely to give them advantageous verdicts. The Netherlands will continue to be an important jurisdiction because they have the ports in Rotterdam and therefore is a prime target for injunctions. The UK also serves in this capacity. Germany and France will be popular injunction markets because they have a lot of potential end-consumers in them so they are good for keeping the allegedly infringing competitor at arm’s length.

What we really need though, always, is for small and medium-sized enterprises who pay license fees even though they have not ascertained that they actually are legally obliged to do so (whether it is because they feel the patent is invalid or because they feel they do not infringe upon the valid patent) to speak up. We lack statistical data on the amount of suffering caused by “grey licensing” in the Union.

Q: Have you enjoyed previous FOSDEM editions?

FOSDEM is always one of my favourite events of the year in Brussels :-) Also ByteNight at #HSBXL is ok!

Creative Commons License
Creative Commons License

This interview is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Belgium License.