March 26, 2008

Document Freedom Day is more than a single day

Author: Bruce Byfield

Today marks the first Document Freedom Day. Inspired by Software Freedom Day, which is now is now in its fifth year, DFD is intended as an annual series of grass root events worldwide "to educate the public about the importance of Free Document Formats and Open Standards in general," according to the About page on the DFD Web site. The day is planned not as an end in itself so much as the highlight of year-round efforts, many of which predate DFD itself.

DFD is the inspiration of The ODF Alliance European Action Group, an organization that promotes the use of Open Document Format, a specification first developed for OpenOffice.org that has since become an ISO/IEC standard for office files. The organizers, Ivan Jelic and Marko Milenovic, are Serbian free software activists who are well-known supporters of Free Software Foundation Europe, which is hosting the event site.

Jelic says that DFD is not directly related to the struggle against Microsoft's efforts to have its Office Open XML (OOXML) format become an ISO/IEC standard, although the project's list of open standards makes clear that it does not regard OOXML as an open standard and briefly echoes the major objections to it. Nor, despite DFD's origins, and the emphasis on the site, is the day meant to be entirely about ODF, since the list also includes plain text, Rich Text Format (RTF), and some implementations of Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF).

Similarly, while the site's contents are licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License, Jelic says, "We naturally support all free licenses."

Since first being announced on February 20, DFD has attracted more than 170 grass root teams in 54 countries, as well as support from organizations such as the various Free Software Foundations around the world and companies such as IBM, Red Hat, and Sun Microsystems. The event seems especially popular in South American countries such as Argentina and Brazil, perhaps due to heavy promotion from FSF Latin America.

"I get the impression that the initiative is recognised as a good effort, since all our expectations related to the growth of the community are being exceeded," Jelic says. "We are receiving team registrations almost every day."

The descriptions of the regular teams are sometimes vague enough that they were obviously created specifically for DFD. Others, however, suggest that local members of the free software community are coming out in force for the event. Those involved with DFD so far include local user groups, university student organizations, lawyers with interests in free software law, Software Freedom Day veterans, local environmental co-ops, and more, with connections to groups ranging from Creative Commons and CopyNight, the grassroots organization for copyright reform, to People and Planet, a student activist group in the United Kingdom that recently made free software part of its core issues.

Asked whether this list of supporters might mean that DFD becomes an event that is celebrated only in the free software community and related groups, Jelic replies that the registered teams show an encouraging variety.

"That brings us to a very good starting position for reaching large groups of people," Jelic says, "since DFD actions and events will take place in companies, schools, civil sector, or governmental institutions. According to the feedback I have from the teams, the majority of them is focused on attracting as wide a population as possible."

Jelic also stresses that the project is not intended to be active only in planning events for the last Wednesday in every March. Throughout the rest of the year, he says, "We plan to work on our community and cooperate with other in initiatives and projects. Only a strong and well-connected community is capable of carrying out important activities like open standards promotion and of involving more people and organizations.

"The day itself will be just a productive gathering of a constantly active community," Jelic continues. "This can be considered as one of DFD's principles for functioning, and we will do our best to keep it that way."

It's a little late for this year, but those interested in registering an official team for future DFD activities can read the Team FAQ, then register their team to receive official help and resources.

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