EU requesting input: Consumer confidence in digital environment

Ciaran O'Riordan ciaran at
Wed Apr 12 15:13:12 UTC 2006

April 14th is the deadline.  That's Friday.

...these things creep up on you.

IIRC, Roithova was a strong anti-swpat MEP, so there's reason to hope that
something sensible will be tried with the responses to this enquirey.

The enquirey is at:

Here are the questions from the enquirey, and some draft answers.  The
answers are not very good right now, so help with getting them up to FSFE
quality, quickly, would be appreciated.  And initiating the writing a
response in your local or other organisations is recommended if you have not
yet done so.

The questions:

 Q1. What are the main problem areas, which you are confronted with
     generally, or in your field, regarding Consumer Confidence in the
     Digital Environment?

FSFE see three main problems: consumer disablement, Digital Restrictions
Management, and lack of consideration for the public in law making.

1. Consumer disablement

Software that prevents or prohibits computer users from helping themselves
or helping others is the biggest problem.

FSFE has concluded that software users should have the following 4 rights:

1. to run the program, for any purpose
2. to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs
3. to redistribute copies
4. to improve the program, and release your improvements to the publi

We have also concluded that this set must be complete.  Having some of these
freedoms, but not all, is often of no practical use.  Here's why we have
come to these conclusions:

1. Being free to run the software for any purpose is the most basic way in
   which users should have control over their use of software.

2. Being free to study how the program works, means that consumers can know
   what the software does and can make informed decisions.  Being free to
   adapt the software to their needs, by modifying the human-readable form
   of the program (the "source code"), means that consumers can help
   themself by fixing bugs, by customising the software to suit their
   situation, by removing limits, and, in the case of malicious features
   such as spyware and viruses, users can remove harmful parts of the

3. Distributing digital works is childs play.  Sharing is a basic social
   resource which must not be prohibited.  Such a prohibition reduces
   comprehensibility of the law, and respect for the law.

4. Being free to make and distribute improvements is necessary because
   collaboration is necessary in fields as complex as software development.
   No one has the skill or the time to make all the improvements that they
   want, so distribution of improvements is necessary so that improvements
   can be cumulative, and so that improvements can be commissioned by

Software that is free from these fetters is called "Free Software".
Building awareness of Free Software is one of FSFE's primary goals.

2. DRM - Digital Restrictions Management

DRM is technology which specifically tries to increase consumer disablement
by making software which will not do what the user asks and depends on
permission from a third-party to decide what the user is allowed to do.

3. Lack of consideration for the public in law making

Many laws which place restrictions on users of digital technologies seem to
be geared exclusively towards the rightsholding industries' requests. 

It seems not to be taken into account that many areas of the field of
software development and distribution are not the exclusive domain of the
market.  Due to this approach, many software models are discrimated against,
directly and indirectly.

If unreformed or tightened, copyright laws will discredit themselves,
instead of serving their purpose of encouraging development and distribution
of works.

 Q2. What are the key challenges for the IT industry and its users, which
     can be foreseen for the near future generally or particularly in your
     field of competence (especially regarding the Consumer Confidence in
     the Digital Environment)?

The development and implementation of open standards which can be used by
Free Software is an important challenge for the IT industry and it's users.
On this, we would like the European Parliament and European Commission to
take the iniative here and begin a complete shift to using open standards.

(Should I mention something Peter Quinn -related as an example??)

Allowing people to participate in the building and direction of the digital
parts of their environment, as they can when they have the above freedoms,
is crucial.

 Q3. Could you present your opinion on legislative problems (Issues for
     which new legislation is needed or where, on the other hand,
     overregulation and some unnecessary rules should be abolished. Please
     address these questions concerning EU legislation or even those in
     which the national rules apply, and so only better coordination of the
     Member States can be supported)?

Software patents.  The 21 anti-swpat amendments should be used as a base for
legislation with sufficient clarity.

Copyright is currently overregulated. Instead of a rumoured increase of the
copyright protection term, the EU should follow the advice of economists and
significantly shorten the copyright term.  A target considered adequate by
many would be a term of 14 years, renewable once.  This would not do much
harm to rights-holding businesses, while providing society with a much
richer public domain, thus sustainably securing the EU's creative advantage
throughout the 21st century.

 Q4. Because the Internal Market cannot be isolated from the globalized
     market, do you see similar or different problems and challenges at
     international/global level?

These problems are global to an extent, although not evenly.

The issue of software patents is far worse in the USA, for example.  The
harm caused to the internal market there has been strongly confirmed by the
US Federal Trade Commissions' 2003 "Report on Innovation".

There international pressures to increase user disablement (by the reduction
of freedoms), but the EU is big enough not to be bullied by these - that's
the whole point of a union.  For this reason, the EU can be a leader, and
may even be able to help to fix the global problems.

 Q5. In regard to your previous answers, do you see possible legislative

The 21 anti-swpat amendments.

Legislation which affects consumers, and in which development and
distribution is performed by the general public (not just "the market"),
should not be handled by DG Internal Market.

Civil liberties are not an Internal Market issue.  Software development is
an area where citizens can help themselves directly, and in
teams/communities - not just indirectly by participating in the market.

Besides pushing for a Treaty on Access to Knowledge and Technology on an
international level, the EU could put itself at the vanguard of legal
development in user's and consumer's rights. This would generally mean
defining as positive rights what today are only exceptions in copyright
and patent law; eg., a positive right to use copyrighted material for
non-profit educational purposes. This can be achieved in full compliance
with the TRIPS agreement.

A significant first step for those in the hole would be to stop digging. The
EU should withdraw at least its support for the webcasting option in the
proposed WIPO Broadcast Treaty.  Better would be stopping EU support for
said treaty altogether.

The mistake of looking at copyright and patents and trademarks together as a
single issue must be avoided.  Copyright law exists, and it has certain
affects on the public.  Patent law exists, and has different affects on the
public.  These laws, and many others under the umbrella of "intellectual
property", have almost nothing in common in the restrictions they place on
the public.  Considering them collectively can only lead to oversimplistic
outcomes and it is the public that loses every time.

  6. Moreover, could you please share any other ideas which have been raised
     in your mind on Consumer Confidence in the Digital Environment?

Software freedom is key, as defined in the answer to the first question.
When software users have their hands tied, they will always be exploited.

CiarĂ¡n O'Riordan __________________ \ _________ \  GPLv3 and other work supported by \   Fellowship:

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