Richard Stallman from the Free Software Foundation insisted that his identity photo for his pass into the official WSIS proceedings be taken with him sticking his tongue out! He said he felt that was the appropriate response to the way in which WSIS had treated the issue of Free Software. Stallman was cut short after just 2 minutes in an attempt to get a discussion on Free Software onto the agenda at an official WSIS roundtable on “Creating Digital Opportunities”.
“There are very powerful forces trying to stop the spread of Free Software” Stallman explained to a side meeting at WSIS of 250 people, open to all, not just WSIS delegates, entitled “Free Software, Free Society”.
Earlier in the meeting Professor Lawrence Lessig from CreativeCommons had given a similar assessment concerning the “amazing exclusion of any real debate on intellectual property issues at WSIS”. Lessig insisted that the response to this must be “not to just argue, but to produce real things that break through the intellectual property restrictions that are being imposed”. Lessig paid strong tribute to Stallman's actions in founding the Free Software movement twenty years ago. He described this as a major “movement towards freedom that CreativeCommons, founded last December, was now seeking to carry forward into other areas besides software development.
“All forms of creativity are always about adding to what others have done before,” Lessig insisted, describing present copyright restrictions as contrary to the original purpose of copyright and now representing a major restriction on a free society.
Other speakers described activities that fitted well with Lessig's description of doing “real things”. Of particular note were developments in Brasil, where the government was strongly promoting Free Software and had fought for its inclusion at WSIS. A spokesperson from Brasil said “We know who our enemies are. They are the people who want to take billions of dollars from us. But we also know that digital inclusion must be based on Free Software”.
At the moment, only 8% of the Brasilian population had computer and Internet access. The majority of software being used was pirate software. It would be completely impossible to develop wider access for the very poor population if they had to pay the full price of commercial software. A Brasilian from Sao Paulo described the work that was being done to build digital inclusion for the population there. 120 telecentres, being used by up to 60,000 people, had been set up there using Free Software.
Delegates from South America made a strong appeal to the meeting for solidarity and support for the Brasilian example. They insisted that the Brasilian situation was typical of many developing countries.
Pierre Ouedraogo, representing French speakers from the African Association of Free Software Users, spoke about the central importance of Free Software to creating “digital diversity. If we leave the market to make choices for us it will choose to exclude many of us”, he said.
In his contribution, Stallman posed the question “Can the European Union defy and stand up to the US over software patents? He said that this was in the balance, but “it would be a very significant step for the whole world if they did”.
Report by Chris Bailey for Internet Rights Bulgaria www.socialrights.org. More articles on their site
Lawrence Lessig is in London next month
Bill Thompson reports on WSIS for the BBC
Further BBC WSIS report Nations wrestle with internet age
Richard Stallman reports WSIS
Post event round up The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Jamie Cowling of IPPR writing on openDemocracy