January 21, 2004

There's a new open source advocacy group in town

Author: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller

The shiny-new, still beta-level OSAIA (Open Source and Industry Alliance) Web site says the Washington D.C.-based group "represents the interests of the broad array of companies, organizations, and individuals that comprise the open source community. We are our members' eyes, ears and voice in legislative, executive and judicial forums throughout the world." Read on for the (lightly edited) transcript of a recent IM interview with OSAIA spokesbeing (and former USAToday tech reporter) Will Rodger.NewsForge: How long has OSAIA been around?

Rodger: We started working on the idea last spring, but didn't really come out until LinuxWorld San Francisco last year.

NewsForge: What is the relation between OSAIA and CCIA (Computer & Communications Industry Association)?

Rodger: We're affiliates. While we share staff, we definitely have different sets of issues. Copyright, for instance, is very important at CCIA. We look at copyright at OSAIA only to the degree that it affects the open source community.

Another example: Database protection. We're not addressing that within OSAIA, but it's a very important topic with a lot of members of CCIA.

NewsForge: We already have OSI, Linux International, OSDL, and the Free Software Foundation. Why does the world need another open source advocacy group?

Rodger: Well, the world needs one because there's no one else I can think of who is principally involved in promoting the proverbial "level playing field" for open source in Washington. OSI, OSDL, Linux International, and FSF are all great groups, but working within the political process isn't their main focus. We think of ourselves as complimentary to what they do.

Of course, we don't stop at Washington, either. We're really global in focus.

NewsForge: So your target is primarily lobbying?

Rodger: Well, lobbying, but it's more education than anything else. We find if we can get to policy makers early, we can clear up a lot of misperceptions about open source.

NewsForge: What kind of misperceptions do you encounter?

Rodger: The same ones we've heard for a number of years now. "Open source destroys intellectual property" is an objection we've heard raised. Others talk about the "viral nature" of the GPL. Some folks seem to think of open source as something for Marxists. A number of people in Washington have told me they've heard such things. The reality, of course, is there are hordes of meat-eating, market-loving, copyright-holding capitalists out there who love open source for all the reasons you folks do. We start rattling off the companies that have gotten into the sector in a big way and wait for the reaction. It can be interesting!

NewsForge: Do you make many "conversions" when you go through the spiel?

Rodger: To be sure, this is a very new issue for most people in Washington -- in this sense the US is clearly behind the curve. Still, when we lay out the rationale for open source and point out that this used to be the way all software was done, well, you can see them make the connection.

NewsForge: How about opposition? Have you been noticed by Microsoft, their lobbyists, and their sponsored associations?

Rodger: Noticed? For sure. That said, it's not as though there is a lot of open debate on open source. It's more under the radar, just now.

NewsForge: Do you plan to get open source on the radar or is it better to stay in stealth mode at this point when dealing with governments?

Rodger: We're certainly trying to raise awareness, but this remains a very technical issue, so don't look for a massive PR campaign. We're talking to agencies that have a real interest in this, but we're not calling on cabinet secretaries, for instance.

NewsForge: The OSAIA site is -- as you said -- still pretty "beta." What plans do you have for it? What resources will it offer? Who do you expect to come to it, and why?

Rodger: We're still working on the elements, but I thnk it's safe to say it will be a good snapshot of open source policy activity from all over. We want it to be a good place to go for people who want to understand what the issues are.

NewsForge: Who belongs to OSAIA?

Rodger: We're still in the formative stages, so we're not divulging rosters yet.

NewsForge: Is there much crossover with CCIA?

Rodger: Some, not a lot.

NewsForge: CCIA seems to be quite active in patent and copyright issue advocacy, to the point of filing numerous legal briefs both in the U.S. and Europe. Do you foresee OSAIA following a similar path?

Rodger: I imagine we will be active. What we weigh in on and how will depend on what the members want. As you know, there are varying opinions on intellectual property within open source proponents. That said, I think it's safe to say that we would defend the legitimacy of open source licenses, and do so vigorously.

NewsForge: "What members want" seems to be the key phrase here, but you're not divulging the roster. Are your members individuals, companies, or organizations? And who do you expect to join?

Rodger: Companies and organizations are our members. We have a number of very large players from the open source community right now, and expect to get more. The common characteristic that all of them have is support for open source licensing and development methodologies, and agreement with our Statement of Principles. The principles are straightforward and obvious, in many ways, but they assure that when members sign on, they are signing for supporting open source, and not something else they want to call open source.

At some point, we want to get individuals involved, too. We're not sure how we want to work that yet.

NewsForge: How closely do you plan to work with OSDL, which seems to be "the" Linux and open source power organization these days?

Rodger: We'll work as closely as is needed. We've talked to people over there, and obviously they know their business. The more the development community can stand up and be counted, the better off we will all be.

NewsForge: It sounds like you're more interested in the business of open source and how it relates to government than in actual code development. True?

Rodger: The nature of politics is such that agencies, legislatures and courts usually talk to businesspeople about what they do in a very general, high-level way. Yet, we're very interested in what people are doing on the technical end, because, to use Prof. Lessig's old saw, code is code. That is, if the infrastructure permits or forbids certain things, it becomes a law unto itself. We want to insure that developers and users alike retain their freedom to tinker.

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We were a little nonplussed by the group's refusal to name its members. This seemed a very "un-open source" way to behave. Rodger says keeping the membership roster closed until a group reaches "critical mass" is standard procedure among Washington D.C.-based industry organizations. Hmm....

OSAIA is sponsoring a Birds of a Feather session at LinuxWorld. Schedule permitting, NewsForge will be there.

Category:

  • Government
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