The European Parliament Free Software User Group (EPFSUG) organised an open meeting at the European Parliament on 11 July 2012, entitled “AT4AM for all”, the EP’s Directorate‑General for Innovation and Technological Support having announced that the source code for the Parliament’s Automatic Tool for Amendments may be shared.
This open community, working in cooperation with like-minded groups, assists and informs free software users of the EP, and advocates the use of open standards, ensuring equal access for citizens.
Free Software and Democracy
Computers are ubiquitous. Free software, like AT4AM, is an “instrument of power”, which can be used, studied, modified and redistributed for free by everyone. Karsten Gerloff, President of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) a non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting free software and open standards, strongly emphasised the necessity of free software for democracy and transparency around the world. AT4AM is a key tool to enhance transparency, because citizens could have access both to documents released by the EP and to the whole European legislation-making-process, such as to proceedings or debates. Besides, according to him, citizens have the right to see what their taxes pay for. Free software simplifies public input and citizens’ participation in European politics, an involvement which logically improves democracy and communication throughout the EU. Free software also allows European bodies to reallocate unused public funds directly to European companies.
The European Commission has launched a collaborative platform, Joinup, “helping e-Government professionals share their experience with interoperability solutions, and support them to find, choose, re-use, develop, and implement open source software and semantic interoperability assets”. Moreover different cities have adopted similar projects in recent years: in 2004 Munich launchedLiMux, in 2005 Vienna launched Wienux, and Amsterdam has ‘Open.Amsterdam’, and Zaragoza ‘AZlinux’.
Licensing the European Parliament’s Free Software?
Carlo Piana, FSFE General Counsel and IT lawyer, presented in the second part of the meeting the different legal options to guarantee free use in perpetuity of EP software. After a brief historical introduction starting in the 1940s detailing the principal academic and military uses, he stressed the need to “protect” software by using copyright, patents, or ‘sui generis licences’, which is according to him the most efficient choice. Free Software should be legally licensed in a way that grants: freedom to use the work, freedom to study the work, freedom to copy and share the work with others, and freedom to modify the work and to distribute modified and therefore derivative works. Further to Mr Piana’s recommendations, a solution to ensure those four freedoms would be licensing AT4AM with a strong Copyleft: AGLP v3+, General Public Licence Version 3 (and subsequent versions), combined with EUPL, the European Union Public Licence.
There are now various possibilities for the Automatic Tool for Amendments. The EPSFSUG asks the European Parliament to license AT4AM, so as to improve democratic legitimacy and transparency of the decision-making process, to promote innovation and to spread the use of this free software.