After I first wrote about the removal of Free Software from the
Vienna Conclusions and their replacement by a statement in favor of
Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) in my blog under the title "The Vienna Conclusion:
Sponsorship+Politics=Influence" on Wed, 16 November 2005, it found
a lot of echo throughout the past two weeks. As the number of articles
is becoming increasingly unparsable, PJ asked me to do a little
writeup of the entire story and add a bit of background. It'll be my
Before the Conference: To Go or Not to Go?
My first contact with the "UN WSIS Contributory Conference on ICT &
Creativity" June 2-3 2005 in Vienna was the invitation to the
"Digital Rights/Creative Commons" workshop I received by email on Monday,
14 Feb 2005. That was rather unfortunate timing as I had entered a
paper to the world's coolest Free Software conference, the 6th Free
Software Forum (FISL) in Porto Alegre, Brazil around the end of
So I felt obliged to at least give the Free Software Forum
organizers a chance to respond before withdrawing, but response did
not come until Wed, 30 Mar 2005 by which time I already had to make a
decision about going to the UN WSIS contributory conference.
Several reasons influenced that decision: a) the remote possibility
to make people on a high political level understand the significance
of freedom in software as a social regulator, b) the possibility of
proactively working on a good document that could serve as a point of
reference and orientation in the United Nations system, and c) the
very high level of participants from various UN agencies and states,
and the political weight this could give to the outcome of the
Given that none of this would end up being a treaty, or in any way
binding to anyone, this may not seem so much, but that would be
understimating the power of symbols and consensus on which the United
Nations largely rest: Good accounts have been given on how the
unenforceability of human rights does not make their Universal
So what the Vienna Declarations offered was a chance to build a
very high-level vision and common understanding of the digital society
in a forum much less unwieldy than the general assembly of the 191
Member States of the United Nations. This understanding could then
later find its way into other fora, other agencies and eventually even
treaty language in one form or another.
So in short: We came to the conclusion that it would be important
for the Free Software
Foundation Europe to participate to the conference. Matthias
Kirschner then asked the organizers to provide another invitation
to the reception in the federal chancellery of Austria in order to
allow for Karin "kyrah" Kosina, FSFE's Vienna-based
representative, to join me for this pre-conference meeting.
Aside from recommending John Perry Barlow to speak from a critical
artists' point of view and working out the details of travel planning,
this concludes all pre-conference contact with the Vienna
During the Conference: Finding Common Language
The conference itself was very much as expected, many speeches,
many discussions, many conversations in small groups, giving some
My focus was of course the workshop on "Digital Rights/Creative
Commons" with Richard Owens (Director of Copyright E-Commerce,
Technology and Management Division, WIPO), Georg Pleger (Creative
Commons Austria), Peter Rantasa (Managing Director, Music Information
Center Austria) and myself in the panel, chaired by Nii Narku Quaynor
(Chairman and CEO, Network Computer Systems Limited, Republic of
After initial short presentations of each of the panelists to
highlight their perspective on the issues, the discussion was opened
to the people in the audience. According to my memory there were
between 60 and 100 people present.
Mr. Richard Owens participated in his official capacity representing
the United Nations World
Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which is remarkably
unknown given its role: it is one of 16 specialised agencies of the
United Nations and administrates no less than 23 international treaties
dealing with different aspects of limited monopolies, such as
Copyright, Patents, Trademarks.
If you look at the panel composition alone and then take into
account the 60 to 100 people in the audience, it should come as no
surprise that the views expressed were quite divergent at times.
Collating the most significant points into a common text that all
sides can agree to is the role of the rapporteur, in this case Ralf
Bendrath, Chief Editor of the web sites worldsummit2003.org and worldsummit2005.org, who follows and documents the WSIS on behalf of the
After receiving a first draft prepared by Ralf Bendrath that same
day, all panelists gave their comments on the grounds of which a
second draft was prepared. That draft was then accepted consensually
by all the panelists as well as the chair and forwarded to Professor Peter
Bruck, the chair of the conference.
At the closing session of the conference, all output from all the
10 workshops was then assembled under the chapeau that Prof. Peter
Bruck had provided prior to the conference with a Drafting Committee,
and which later saw some modifications based on recommendations from
That process may have been unusual, as the chapeau is usually the
last thing to be drafted, and drafted collaboratively, but there are
no written rules as to how this has to be done, and ultimately it is a
decision of the chair.
Prof. Peter Bruck also emphasised that the entire document, like the
chapeau, should be a "living document" and "work in progress", but it
was not clear what he meant by that: No participant of my workshop had
been involved in the drafting prior to the conference, no participant
had received instructions or information as to how the process would
continue. For that matter: I asked several people at the conference,
they all said they were in the same situation.
As it turned out, I also received no information after the
conference, nor were the specific comments and/or changes brought to
the attention of the workshop participants.
So Where Was Microsoft in All This?
I did not talk to anyone from Microsoft throughout the entire
conference. In fact, I did not even consciously see anyone from
Microsoft, other than their listing in the program for a very central
keynote as one of the main sponsors of the conference and their logos
all over the place.
Despite my expectations, they did not show up in our workshop,
neither did IFPI or any other organisation you'd expect to participate
in this forum.
It is not that I necessarily looked forward to getting into a
public argument with them, but I was ready for it: I am convinced that
we have the better answers and reasoning on our side. We should not
fear to have others challenge them. In fact, I believe that critically
reexamining our arguments is important: How else would we find out
where we might be wrong or where better answers exist?
But Microsoft chose not to participate in the workshop and
not to discuss their arguments in public.
Indeed I was told by not just one, but several of the organizers in
a private and confidential way that Microsoft had protested against my
speaking at the conference to the point of actually threatening to
leave the conference if I spoke. However that may be, this was the
last I heard from the Vienna Conclusions up to the summit in
At the WSIS in Tunis
During the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis,
one of my trips brought me to the Austrian booth in order to pick up
some copies of the Vienna Conclusions to spread and advertise. When
flipping through the text, I was quite shocked to find references to
Free Software removed and a pro-DRM statement inserted in the findings
of the "Digital Rights/Creative Commons" workshop ("To ensure ongoing innovation, Digital Rights Management (DRM)
development and deployment must remain voluntary and market-driven."). Also, references to
the cultural and social significance of software as "digital cultural
technique" were watered down.
After posting my initial blog entry, I sought out Ralf Bendrath to
discuss the situation. Like me, he was outraged: Secretly modifying
agreed-upon language is a breach of all United Nations ground rules
and procedures. And in this case, a text that had the official
acceptance of the UN WIPO agency had been modified without anyone's
knowledge or consent.
This is seriously misrepresenting the outcome of the workshop,
which did for instance discuss Digital Restriction Management (DRM),
but was to the largest part highly critical of it because of the
dangers it presents to human rights and in particular freedom of
Ralf Bendrath and I immediately sought out the Austrian booth, but
Prof. Peter Bruck was nowhere to be found, and the "World Summit Award"
(WSA) celebration of the Vienna Conclusions was about to begin. So we
did not manage to confront him directly.
Several media picked up the story a few days later, though.
Pressure by the Media: Justification Attempts
The response to the first article about the subject by the Austrian
Broadcasting Company ORF was a comment by Prof. Peter Bruck in which he
claimed that the text had been discussed after the conference in a public
As this was the first time I heard of this blogs existence, I was
curious and visited it: In the course of three months, there were
exactly five entries, two of which procedural, and one to another
issue. Of the remaining two, one was by an Austrian parliamentarian
who is (according to the media) also a member of IFPI and owns a PR
company that appears to be commercially linked to IFPI as well as
Microsoft, making the pro-DRM statement.
The other one was by Microsoft, three days before the blog was to
be officially closed according to the procedural notes published on
the blog. In this posting, Microsoft basically denies the existence of
a multi-billion dollar Free Software industry and feels that the
internet is not enough of a success story to consider Free Software a
successful model. I apologise for what seems like irony, but it is
hard to summarise their statement without sounding ironic.
For your comparison: When WIPO held its public online
forum on similar issues from June 1 to 15, 2005 which they hardly
advertised, at all, they received 52,000 visits and 374 comments. This
is 374 comments in 2 weeks compared to 2 comments in 3
These two comments on "Digital Rights/Creative Commons" were both
by extreme pro-monopoly advocates who happened to be either sponsoring
the event (Mr. Lutz, Microsoft) or themselves involved in its drafting
committee (Ms. Felzmann, Cox Orange).
Indeed, it seemed that at no point were the participants informed
about the existence or location of the blog, nor were they informed
about changes in the text they submitted. Mr. Nii Narku Quaynor also
confirmed by email that while he was supposedly chairing this
workshop, he had no idea of the modifications or the process.
Ms. Felzmann made an official statement early on in which she
defended the methodology of the drafting process, pointed out that she
got no money from Microsoft, and also did not represent the interests
of the industry.
Around this time, FSFE's media coordinator, Joachim
Jakobs, found her PR company doing the "Creative and Press Care"
Microsoft co-sponsored conference on digital education for
children with the obligatory Microsoft keynote, which of course
avoided touching on the issue of Free Software in any form. After a
short email exchange, I did not hear from her again.
Prof. Peter Bruck was essentially silent for the first two weeks,
only Mr. Lutz in the name of Microsoft was busy telling journalists
"The Vienna Conclusions document was created through a democratic
feedback process as requested by the committee and stated on the
committee blog. Each and every participant of the conference was
invited to publish contributions, share feedback and offer changes
which facilitated discussion and an open exchange of positions."
(quote from ZDnet UK article), in a statement towards a German
journalist he even called the process "open and democratic".
On Wednesday, 30 November 2005, Prof. Bruck finally broke his
silence to present what he considered proof that all the things that
had been said and written about the manipulations on the Vienna
Declaration were false accusations: a PDF accumulation of seven
emails, some of which had been edited to remove the email addresses or
anonymise the names. According to the accompanying notes by Prof.
Bruck, one of these went to all conference participants on 24 August
2005, containing the URL of the conference blog. One anonymised reply
is attached to support that the mail actually went out, so is a brief
exchange with Ralf Bendrath on 19 September 2005, showing that Ralf
Bendrath apparently didn't know about the blog at the time.
As to myself, I am in the habit of archiving all my incoming
and outgoing mail, and could not find this email, nor did any mail in
my archives before November 2005 contain the URL of the blog. Since
none of the mails were signed, and only made available in PDF with
incomplete headers, anyone could only speculate why that mail never
In any case: a single email containing a URL is an extremely weak
link in the age of spam and spam countermeasures, especially when
dealing with people who receive 1000+ spam attempts and 400+ emails a
Choosing a blog for such a discussion is also a very odd decision
for someone knowledgeable in digital media. Why not use email, which
is the medium that everyone is sure to see and already uses centrally
in their daily work? A public mailing list with public archives to
which all conference participants are being subscribed at the
conference would have seemed much more natural, simple and
Prof. Bruck and Mr. Lutz both strongly defend the process as open,
transparent and democratic. Also, Prof. Bruck makes strong statements
about the relativism of opinion with regard to the statements by
Microsoft, while Mr. Lutz valiantly defends the process in public.
That is hardly surprising, as Microsoft defends a process that
they should bear no formal responsibility for and Prof. Bruck gives
weight to a Microsoft PR statement that was free from factual
arguments and easily disproven.
As to their claims: In order to speak of a transparent process, I
would have expected the organisers of the conference to define and
make public the procedural rules and in particular the decision
procedures before the conference: these should have been put on
a web page, sent to the conference participants by email a week before
the conference, and also have been added on paper to the conference
papers of the conference participants.
The way the blog URL was publicised does not really appear suitable
to ensure an open and transparent process. Setting up the process to
depend on extremely busy experts to check back every day to an empty
blog whether finally someone posted something substantive definitely
is not open.
If a blog is used, one could expect email to be sent to all
participants of a workshop whenever something substantive is posted
about their issues. This did not happen. Blog or no, participants were
not informed of the comments, were not involved in the discussion on
how to incorporate them, and were not informed of the final version,
nor were they given chance to comment on it.
Absolute control of the final document lay with the drafting
committee, which chose to follow the requests by Microsoft and IFPI
entirely. Indeed, Ms. Felzmann as part of the drafting committee and
member of IFPI thus got to decide on the inclusion of her own pro-DRM
No part of the work of the drafting committee was made transparent,
no reasoning for decisions given, no discussion visible. And the
drafting committee was also not elected.
This is clearly not what I would consider an open, transparent and
democratic process. Indeed the rules seemed rather flexible. Although
the blog was to be closed officially on 30 September 2005, according
to the dating on the blog, the pro-DRM comments were made on 5
October 2005 and then quickly inserted in the Vienna Conclusions.
According to some journalists I exchanged email with or spoke to,
Mr. Lutz and Prof. Bruck are both putting extreme pressure on the media
to the point of threatening them with lawsuits. Given the history of
Microsoft PR, and considering that the most recent and most central
headline on the home page of Prof. Bruck is a legal battle with a
newspaper from 1989 until 2002, this does not seem entirely
So maybe some media will soon stop reporting about this, or start
repeating the statements by Mr. Lutz that "it was only about not giving
a one-sided impression of the industry" -- although the original
statement explicitly said that both old and new models would coexist
for the forseeable future and it was only Free Software that was
removed -- or Prof. Bruck that there was no objective truth to the
existance of a multi-billion USD Free Software industry.
In fact, Microsoft still seems to avoid the discussion. When asked
whether I would be willing to do a side-by-side interview with Mr. Lutz
and Prof. Bruck, I immediately agreed. For whatever reason this never
Whether any consequences will follow for any of the involved
parties is unclear, but it is clear that without these manipulations,
the Vienna Conclusions could (and would) have been a very useful
contribution to the global dialog about the digital society.
Now they mainly serve as an example of the current power structures and
their methods. As that, they are again useful, but only if we make
this incident widely known and use it to explain what kind of politics
we do not want and to have an example for the political
influence Microsoft exerts to maintain its monopoly.
As for the Vienna Conclusions themselves: It would be good if the
document were to be restored to its original state, and published
again by the Austrian government. It would be better if the Austrian
government were to commit to a followup that would be organised by a
mixed team, involving people from all sides.
It is not the dialog we fear, but we reject an unequal playing
ground on which the rules are set in a way that all outcomes will
always be biased against Free Software.
In case you wish to read the original sources and follow the events
unfolding, here is a complete link list of the blog entries:
Georg C. F. Greve email@example.com