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Leaked Letter — BSA Pressures Europe To Kill Open Standards 156

Posted by Soulskill
from the open-and-shut-investigation dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Business Software Alliance is trying to kill open standards. Free Software Foundation Europe has gotten hold of a letter in which the BSA tries to bully the European Commission into removing the last traces of support for open standards from its IT recommendations to the public sector. FSFE published the BSA's letter (PDF), and picked apart its arguments one by one."
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Leaked Letter — BSA Pressures Europe To Kill Open Standards

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:28AM (#33923254)

    The documents the BSA is complaining about apparently give preference to "open specifications" that don't have the complication of software patents, that are freely implementable without licensing fees, etc. They aren't saying that software or standards with software patents and licensing fees are excluded from competition, only that the open ones are given preference over ones that aren't.

    It's all about saving money and avoiding unpleasant surprises (patent trolls) after a standard is deployed. What the hell is wrong with that?

    • by Macthorpe (960048) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:30AM (#33923258) Journal

      Don't start being reasonable about it... You'll spoil everyone else's fun.

    • by neumayr (819083)
      Go ask a patent troll.
      • That's part of the answer.

        The other part is that open standards (and open source) have significant advantages: no vendor lock-in, archived material remains accessible (even if you have to write a converter to a newer format - which may well be worth it for government archives), competition between vendors means lower prices (free markets always work better for the buyer), etc.

        • by RockDoctor (15477)

          significant advantages: no vendor lock-in, archived material remains accessible (even if you have to write a converter to a newer format - which may well be worth it for government archives)

          s / government / large /
          i.e. if you've got a large (however you define the length of that piece of elastic string in a variable gravity field) archive, then it may become worthwhile to write your own converter.
          But on the other hand, if the file format "from" and/ or "to" are popular and Open, then there's likely a conver

    • by Carewolf (581105) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:47AM (#33923322) Homepage

      It's all about saving money and avoiding unpleasant surprises (patent trolls) after a standard is deployed. What the hell is wrong with that?

      The international association of patent trolls takes offense at any legal moves that complicates the business of their clients. This is what this article is about.

      • The international association of patent trolls takes offense at any legal moves that complicates the business of their clients.

        Really? I always though it took offense at the moves which simplified the business of their non-clients.

        Generally speaking, big companies love flat per-company costs, since relative to size it hurts small companies the most. Second to that, they love fixed percentage-of-revenue costs, since it amplifies the per-company flat costs (they're bigger relative to the remaining funds). Searching for patents and getting licensed where appropriate seems to be one of these (or a mixture of the two).

        So big companie

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mwvdlee (775178)

      The only difference between an open and a closes specification is that the you usually have to pay patent license fees to implement a closed one. Whether a specification is closed or not does not protect you from patent trolls.

      • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @09:03AM (#33923392)
        However, the EU could easily solve the patent troll issue when it comes to software: they could simply not recognize software patents.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          However, the EU could easily solve the patent troll issue when it comes to software: they could simply not recognize software patents.

          They don't. Why do you think shits like Microsoft and Apple are always paying off European politicians to vote for them. Durrr!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Locutus (9039)
      and proprietary software protects them from patent trolls? what are you smoking? Have you not seen how patent trolls have, in some cases, gone after customers who were using the software and not the company producing the software. Proprietary software does not protect you from software patents. And as far as the open specifications requirements go, these are public entities and public documentation and services. They have 100% rights to try first and foremost to reduce the per user licensing fees they wou
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by dc0de (926325)
      It's not that the BSA is trying to save money, and avoid unpleasant surprises when patent trolls try to patent something. It's about the BSA making money. If you ever tried to buy a BSA Standard, you'll know just what I'm talking about. What is a standard? It is a set of "common sense" collaboration of best practices. If it is created by 50 people who all want to make a standard, and they decide to GIVE it away, then simply put a GPL or GNU license on it. In the doctrine of full disclosure, I'm a publi
    • Yet most of their letter is raising the spectre of problems that may or may not exist. Most of their letter is a red herring.
      1. BSA: Open standards don't require patents which kill innovations. Without people being paid for patents, innovations would never happen.
        FSF: The Internet is an example of an open standard that has helped innovation. The World Wide Web is another.
      2. BSA: Open standards are in opposition to community (European) standards. FRAND is compatible with open source and is compatible with co
    • by MacWiz (665750) <gzieman54@gma i l .com> on Monday October 18, 2010 @12:18AM (#33929044) Journal

      It's all about saving money and avoiding unpleasant surprises (patent trolls) after a standard is deployed. What the hell is wrong with that?

      Uh... While that statement sounds logical on the surface, there's one slight flaw in this "insightful" comment. The members of the BSA ARE the patent trolls.

      http://www.bsa.org/country/BSA%20and%20Members/Our%20Members.aspx [bsa.org]

  • Repugnant (Score:5, Insightful)

    by amanicdroid (1822516) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:32AM (#33923268)
    While it's easy to laugh at optimistic young people that want to "make the world a better place," I have nothing but total disdain and condemnation for those that want to make it worse.

    I'm looking at you BSA and cell phone makers that use weird plugs.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by neumayr (819083)
      Yeah, curse those cellphone makers and their weird plugs! They'll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes!
      • by Noughmad (1044096)

        First they came for the BSA. I did not speak up because I do not hold any software patents.
        Then they came for the makers of cellphones and their weird plugs...

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Then we were all happy, because we could develop libre software and buy generic cell phone chargers?
        • First they came for the BSA. I did not speak up because I do not hold any software patents.
          Then they came for the makers of cellphones and their weird plugs...
          I did not speak up, because I too was tired of a drawer full of chargers.
          Then they came for the ISPs promising fast unlimited connections.
          I did not speak up, because my connection was neither fast or unlimited.

          Now they come for some other shyster hiding behind terms and conditions in ambiguous legalese..

          And I say good on em!

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        I seem to remember that cellphone chargers in the EU have been standardized to use the mini-USB plug and standard.
      • To the uninitiated:

        The phrase "[...] will be first against the wall when the revolution comes" is from HHGTTG (grep through http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_in_The_Hitchhiker's_Guide_to_the_Galaxy [wikipedia.org]).

        Also, its author, Douglas N. Adams, has written a piece in which he complains about "Little dongly things", at http://www.douglasadams.com/dna/980707-03-a.html [douglasadams.com]

        So the parent refers to a geek culture hero in more ways than one.

        (Also, I hear they have a job opening at XKCDexplained.com, and I'm thinking about

        • by RockDoctor (15477)

          To the uninitiated:

          To the uninitiated : be sure of your sources when talking to the uninitiated.

          The phrase "[...] will be first against the wall when the revolution comes" is from HHGTTG (grep through http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_in_The_Hitchhiker's_Guide_to_the_Galaxy [wikipedia.org]).

          When I was listening to that on the radio in it's first broadcast (yes, remember that HHGTTG was first of all a radio series, and it was only the TV series that messed up the colour balance before the books introduced better sound

    • Re:Repugnant (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Twinbee (767046) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @09:35AM (#33923526) Homepage

      Well said. Open source software is one thing, but open standards, (especially when it comes to hardware) is so critical in saving billions of pounds from the scourge of UWS (Unnecessary Work Syndrome).

      I feel that we're 'lucky' to have say, USB as a standard in connectors. It saves an untold amount of time, development and hassle. I think very long and hard before I buy a device these days which doesn't support charging through USB.

      • by hedwards (940851)
        I just wish they'd settle on a particular standard. My old Razr used mini-USB and my Nexus One uses a micro-USB connector, and I've seen ones that use other designs as well. Still better since they frequently package the adapter as a generic USB transformer plus a USB cable of the appropriate type.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by koiransuklaa (1502579)

          micro-USB will be a EU standard in January and it seems this is not just a dead-letter law: All major phone manufacturers have already agreed to go along. EU is a market of half a billion people so in practice this _will_ be a global standard, unless some other major market area starts to actively fight this by standardizing on something else.

          • Taiwan passed the same law a few years ago, because Asians go thru phones like shoes they had stacks and stacks of old chargers and wanted it to end a while ago. The side effect is that all the Taiwanese OEMS have had to switch over anyway and they're not going to make something "just" for export outside Asia, that would be a joke.

    • by alext (29323)
      "I have a dream... a dream that one day a man will be able to buy a television in London and plug it in in Paris"

      Steve Bell ~1983

      • by vbraga (228124)

        Do you know where this quote comes from? I'm trying to find it but I can't.

        • by alext (29323)

          Steve Bell [belltoons.co.uk]

          Hmm he has a web site now, great... should be in there somewhere then! (Look for Lord Young hunched over a desk pronouncing his EU vision).

    • by russotto (537200)

      While it's easy to laugh at optimistic young people that want to "make the world a better place," I have nothing but total disdain and condemnation for those that want to make it worse.

      There's a name for the kind of people who want to make the world worse. It is "successful".

    • As I have gotten older I have lost a lot of interest in Open Source. Seeing it as Astroturf solution to the real problem that specifications need to more open. Source Code isn't really that valuable, the Specification and architecture are. Having the source in time you can come up with the architecture and specifications (if the code is reasonable) however that is the long way around.
      When making applications that can talk to each other and share data open specifications are key.
      I Personally don't care for

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Xtifr (1323)

        And as I've gotten older, my interest in and support for Free/Libre/Open Source has only grown, but my interest in and support for open standards has grown even faster. Thus, ultimately, we agree on the extreme importance of open standards (and the inherent wrongness of the BSA's position on this matter) despite the fact that our opinions on FLOSS are moving in different directions. :)

  • by HangingChad (677530) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:33AM (#33923272) Homepage
    that a specification...is only fully open if "the specification can be freely implemented and shared under different software development approaches."

    That doesn't mean only open source can participate, it means if you're not willing to waive your patent protections your products can't be included in the specs. There's nothing in the rule that prevents closed source from participating except their own short-sighted greed.

    Wow, talk about a sense of entitlement. Change the rules so we can play the way we want to or we're going to take our toys and go home.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      talk about a sense of entitlement

      Should this surprise you? Think about the group of people you are talking about.

  • This rise of stupid patents (to build legal ammunition) makes me think of the rise of stupid research papers (to build academic CV).
  • by selven (1556643) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:34AM (#33923280)

    Any royalty above zero is inherently discriminatory against small companies and startups. The FSF correctly point out that the amount of capital needed to start a software company is very small, so having to pay a royalty on top of that significantly increases the amount of capital needed. This is just an attempt by large companies to maintain their monopolies and prevent competition from even entering the playing field.

    • by neumayr (819083)

      [...]Any royalty above zero is inherently discriminatory against small companies and startups. The FSF correctly point out that the amount of capital needed to start a software company is very small[...]

      Did they? My experience tells me it takes a lot more capital and resources to make good software than what most, especially small, companies invest. Not the point, I know, but I feel that's a grossly misleading claim.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by m509272 (1286764)

        So you are trying to say a company made up of a sole developer cannot make good software? The capital requirement in those scenarios is likely zero as the person that goes this route is likely developing at home, off hours from his "real" job, already has a computer and perhaps the only additional expense is keeping the lights and computer on longer. I also know of a few 2 and 3 person companies that perform in exactly the same manner. So your claim of it being a "grossly misleading claim" is exactly tha

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by neumayr (819083)
          One person companies, maybe. There's more additional cost than you're listing, but overall, you may be right.
          But most commercial software projects take more manpower than one or two or three developers can accomplish, and then you will need a project manager to coordinate them. That's where small companies often fail, just by not being willing to invest in one who actually has any clue about management.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jopsen (885607)

        Did they? My experience tells me it takes a lot more capital and resources to make good software than what most, especially small, companies invest.

        Or talent... Throwing money at software doesn't necessarily make it better...

  • Hope (Score:5, Interesting)

    by should_be_linear (779431) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:40AM (#33923296)
    Lets hope their letter is already correctly tagged "-1 Troll" in EU parliament. Actually BSA has positive side-effect in Europe. Many people, like me, entered politics thanks to assholes like them. I joined Green Party to fight this scum and actually find out that IT-aware "departments" of political parties are quite small, so few informed people can influence not only party politics but also government (if/when that party is in government). Look at German greens, there popularity is skyrocketing. I bet quite few percent are young people pissed by Internet and free SW restricting lobbyist groups. Especially BSA.
  • by erroneus (253617) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:49AM (#33923332) Homepage

    The BSA, just as their brethren the RIAA and MPAA, lie and deceive to press their clients' agenda. Open standards are to the benefit of all and that should be clear and easy to see for even the uninitiated. Open standards are very similar to units of measure in this respect and we can all imagine what things would be like if we didn't operate from the same ones... even worse if a third party controlled the meaning and use of those standards of measure. (weak analogy, I know, but easy enough for the layman to understand)

    • by harvey the nerd (582806) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @09:04AM (#33923398)
      Julius Ceasar mucked about the priesthood's proprietary calendar concession. Look what happened to him. Power elite proprietary rental schemes have a long, long history. Ultimately backed by thuggery.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by dylan_- (1661)

        Julius Ceasar mucked about the priesthood's proprietary calendar concession. Look what happened to him.

        1. Julius Caesar was reckoned to be a direct descendant of Venus, so, as a divinity himself, he was pretty much right at the head of the "priesthood".

        2. There was no "proprietary calendar". There wasn't any kind of useful calendar at all. That's why he needed to create one.

        3. He was killed because some people didn't like his dictatorship and wanted to restore the Republic.

    • Open standards are very similar to units of measure in this respect and we can all imagine what things would be like if we didn't operate from the same ones...

      I can imagine airplanes falling out of the sky. As can Air Canada, if they remember the Gimli Glider incident (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gimli_Glider [wikipedia.org])

      You can also hear Dan Klein tell a story about it (and software testing in general) at http://www.usenix.org/events/usenix05/tech/mp3/klein.mp3 [usenix.org]

  • by cheros (223479) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @09:01AM (#33923386)

    ISO standards are in principle open as well (well, they more or less were until Microsoft showed us just how easy it is to bribe leadership, but I digress). Following the BSA logic, this should prevent competition.

    Just how many different makes of child seats are there? Should we stop this too? And the checking of how secure they are according to OPEN specifications that can be validated for quality?

    These people are *so* blinded by their desire for control that they don't just ignore the collateral damage they cause, they actively don't care. Let's give them the benefit of their idea of "innovation" and send them to live in caves to write their next memo on a stone with a blunt chisel.

    • by cheros (223479) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @09:17AM (#33923466)

      If this is their stance, are we not talking about cartel building? With this sort of letter I would be most curious to know just what other actions have taken place behind the scenes to make that BSA stance reality. Or, in plain English: maybe an anti-trust investigation could well be in order..

    • Open standards are used in practically all industries. Perhaps, the most fundamental is units and measure. While the US differs than the rest of the world in the system that it uses, everyone can agree that everyone using the same definition of "liter" is beneficial. The Internet would have never become what it is if royalties were charged every time someone wanted to send a packet of data whether it was email or web or ftp.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 17, 2010 @09:01AM (#33923388)

    Seldom do profit and "best for country" align.

    The BSA is a sponsored organization - sponsored by payments from commercial software makers. It works on their behalf and in their interests. The BSA also allows the commercial software makers to avoid getting their company shown in a negative light as they fight against anything that would reduce profits for the sponsor companies.

    Open formats reduce profits for commercial software companies because we (our governments) don't need to pay for expensive "consultants" to create integrations. Integrations are where the consulting cash rolls in. Special requests that can be sold over and over again are another way they make money. With free software and open file formats, customers can most easily switch between different softwares and use different vendors against each other. With closed formats, only 1 software can work with the data. That is want the commercial software vendor wants everyone to believe.

    The main issue with open specifications is they don't mandate open file/data formats. That means the details of the implementation can be interpreted by different vendors in very different ways, while still complying with the spec. That basically makes each implementation proprietary and achieves what the commercial software makers want.

    That is not a way for governments - and all of us - to get what we really want.

    • by dAzED1 (33635)

      Seldom do profit and "best for country" align.

      I'm as anti-BSA as one can be without being someone like RMS, but...just playing DA here...profit means a company stays alive longer, which means stability, which means cost-savings of not having to rework everything and retrain everyone...

      now, in an ideal world one would be using open standards so that wouldn't be a problem in the first place...

  • As an end user and computer user I do not want my data held hostage nor do I want what I can do to be more productive with computer, to be falsely constrained.
    I am also very aware just how much the software industry in general applies such hostage situations and false constraints. Open source software has proven itself, the developers of, to be a large improvement in teh direction of users freedom but there is plenty to improve upon, such a development tools and methodologies which allow more end users to a

    • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @09:42AM (#33923556)
      It is fair to point out that the BSA and its member companies operate under an entirely different view of the world than you or I do. In their view of the world, there are two disjoint sets of people: developers, and end users. Developers write software, and end users pay developers to use the software. If a particular team of developers created some software package, the end users are supposed to get their software from that particular team, on whatever terms that team mandates. Open source fits into this by simply allowing lots of developers to collaborate; there is still supposed to be a partition of users and developers.

      The BSA folk have trouble with the very concept of libre software; it is a case of "not getting it." The idea that users can share software with each other is foreign to these people, and it goes against everything they believe is true of software development. They have an easier time with "open source," since at least they can still categorize people in a way that is comfortable to them; but when it comes to software freedom, when it comes to actually prioritizing the rights of non-developers, they have trouble with the very concept. "Open source" is something the BSA can compete with, attack, and so forth, because they can wrap their minds around it; "free software," on the other hand, is too different from the world as they understand it, and the best they can do is write it off as "academic."
      • BSA's Raison d'être is to enforce compliance with commercial software licenses. If all of it's member companies switched to an Open Source model and charged for support, the BSA would still argue against it internally and externally because in that world the BSA is meaningless.
      • The BSA folk have trouble with the very concept of libre software [...] They have an easier time with "open source"

        I suspect they will have a hard time articulating the differences.

        If you want to know what they are, look at the two definitions, by the FSF and OSI, respectively, and compare. They are very minor.

        IIRC, the TeX license is open source but not free software, because it places a restriction on the naming of changed files in redistributed derived works. That's the only example I know. (IANAL, TINLA)

        • The differences are not just in the licensing; there is a broad difference in the philosophy of the two movements. The open source movement is about software development, and the free software movement is about the freedom of software users.

          A good example of the difference is the TiVo issue. For someone who follows the free software philosophy, what TiVo did was wrong; TiVo prevented users from hacking their own devices. On the other hand, there is nothing specifically wrong about TiVo from an open so
  • by gilesjuk (604902) <giles.jones@nospAm.zen.co.uk> on Sunday October 17, 2010 @09:28AM (#33923494)

    http://www.bsa.org/country/BSA%20and%20Members/Our%20Members.aspx [bsa.org]

    Some pretty big players in overpriced hardware and software in there. Adobe, Microsoft and Quark being three who are big players in proprietary document creation software.

  • Wait, fsfe claims "W3C, the standard setting organization (SSO) that governs the Internet standards". Tthe "World Wide Web Consortium" just works on web stuff. The IETF does Internet standards.

  • Just in case ... (Score:3, Informative)

    by mutherhacker (638199) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @10:55AM (#33923932)
    You were wondering who is behind the BSA: Complete list of BSA members [bsa.org]
    • I seriously doubt that it is the COMPLETE list. Only the biggest or those that want their names known.
  • by gweihir (88907) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @11:07AM (#33923986)

    ... are basically enemies of society as a whole. I think it may be time to contain these evil scum permanently.

    • by DAldredge (2353)
      I wasn't aware that by keeping some of the programs I write closed source or that by using proprietary standards that I was worthy of prison.
  • Sometimes I want to stand out of the way and just watch the patent trolls nuke each other out of existence a la Microsoft-Apple-Motorola. While they are busy squabbling like children in a school yard, the free software movement can take the time to do reverse FUD. The Free Software boulder has already begun rolling full steam ahead and I believe there is little anyone can do to quash it! Even if some of of these lizards manage to get a some new closed stuff standardized, free software will simply write a
  • From the TFA:

    In its letter, the BSA argues that "[I]f the EU adopts a preference for royalty/patent-free specifications, this undermines the incentives that firms have to contribute leading-edge innovations to standardization - resulting in less innovative European specifications, and less competitive European products."

    Firms not contributing to standardization will face being irrelevant! Any firm that does not want to contribute to standardization faces less name recognition as well. Had Microsoft opened its Active Directory protocols from the beginning and sought to make it a standard, all kinds of other products with full compatibility would have been produced and Microsoft would be seen as the reference implementation. Microsoft could have charged large amounts of money for developer support and still

  • by gmuslera (3436) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @01:33PM (#33924878) Homepage Journal
    In BSA version, Bilbo get in thru the main door, and handles the dragon a letter where he demand all the gold, and that the dragon tie itself and follow all his orders, no magic involved.
  • I would put more trust in BSA motorcycles, which should never be out after dark, or the Boy Scouts of America than the wretched BSA in question.

    • by vlm (69642)

      Leaked Letter -- BSA Pressures Europe To Kill Open Standards

      I LOLed at that. I saw the Penn and Teller B.S. expose of the boy scouts of america and my first reaction was now those same goofs have messed up the BSA "Computers" badge, heckuva job guys...

  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @05:10PM (#33926280) Homepage Journal

    Despite all the jokes about Belgian nonexistence and French cowardice the European Commission will never capitulate to bullying.

    However flattery, bullshit, and bribery have all been proven to be very effective.

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