Saving software development from the European copyright reform

On April 15th 2019, the controversial European directive on copyright has been approved by the European Council after being passed in the European Parliament by 348 votes in favor, 274 votes against and 36 abstentions. And it does include the much debated Article 13 (now Article 17).

Even if conceived to be mainly targeted at the "cultural" sector, this directive was written in such a broad way that software development was seriously threatened by it.

Today I have the meager satisfaction to see that one year and half of a hard and exhausting work of explanations and mobilizations, at national and European level, to which I have actively contributed, has led to a clear exclusion formulated in Article 2(6) for

          open source developing and sharing platforms

Saving software development and (re)use ...

This should take out of the scope of the dangerous provisions included in the reform all the platforms we regularly access in our daily activities related to software development and (re)use: not just the developing platforms like GitHub, which have had the intelligence and promptness to mobilize forces to be heard in the debate, but also the sharing platforms that include the much broader galaxy made up of repositories like CRAN, CTAN, npm, Maven or even Docker Hub, distributions like Debian and archives like Software Heritage, for which I ended up having to wear the speech at all levels[1].

It has been a very long journey, and I am very grateful to quite many people and organisations: the FSFE and OFE that were at the forefront of the campaign to save code sharing in the first place, and then Syntec Numerique, CNLL, Sif, OW2, and many bright people that did not hesitate in getting directly involved when we asked for their help.

... should have been much easier that it was!

I cannot hide my regret that the mobilisation of the scientific community on these issues has been uneven to say the least: many voices have been heard about Art. 3 that was threatening AI research and its applications, but there was a deafening silence when it came to protecting the development and reuse of those very software artefacts that are essential for the daily activities of researchers in all disciplines.

Even more shocking, while all of industry nowadays depends on software, only a handful of companies tried to have their voice heard, and Bosch deserves here credit for having quickly understood the issue and given an example that should heve been followed by many big european companies that still today largely ignore that they owe so much to so few.

It is clear to me, looking back at this intense year and a half, that the people that wrote this text and the lobbyists who instigated and supported it had not even remembered that software is governed by copyright law too, and that this directive would therefore have an impact on a very important sector they were not interested in the least.

If software had been excluded from the directive from the start, we could have used our time to much more useful ends.

We need to educate the decision makers

All this only confirms the urgency to educate widely decision makers on the importance of software: it has been ignored for too long, and it is not just a tool.

In this regard, the Paris Call on Software Source Code that results from an intense work with dozens of international personalities is now publicly available, and can be used as a basis to raise awareness among decision makers.

After almost two decades fighting back bad legislation that pops up here and there, threatening the very software development efforts that lie at the heart of our modern societies, I feel that we need to stop running for cover when a new missile is coming, and start making sure our voices are heard before it is launched, and if possible, even before it gets on the drawing board.

Industries, trade associations, researchers and learned societies need to be much more attentive, and more vocal, on the evolution of copyright law, and other legislation that impacts our digital rights.