Sunday, 24 June 2018

New © Provisions Must Not Hamper Software Development & Sharing

Note: The original French version of this op-ed was first published in Le Monde on 22 May. This op-ed has been translated with the authors permission and is being made available under a CC BY 4.0 license .

Software is everywhere. You use it every day to communicate, at work and for entertainment. Software is essential for managing businesses, for advanced research, for the creation and dissemination of knowledge and arts. Our industries, our societies, our culture and even our lives depend on software which today is part of humanity’s heritage.

But software, the engine of the digital transformation, does not come out of nowhere: it is created by humans who write it in a form known as source code and using programming languages. We, developers of software, are authors: copyright protects the source code of the software we create in the same way it protects music, books or films.

As copyright law is of major relevance to us, we are very concerned by the proposed Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. This proposal, which the Council has recently approved, will soon be voted by the European Parliament.

In particular, article 13 of this proposed Directive introduces the obligation, for any platform which permits the sharing of content, to implement automatic content filters. Filters like those that block videos which reuse protected content on YouTube. The stated goal is to prevent the dissemination of works without the permission of creators and thus to guarantee they can ask for payment if they want.

Today, in line with a recent open letter from a 147 European organisations,  which we supported, we want to alert Members of the European Parliament and representatives of Member States on the specific threats this proposal creators for free software and for the entire software industry.

Today most software is built using existing components, developed and distributed on open platforms for collaborative development. As Linux, which is at the heart of 80% of mobile phones, there are millions of software programs built by authors who chose to make them open source. This means anyone can read, study, modify, or have others modify, and redistribute the source code, without any restriction or specific permission.

It is estimated that 80% to 90% of modern computer software comes from such reuse, and suppressing any of those components would have unpredictable consequences. In 2016, the deletion of 11 lines of source code broke millions of websites.

As a result, imposing automatic content filters on those open platforms for collaborative development would threaten the current software production process. It would have major impacts on innovation in our industries and on the competitiveness of our economies.

Free software, also called open source, is the indispensable technological basis which allows for the faster development of most of the software our society needs. Today it is a dynamic economic sector which in France alone generates a turnover of 4.5 Bn Euros, with over 500 companies and 50,000 jobs.

While we understand the worries of certain players in the cultural industries which feel vulnerable in the face of the changes brought by the digital revolution, we must recall that copyright is as much about authors of software as it is about those cultural industry players. This copyright reform must involve consultations with all players concerned by copyright, not just with those in the cultural industries.

We believe it is important to raise the alarm on the threat that the current proposal raises for players in the software industry, and consequently for our entire society. Those threats range from obstacles to the development of new technologies which would result from the blocking of text and data mining (article 3); to the serious obstacle to collaborative software development (article 13) which we analysed in detail here.

This copyright reform has been devised primarily with the interest of cultural industry players in mind and we must avoid major collateral damage from this approach.

A total exclusion of software from the scope of article 13 and the removal of any restrictions to text and data mining (article 3) are an absolute necessity.

Signatories (alphabetical order)

  • Serge Abiteboul, computer scientist, Inria and ENS Paris, French Academy of Sciences
  • Pierre Baudracco, President of the programme of the Paris Open Source Summit 2017 and 2018
  • Laurent Baudart, Secretary General, Syntec Numérique
  • Roberto Di Cosmo, Director of Software Heritage, Professor of computer science, Inria and University Paris Diderot
  • Stefane Fermigier, Co-President of CNLL (National Council of Free Software Enterprises)
  • Philippe Montargès, Co-President of CNLL
  • Pierre Paradinas, President, French Society for Computer Science , Professor CNAM
  • Emmanuelle Roux, Associate Director leChaudron.io et Sc21
  • Cedric Thomas, Director General, OW2

Roberto Di Cosmo is Director of the Software Heritage (INRIA, France) and Professor of Computer Science at the University Paris Diderot