Sean Daly had an opportunity to interview Federico Heinz, Fernanda Weiden and Alexandre Oliva in between sessions at the recent Barcelona GPLv3 conference, that lucky duck.
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Federico Heinz is President of Free Software Foundation Latin America and co-Founder of La Fundación Vía Libre, which has as its subtitle, "Compartiendo la riqueza intelectual" which has a lovely overtone in Spanish. In English, it sounds less evocative, but it's still meaningful: sharing intellectual wealth. I think of it as having an overtone of sharing the riches of the mind. His bio on the GNU Free Software speakers list tells us a bit about him and what that organization, La Fundación Vía Libre, does:
Federico Heinz is a latin-american programmer and Free Software advocate living in Argentina. He is a co-founder of La Fundación Vía Libre , a non-profit organization that promotes the free flow of knowledge as a motor for social progress, and the use and development of Free Software as a powerful tool towards that goal. He has helped legislators such as Argentina's Ing. Dragan, Dr. Conde and Peru's Dr. Villanueva draft and defend legislation demanding the use of Free Software in all areas of public administration.
The Irish Free Software Organization has video of some presentations he's given, if you'd like to see him walk and talk. On that same page you'll find a brief video of Ciaran O'Riordan explaining some of the more significant changes being proposed for GPLv3.
Alexandre Oliva is Secretary of Free Software Foundation Latin America and a Red Hat guy, working in GCC development, as well as being a maintainer of Amanda, Libtool, Autoconf and Automake. Believe it or not, that isn't the complete list. Here's a paper he authored on the competitive advantages of Free Software. How can you not like a guy who lists this on his projects list? -- "DNAcode: A joke program that converts DNA sequences from/to base64 and plain text."
Fernanda Weiden is the founder of Projeto Software Livre Mulheres , she is on the Administrative Council of Free Software Foundation Latin America, and she is a member of International Free Software Forum, or FISL, the organization that does the FISL conferences in Latin America every year. You'll perhaps remember her from an article she wrote for Groklaw on "Women in Free Software."
So, now you know who is speaking. I think you'll enjoy the roundtable conversation about events in Latin America regarding Free Software and various laws there either in place or contemplated. A good section of the discussion centers on whether or not the GPL should be translated into other languages and if so how -- as official GPL translations or not. Fernanda also has some interesting comments on women in Free Software.
As you know, the various GPLv3 conferences being held around the world are to discuss possible changes to the GPL, most particularly because of a perceived need to make sure it functions well internationally. As you will see from the discussion, it's complex. The Free Software Foundation will have both video and audio available of this Barcelona conference on its website soon, if you're interested but couldn't attend. Audio and video and some transcripts of earlier conferences are there now. Because the process of editing the GPL is being conducted in public, it's helpful to have all the proceedings available so we can all think. You can comment yourself here.
Enjoy! And my greetings to all three. Federico: thank you for your greeting at the end. It's lovely to know one's work is appreciated. Y muchísimas gracias por compartir sus riquezas intelectuales! Please write something for Groklaw. That invitation is open to all of you. Let us know about events in your neck of the woods. Wherever that turns out to be in your lives, I know it will be a more interesting place because you folks are there.
Sean Daly: OK, I'm seated around the table with three colleagues in the Free Software movement. Perhaps you could introduce yourselves?
Alexandre Oliva: OK, I'm Alexandre Oliva. I'm Brazilian. I'm secretary in FSFLA, the Free Software Foundation Latin America.
Federico Heinz: My name is Federico Heinz. I am president of the Free Software Foundation Latin America and also of La Fundación Vía Libre, which is an Argentine organization also working for Free Software.
Fernanda Weiden: And I'm Fernanda Weiden. I'm founder of Projeto Software Livre Mulheres (Women's Free Software Project) in Brazil, and I'm also a member of the organization responsible for the biggest Free Software conference in Latin America, which is the International Free Software Forum, FISL.
Federico Heinz: A great conference.
Alexandre Oliva: And she was one of the founding members in FSFLA.
Federico Heinz: Yeah.
Sean Daly: Great. Well, I wanted to sit around the table with you because we were speaking earlier about some situations particular to Latin America, and to Brazil in particular, a law that was passed, I believe, in one of the southern states and I believe, Federico, you were also talking about a context where the government was favorable to Free Software. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about that?
Federico Heinz: Well, actually, Brazil was one of the first movers in this issue, years ago, particularly the state of Rio Grande do Sul, in terms of passing a law demanding that the state use exclusively Free Software.
This is something that has been happening over the last few years in Latin America where many public administrations have been required to use Free Software by law. Right now, there are several laws to that effect which are active, which have been lobbied actually mostly by grassroots organizations. There are some in Uruguay, in local administrations in Uruguay; there are some in some cities in Brazil; there are also some in Argentine provinces and in some municipalities; and there have been numerous projects, bill projects, being pushed in Latin America around this issue.
One that gained quite a lot of attention some time ago was that of Congressman Villanueva of Peru who was pushing for a bill like that to be passed in Peru and had a very interesting mail conversation with a company who used the American Embassy as a messenger to tell the Peruvian government that it was a bad move not to want to buy their products any more. And, well, there has been quite a lot of movement there.
Venezuela also has a law to that effect right now, too. And this is something that has been misconstrued in the press lots of times as being, you know, like Free Software wanting to have special treatment, or something like that, and it's not actually a Free Software thing, demanding for these laws, but it's actually legislators realizing that the public administration cannot fulfill its mission if it tries to do data processing using proprietary software.
Sean Daly: Why is that?
Federico Heinz: That is because when the public administration does data processing -- and that's pretty much most of what a public administration does -- it is doing so on behalf of the citizen. It is data that does not belong to the state itself -- it's data that belongs to the citizen. And the state has been entrusted by force -- I mean, the citizen is forced to entrust the state with the processing of their data.
So, when you look at proprietary software -- software which you cannot use for whatever purpose you want, but which you can use only for specific purposes, or which you cannot study to find out what it exactly does, and if you find out that it doesn't do what you want to do, you cannot change it to do what you want to do, when you realize it's software that does not allow you to deploy it anywhere you want, or even do widespread deployment among citizens and stuff like that, when you realize that you are even teaching the citizens that doing that is acceptable, it is an unacceptable bargain. Then you realize that the state is actually relinquishing control of the data the users have entrusted them. And they are actually betraying the citizen's trust.
And so, it is not a matter of whether it's better software or not. It's not a matter of whether it's technically more secure or not. It's just a matter of control, of sovereignty. (Difficult word.) And that is why these laws have been pushed and passed.
There are some questions as to how well they have been passed. This bill that has been passed in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, for instance, has been unfortunately written by people who really, probably don't really quite grasp the whole idea. And they mixed up their terminology, and they ended up with a definition of Free Software which actually doesn't include lots of Free Software and probably does include some nonfree software, and so it is actually not effective. And it's kind of hard to defend that particular piece of legislation. But not -- this legislation is being attacked on constitutional grounds, saying this is not something the state should legislate on. And if this law is to be amended, which we happen to think it should, it's not because it's not -- it's not something on which it should be legislated, but because it should be legislated better.
Sean Daly: It's poorly implemented.
Federico Heinz: It's poorly implemented. Exactly.
Sean Daly: So, sovereignty was one of the key issues behind the Massachusetts initiative. Are the governments in Latin America aware of what Massachusetts is doing?
Federico Heinz: Most government officials I talk with are aware of what's happening in Massachusetts. Both Argentina and Peru and Brazil ...
Alexandre Oliva: The Brazilian National Institute of Technology has just joined the ODF ...
Federico Heinz: ... Alliance, I think it is.
Alexandre Oliva: Alliance. So, yeah. They are very aware of the issues and running in the same direction.
Federico Heinz: I know the Argentine National Office of Information Technology was in touch, in close touch with Peter Quinn when he was doing his job in Massachusetts, and I don't know how things have worked out since then, but they are aware, I'm pretty sure, and also in most other countries.
Fernanda Weiden: I just wanted to point [out] something that -- differently [from] what Federico just said, the law in Rio Grande do Sul is not giving exclusivity to Free Software. It says that Free Software is the preference of the government and we have -- that's not the only law because this is happening in state level, not [at] federal level. So what happened is that multiple states and cities actually are making new projects of law, and some of them were already approved also, with the same kind of contact and actually based on the Rio Grande do Sul law. And they have the same problems, because it was built upon that first law. So, a problem like -- we have to fix this one, but the problem is bigger because we will have to fix multiple laws and multiple -- in different states and that will be really hard work.
Federico Heinz: A different thing -- something that may have been different in Brazil and in the Peruvian and Argentine cases and some others, was that the bill that was introduced by Congressman Villanueva was actually written by community members interacting over an e-mail list and we actually got into contact with, originally with Congressman Dragan in Argentina. We wrote this draft bill for him, and we did it just throwing ideas around and interacting with them and drafting and redrafting, and, well, this was taking us quite a long -- quite a popular model for this kind of legislation all over Latin America. And it even found its way into the FLOSS world study by the European Union in the year 2000, or something like that, as a recommended legislation for all of the European Union. 2002. [PJ: Free/Libre and Open Source Software:Survey and Study, FLOSS,Deliverable D18: FINAL REPORT.]
Sean Daly: Alexandre, I wanted to ask you -- you've been a GNU developer for more than a decade at this point.
Alexandre Oliva: True.
Sean Daly: How many years, are you keeping track? 13?
Alexandre Oliva: I think I started in 1993. That was -- if I remember correctly, that was when I started working on my Amanda backup project, which was my first official Free Software project. I had been involved with using Free Software for two or three years longer, but this was the first development effort.
Sean Daly: Well, I was looking at the list of what you've worked on and after about the 20th thing I gave up trying to remember them all. [laughter]
Alexandre Oliva: Yeah, I've been in a number of different places. Lately, I've settled down on mostly tool chain components like compiler, assembler, linker, debugger, C libraries, some C++ libraries.
Sean Daly: These are fundamental tools for Free Software.
Alexandre Oliva: Yeah, pretty much.
Sean Daly: How do you see the arrival of the GPL 3? A positive initiative? An initiative that will create as many problems as it solves? What's your point of view?
Alexandre Oliva: It's a great move, because it's not a big move. It is a very small set of changes.
Sean Daly: It's an evolution.
Alexandre Oliva: Yeah, it's a small patch [laughter]. It happens to be one of those big patches that rewrite most of the code and rearrange -- it's kind of a refactoring, if you will, but it does address a number of small points, although very important ones, in clarifying, mainly, a number of issues, and in adding a few new requirements that were found to be necessary to preserve the freedoms that GPL version 2 was designed to preserve.
Sean Daly: OK. Here's a question for the three of you that I'll throw out, and a hard question -- Richard Stallman and Eben Moglen have confirmed that it's a hard question. It's the question of translations of the GPL
3 license. What's your point of view about the language of the license?
Fernanda Weiden: Can I start? Well, what I know about copyright law is like how it works in Brazil, and from my experience talking now with people in Europe, and the GPLv3 discussions, I realize that many countries have the same system.
But in Brazil, a license is a contract. And it's a contract between two parties. And when you -- in the GPLv2 for instance, when you used the software, you accepted the license. So you accepted the contract. And the contract was in English.
So -- like -- there was no case that -- of a person who accepted the GPL and said, "I didn't accept, I couldn't understand that"; and mainly, the problems we have with the GPL violations are from companies, and the enforcement is always the other way around, you know? It's like the copyright holder asking the person who violated the license to step back, and usually that happens in Brazil -- we have cases in which that happened with an Internet provider.
So, I think that the work that has to be done with the GPLv3 is like, if we have a demand for that, then we have to care about it, but creating different versions in different languages for the license to have the same legal meaning that it has in English is writing different licenses and it's increasing the problem, multiplying it by the times -- by the number of different languages you have in the license.
And in Germany, we already have a case of GPL enforcement, people were trying to say [the] GPL is not valid. [PJ: See this article.] And the guy who was the judge in the case, he accepted [the GPL] and he based the decision on the English text of the GPL. So, we have a -- we don't have any precedent of a disaster but we already have one of a good solution that was valid. So I don't think we have a lot to worry about that. If some case demands a translation, because the people want to understand better what is happening, then in this case, I think, the FSF would advise the people involved to make it specifically for that case, but not try to create solutions for problems that [don't] exist.
Federico Heinz: That's essentially very wise. It's -- there's also the issue that it is actually very, very, very hard to violate the GPL. I mean, for most users, violating the GPL is completely a nonissue. Most users don't modify the software. Most users don't -- they may pass it along unmodified, but most of them don't create a different product out of it and try to publish it in a proprietary way. You'd need lots of infrastructure in order to do that. You'd need to be practically a company, you need to have a sales channel, you need to have lots of things. And if you have that, you're a company.
And if you are a company, you have legal advice. Companies do. Even if we were to go down the path of licenses being a contract, which Eben told us yesterday, what the fine difference between a license, a contract and a unilateral permission such as the licenses. But if we were to go down that path of there being a contract, it's very hard for a company to actually say, "Hey, I actually entered -- I knew there was some agreement, and I didn't know what it meant, and so I accepted it, but I didn't know what it was." It's not something that anybody would actually believe; it's not a credible defense.
So, as a matter of fact, the issue that the GPL is being enforced, and that...not only that, but the GPL very, very rarely sees a court, is actually testimony not of its weakness but of its strength, because nobody dares challenge it. Nobody dares to challenge it in English. And so "if it ain't broken, don't fix it". Because trying to create localized versions of the license would even -- would even require some engineering in order to make it compatible with the GPL. Because it's a different license if it's in another language. So, it's something we shouldn't rush into.
Alexandre Oliva: I have - if you don't mind --
Sean Daly: Yes.
Alexandre Oliva: There is one point about the contract / not a contract issue. Brazilian lawyers say it is a "beneficial contract". That means that if you don't accept the license, then by default, there is nothing you can do. I mean, you cannot run the program, you cannot modify it, you cannot distribute it.
Fernanda Weiden: Version 3, you can run. You can use the product without accepting...
Alexandre Oliva: If you do not accept the license, then the license doesn't mean anything for you.
Fernanda Weiden: Oh, yeah.
Alexandre Oliva: So, by default, by copyright law, you cannot do anything. The only permission that you have to do these things is the license. So only by accepting the license can you actually perform these acts. You have no other obligations. I mean, you do not have to pay or do anything in order to obtain these permissions. What the GPL demands is that you remain faithful to the requirements when you pass the program on, you offer the same freedoms.
Sean Daly: The four freedoms. [PJ: See What Is Free Software?.]
Alexandre Oliva: As for translations, for some Brazilian lawyers, there's not an agreement about that, but some of them say that for the government to use or even to publish software under certain licenses, it must be in the official language, which is Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese. So there is not a general agreement about that, and in fact a number of programs are being released under the GNU GPL version 2 or above in Brazil by the government.
Some lawyers are concerned that this is even unconstitutional to some point, and so they either come up with their own translations or they offer some licenses -- or portrayed as Free Software licenses when sometimes they aren't, but the point at hand is it might be the case that they are right and indeed we need, we would need translations of the GNU GPL for this purpose. Now, how to create these translations and how -- I mean, my stance on translations is that you would not necessarily need the translation to be a license. It is a *translation* of the license. So it has to carry the same meaning such that a person can read it and understand what the original text said; a person, a judge can look at that and say "Oh, OK, I get it." It can be fixed if there are errors in the translation, but it is not the legal text. The legal text is the original.
Sean Daly: I guess that would depend on the legislation of each country.
Alexandre Oliva: Yeah, exactly. I don't know that all the legislations would be suitable for that. I don't even know if the Brazilian legislation would accept that. But I think that most of the demand for translations, at this point, is from users and developers who'd like to understand better the license. So for these, such a translation would be perfectly suitable.
Sean Daly: Let's wrap up. I would just like to ask you a little bit, Fernanda, about women in Free Software. Talk to me about that for a moment.
Fernanda Weiden: In 2003, me and another friend of mine, we got -- we had some problems integrating with normal GNU/Linux Free Software user groups, and actually with female Free Software user groups because of the way they approached the gender issue.
For this reason, we decided that to get -- and this friend of mine, she is working with public relations. She is not a developer, she is not a geek. She is geeky, because she became because of Free Software, but -- however, we decided that this is not the way to get women involved with Free Software. We have to talk with the normal women, because if we get all of the women that are already in the community just to have a friend group, the thing will not evolve from the friend group.
And if your goal -- then we decided to found this project, to work with integrating women from other communities inside the Free Software community through our project. And we have been quite successful doing that because we found that the best way to do or to work together with the feminists and female organizations or groups that were trying to achieve other objectives in the, you know, feminist historical fights, especially Latin American sexual and reproductive rights and stuff like that, and -- but they didn't use -- they weren't using technology to make their work more efficient.
And we managed already to do some really nice projects with different organizations in Brazil and actually with a conference which is the Latin American Feminist Conference that is now, I think, next year will be the 11th conference. So, it's like a huge event that gets all the Latin America feminist movements together. We helped them to set up a website where they could publish online information about what was going on in the conference to be able to share more information with the people that couldn't be there
so they have, like, pictures, and kind of blogs, and everything to publish this information and
spread more knowledge in certain ways.
And we have been working with different organizations doing this same kind of work and also bringing these organizations to tell them the experience they have working with technology and working with Free Software, like why the Free Software was important to them, to a conference that we organize every year along with the International Free Software Forum in Porte Allegre, we get a couple of sessions there. It depends on how much money we have is the number of sessions we have [laughter] usually, but we get these women from other organizations to bring the subjects, you know? How do you deal with that? Why do you think it's important to use Free Software? How do you think you can enable your organization and your group using technology, using Internet as a communication way?
Because today, there are still some groups that only think of the Internet as a very efficient telephone, or something like that, or a newspaper or a TV or everything together, you know? So this is the work we have been doing in Brazil. And every time we are working on a different project we get
two or three
from that organization
participating in our mailing list.
We also have another group that we helped to found in Bolivia, with around 40 women that they have been pretty active in the past times. And we went there to give talks about our project
and they got really excited about it and they said, "Oh, we should do something similar here!" and we said, "OK, let's schedule a meeting!" And then I entered that room and there are 40 people there and I thought "Oh my God, what is that? You know? They really want to do something here, but they just didn't manage to get together and
make it happen." And it was really nice to work on that.
And now, I'm here in Europe, so I'm trying to figure out which are the connections I have to make to become more active in this -- in these gender issues, I would say. Because technology for most women are completely different from what technology means to most men.
I was actually talking yesterday about it with a friend who is participating in the same conference that we are here and
about this thing, he said, "But why, in Free Software, are there fewer women than in proprietary software?", and then I was thinking and -- it's like because a boy he grows up with video games and lots of technological stuff that he associates with fun. And women that are going into the technology field, what the universities still teach in the technology field is work with proprietary software. And women, some of them like me -- I think I am an exception, and there are other exceptions out there -- but for me technology was always related with fun also. And because it was fun,
I decided to work with that
and not the other way around. It doesn't mean that the women don't like what they do in their jobs, but there's a different approach to technology, there's a different connection with technology. And that's what we try to show to
these women, that technology is nice, that can
give them lots of different possibilities that they have today...
Sean Daly: Empowerment.
Fernanda Weiden: Empowerment, yes, that's exactly the word. Because then when they have a daughter, they will show technology
since the beginning to this new person, new woman who in the future can
think that technology is a lot of fun, so I will spend some of my spare time doing things for Free Software or things like that. And I think that's the way to go. Maybe there are other ways, but I found this a good path.
Sean Daly: OK, I want to thank each of you, Alexandre, Federico, and Fernanda.
Alexandre Oliva: Thanks to you.
Federico Heinz: And thanks PJ, I am your greatest fan!
Sean Daly is a Fellow of the Free Software Foundation Europe.
Copyright © 2006 Pamela Jones. Verbatim copying and distribution of this interview (audio and text) in its entirety is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.