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Glyn Moody

Glyn Moody's look at all levels of the enterprise open source stack. The blog will look at the organisations that are embracing open source, old and new alike (start-ups welcome), and the communities of users and developers that have formed around them (or not, as the case may be).

European Interoperability Framework v2 - the Great Defeat

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Long-suffering readers of this blog will know that the European Interoperability Framework has occupied me for some time – I wrote about the first version back in 2008, and have been following the twists and turns of the revision process since.

These included the infamous leaked version that redefined "closed" as "nearly open". Now we finally have the final version of EIF v2 - and it's not a pretty sight.

First, in words almost identical to those from that leaked document, we still have this perfectly meaningless definition of openness in section 2.10 of EIF v2:

Within the context of the EIF, openness is the willingness of persons, organisations or other members of a community of interest to share knowledge and to stimulate debate within that community of interest, having as ultimate goal the advancement of knowledge and the use thereof to solve relevant problems. In that sense, openness leads to considerable gains in efficiency.

But even that pap is diluted:

Applying the principle of openness when jointly developing custom-made software systems, European
public administrations generate results that can be interconnected, reused and shared, which also
improves efficiency.

Therefore, European public administrations should aim for openness, taking into account needs,

priorities, legacy, budget, market situation and a number of other factors.

This means that European public administrations don't even need to bother to take account of this meaningless kind of openness anyway, if "legacy" or "a number of other factors" are involved, which pretty much means in every case.

But, some will say, this is just typical bureaucrat-speak found in such official documents, not to be taken too seriously. What we need to do is look at the details. So let's do that:

5.2.1 Specifications, openness and reuse

The level of openness of a formalised specification is an important element in determining the possibility of sharing and reusing software components implementing that specification. This also applies when such components are used for the establishment of new European public services.

If the openness principle is applied in full:

All stakeholders have the same possibility of contributing to the development of the specification and public review is part of the decision-making process;

The specification is available for everybody to study;

Intellectual property rights related to the specification are licensed on FRAND terms or
on a royalty-free basis in a way that allows implementation in both proprietary and open
source software.

The key section is the following:

Intellectual property rights related to the specification are licensed on FRAND terms or on a royalty-free basis in a way that allows implementation in both proprietary and open source software.

This issue of whether FRAND or royalty/restriction-free should be adopted for open standards is one that I've discussed much in recent columns, pointing out that FRAND is not generally compatible with free software implementations. It might seem that the European Commission has come up with a nicely-balanced compromise by specifying that both FRAND and royalty-free are acceptable. But if you think about it, "FRAND or royalty-free" is identical to FRAND, because FRAND includes royalty-free as a stricter subset. The European Commission has simply mentioned "royalty-free" as a sop to those who called for it.

But wait, you might say, doesn't it specify that even FRAND terms must be "in a way that allows implementation in both proprietary and open source software"? It certainly does, but that just means that it must be possible for some type of open source to implement the FRAND standard; it doesn't say that all kinds of open source must be able to.

So, in practice, this means that FRAND standards that shut out GPLv2 software, for example, are perfectly acceptable provided other open source licences – of which there are many – can accommodate them. Once again, the European Commission has adopted wording that seems to address the concerns of the open source community, but which in practice gives FRAND fans exactly what the want: the ability to lock out GPLv2 code – still the bulk of the free software world – while complying with EIFv2.

This is not a matter of nitpicking, or being unreasonable; I am not asking for the earth. In fact, all I am asking for is the exact wording that was used in the first version of the European Interoperability Framework (available from the FSFE I still have a copy, but I can't find it on the European Commission's website – anyone know if it's still there somewhere?):

To attain interoperability in the context of pan-European eGovernment services, guidance needs to focus on open standards. The following are the minimal characteristics that a specification and its attendant documents must have in order to be considered an open standard:

The standard is adopted and will be maintained by a not-for-profit organisation, and its ongoing development occurs on the basis of an open decision-making procedure available to all interested parties (consensus or majority decision etc.).

The standard has been published and the standard specification document is available either freely or at a nominal charge. It must be permissible to all to copy, distribute and use it for no fee or at a nominal fee

The intellectual property – i.e. patents possibly present – of (parts of) the standard is made irrevocably available on a royalty-free basis.

There are no constraints on the re-use of the standard.

As can be seen, this offers an incredibly strong and straightforward statement on open standards, and includes the crucial line: "The intellectual property – i.e. patents possibly present – of (parts of) the standard is made irrevocably available on a royalty-free basis."

The fact that we have moved from pure royalty-free to what is effectively nothing but FRAND is a huge defeat, and I simply do not understand how the Free Software Foundation Europe "welcomes revised European Interoperability Framework" when it represents such a regressive move.

EIF v2 is a victory for the powerful and well-funded lobbyists who have attacked the European Interoperability Framework from the start, just as was predicted at the time. It shows that the European Commission is still pathetically in the thrall of big foreign companies and their proxies: I can't wait for Wikileaks or the new Brussels Leaks to provide us with the details of what exactly happened behind the scenes when EIFv2 was being drawn up.

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