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Considerations on Updating the European Commission’s “Open Source Strategy”, Karsten Gerloff Free Software Foundation Europe, December 15, 2014

The European Commission stands to gain significant advantages from allowing its developers and contractors to contribute to outside Free Software projects. By distributing its own programs as Free Software, the Commission can enable the interoperability gains and efficiency savings that come with reuse. Such releases also make valuable assets available to the taxpayers who paid for them, enabling further economic exploitation. Provided that appropriate policies and processes are put in place, neither contributions to outside projects nor the release of programs as Free Software carries any significant risks or downsides for the Commission.

Main considerations related to contributing to external Free Software projects:

  • Allowing the EC’s developers and contractors to contribute to upstream projects currently in use at the Commission is an effective way of ensuring that these programs will suit the Commission’s needs in future. Such contributions will not, as a rule, put the Commission in competition with commercial actors.
  • The first step in enabling developers and contractors to contribute to upstream projects is to clarify who holds copyright in their contributions, and therefore is in a position to decide on the license conditions under which the contribution shall be distributed.
  • To actually enable contributions to outside upstream projects, the EC should publish a statement clarifying that such contributions by Commission staff and contractors are permitted and desired.
  • As a next step, the Commission should create a simple policy for more substantial contributions and other cases where explicit approval is required. This policy should state a clear approval path for contribution requests, along with the maximum time that the requesting developer will have to wait for an answer.
  • Besides making the process of contributing to outside projects as simple as possible, the Commission can incentivise its developers to engage in such contributions by allowing them to include their name in the copyright notice (while copyright remains with the EC).

Main considerations related to the EC releasing programs developed by the EC as Free Software:

  • Software created by or for the European Commission is ultimately funded by European taxpayers. The Commission should make such software available for reuse by default; Free Software licenses provide an efficient mechanism for this.
  • Already now, the EC distributes numerous programs under Free Software licenses, and has gained significant experience in this regard.
  • When distributing its own programs as Free Software, the Commission is free to choosing a license which it considers suitable. If pre-existing Free Software components were used in the project, the EC’s choice of license will have to fulfil the license requirements of those inbound components.
  • The EC would only be liable for defects in programs it distributes if it has maliciously concealed those defects. In practice, it is extremely unlikely that such programs will present a source of liability claims against the Commission.

In addition to these considerations, we recommend that the EC should review its approach to software procurement to take into account best practices that were recently developed, such as the standards and procurement policies issued by the UK government in 2013-14.

Source: Considerations on Updating the European Commission’s “Open Source Strategy”, Karsten Gerloff Free Software Foundation Europe, December 15, 2014

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