June 8, 2001

EuroLinux: How to protest the Hague Convention

Author: JT Smith

- By Grant Gross -

Members of the EuroLinux Alliance are calling on members of the European Open Source community to protest a proposed change in European Union law that could cause the EU to accept U.S. software patents.

Stéfane Fermigier, a leader of AFUL [the French-speaking Linux and Free Software user association], suggested European Open Source software users contact their local members of parliament or members of the EU parliament to object to parts of the proposed Hague Convention. The Hague treaty, which would allow participating countries to recognize each others' jurisdiction in international disputes, would essentially enforce participating countries' patent laws and censorship laws across all countries signing on.

The United States and Canada are also among the members of the Hague Conference, which includes all European Union countries, plus a handful of countries with track records of censorship, including China, Egypt, and Chile. Earlier this week, in an article on NewsForge, Free Software movement founder Richard Stallman raised concerns about the Hague treaty's impact on webmasters' freedom of speech and the potential for widespread recognition of software patents.

The EuroLinux Alliance for a Free Information Infrastructure, a coalition of companies and non-profit associations promoting Open Source software, noted both concerns in a press release Tuesday. But the EuroLinux press release focused on the threat of U.S. copyrights and software patents, which many alliance members think are too easy to get, enforced across the EU member nations.

Of particular concern to EuroLinux is potential enforcement of the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act. From the press release: "A researcher who publishes on a EU server an article on the weaknesses of encryption techniques used in the media industry (ex. CSS, SDMI, etc.) could be sued in the US for infringing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. A US judge could decide that this EU researcher should block
access to its research article to all US citizens."

EuroLinux argues that to enforce such foreign judgments would either "create the conditions for global censorship" or would deny privacy and prohibit encryption methods such as IP tunneling to hide your IP address as countries try to figure out which of their citizens are accessing prohibited materials.

Fermigier, one of several spokespeople for EuroLinux, says Europeans, Americans and others who are worried about the impact of the Hague Convention do have recourse:

Express your concerns to your representative in parliament or congress. Background information to help educate lawmakers is available at petition.eurolinux.org, swpat.ffii.org and pro-innovation.org.

Create or join a working group in your LUG or free software users association, which helps coordinate your efforts with others', Fermigier says.

Join the patents mailing list at AFUL.org for a "lively" discussion between the two sides of the patent debate. The mailing list has helped many people understand the issue better, Fermigier adds.

"Software patents are not just a tremendous problem for the free software community: any IT entrepreneur (including shareware developers) should be concerned," Fermigier says. "Because the free software people have usually the highest level of awareness on that subject, they have to recruit support on other software communities, including the shareware, independent programers and small IT shop associations when they
exist."

Fermigier promises that EuroLinux will keep watching the Hague Convention process. "We found out recently, thanks to an email from Richard Stallman,
that European governments were not fully aware of the potential
consequences of the Hague draft convention," Fermigier writes. "Civil servants from our
ministries of justice have been trying to negotiate a consensus on
foreign judgments execution but seem to have forgotten that it has terrible
consequences on software and on the Internet in general. This is in
part due to the fact that people trained even in the best law schools
usually don't know a lot about things like steganography or IP-tunneling ."

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