PIRACY CREATES JOBS, FOSS CREATES OPPORTUNITIES
"Piracy creates jobs but free and open source software and open standards create opportunity and entrepreneurs." That was the word from Johannesburg-based Anriette Esterhuysen, executive director of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC). Esterhuysen was speaking at a session during the Internet Governance Forum that ends in Athens, Greece, November 2.
Esterhuysen's comments came as the world of free and open source software (FOSS) is winning new converts in the world of non-governmental organisations. Over the past few months there has been a growing interest among NGOs in the potential of FOSS.
The Netherlands-based TacticalTech.org, after holding two 'source' camps in Africa -- meant to build links between FOSS geeks and non-profit organisations -- has just announced its second such camp in Indonesia in January 2007. The first was held in early 2005 in Bangalore, India.
Others in the non-profit world are also looking at this field. Social Source Commons is an initiative that aims to zero-in on the tools used by NGO campaigners. While this list includes a number of proprietary products for the Windows and Mac platforms, there are a significant number of GNU/Linux tools listed there as well.
Speaking at the IGF this week, Esterhuysen said campaigners and activists increasingly recognise that "alternative" software not only works, but has a lot of potential in terms for organisations because it allows them to share software.
"I think that is a challenge for the IGF as well," said Esterhuysen. "The Internet is a public space and how can we facilitate maximum sharing, maximum creativity, peer production, new models and innovation."
Esterhuysen said that while she had a "lot of respect" for Microsoft's efforts to provide educational content in developing countries, "as long as they copyright and limit the right of teachers and learners in those countries to re-use and change and share that information, then there's very limited value to that. So I think, yes, sharing and openness is absolutely essential if we're going to use the Internet for development," Esterhuysen said.
"As a South African living in South Africa I resent the fact that my government, that has a huge crime-fighting burden, has to spend time and money, my taxpayer money, in prosecuting people who pirate Microsoft software licences." Esterhuysen also challenged the public sector to rethink what the "commons" is about, and what the public domain is in "the world of the internet".
She compared cyberspace to public libraries of the past, saying the internet presents an opportunity where, for example, all scientific research that's publicly funded can be made freely available.
She lent her support to concepts like rethinking copyright, looking for alternatives like the CreativeCommons approach, and more.