When thinking about the possibilities that could (or would for sure!) open up if (or rather when...) the source code of at4am will become a matter of public debate and exchange among programmers, I cannot but smile and feel filled with hope. Yes, it feels a bit like going on holidays for the summer - I'm really looking forward to it and it will be great and lots of fun!
A big thanks to everybody who has helped preparing and to all who came to the at4am meeting last week. I warmly recommend to watch and listen to the presentations and have a look at the slides and that we can continue the discussion in September!
Karsten opened the meeting with a rather stern reminder that with code comes power comes responsibilities comes fundamental questions on how the EP should shoulder the same. The Rules Of Procedure are clear, as is the mandate to write a report on the EP's use of free software. If there is a way to return to the public what taxpayers already paid for, shouldn't the EP just do that? If the consequences are intended or unintended might matter differently to different people, but with the publication of the at4am source code, lots of high level Treaty language on transparency and democracy suddenly becomes real.
Carlo Piana took a different deep dig into the fundamentals and laid out the legal background of licensing code in the first place. Basically since the legislators agreed on copyright as the framework for programs for computers (notably excluding them from patenting in Europe in 1973), you need to have a license from the author of the code for doing stuff with the software. The normal state of play is that you cannot do much without one, but with the advent of the economic need for sharing, and social desire to share, the "all rights reserved" has turned into different flavours of "some rights reversed". So reversed to the user, through the means of the license, is the freedom to run, to copy, to distribute, to study, to change and to improve the software. With these freedoms, the users (both individually and collectively) control the program and what it does for them.
The Free Software Foundation has been leading the community's work on developing the legal expression of the preservation of these freedoms over the last decades of shifting technical circumstances, and has quite recently concluded how they can be upheld in a server/service environment where users don't run any code on their own machines. This version of the GNU General Public License ("GPL") is called AGPLv3.
Carlo then suggested that it would be important to clarify and express what the upcoming licensing of the source code of at4am wants to achieve. If the goal is to provide an environment where programmers have the freedom to participate in the development of at4am and use the code for any purposes with the limitation that further development must be shared under the same conditions that the code was received, then AGPLv3 is probably the best choice. But if the goal is limited to satisfy calls for transparency and auditing only, then a normal copyright license probably would do the job and the EP would remain the only institution who could run at4am at all.
Carlo also mentioned the EUPL as a possible (yet not equally powerful) alternative, but advised against using it as the only license for at4am as it does not allow re-licensing under AGPLv3. A solution to overcome that incompatibility could be a dual license together with an additional "any later version" clause to both: AGPLv3+ and EUPLv1+. Which license, or combination of licenses, will prevail would then be decided downstream, during the course of the development of the code base and the use thereof.
Finally, the meeting ended with MEPs Amelia Andersdotter and Christian Engström applauding the decisions taken by DG ITEC and the at4am staff so far.
Contribution by Erik Josefsson