You are on page 1of 16

Free Software

Free Data Formats,
an opportunity for Everyone
Paolo Pedaletti:
Copyright (c) 2005 Paolo Pedaletti
ver. 20170817

“First they ignore you,
then they laugh at you,
t h e n t h e y fi g h t y o u ,
then you win”

Mahatma Gandhi
Free Software and Free Data Formats, an opportunity for Everyone Paolo Pedaletti

Index 3
Free Software 4
What is NOT Free 5
Free Data Format 5
Examples of Free Information used 6
Possibility of commercial use of Free 7
Benefits of developing Free 8
Free Software, the value is in the 8
The obstacles to Free 10
The real 13 13 14 15
Economic 15
Data 15
Where were you? 16

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike

You are free:
• to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work
• to Remix — to adapt the work
under the following conditions:
• Attribution. You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor
(but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).
• Share Alike. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting
work only under the same, similar or a compatible license.

Free Software and Free Data Formats, an opportunity for Everyone Paolo Pedaletti

With this document I will try to explain why it's opportune to use Free Software
and Free Data Formats rather than proprietary software/closed formats.1

1 Harmful effects of the lack of freedom:
John Wiley & Sons, a leading publisher of technology books, said Apple Computer has
removed all its titles from the shelves of Apple stores in apparent retaliation for the
upcoming publication of a biography of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. The books disappeared from
Apple stores
Giant Robot Imprisons Parked Cars

Free Software and Free Data Formats, an opportunity for Everyone Paolo Pedaletti

Free Software definition
Free Software is the kind of software distributed with a license that grants
4 fundamental freedom:
1. The Freedom to run the program, for any purpose (Freedom 0)
2. The Freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your
needs (Freedom 1)
Access to the source code is a precondition for this
3. The Freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbour
(freedom 2)
4. The Freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements
to the public, so that the whole community benefits (Freedom 3)
Access to the source code is a precondition for this

Fig. 1: General scheme on the relationship between differences of main software licenses:

Free Software and Free Data Formats, an opportunity for Everyone Paolo Pedaletti

What is NOT Free Software
Just to clearyfy2:
It's NOT a technology
A technology manages the study of the production process, not how the final
product must be distributed (not with which license)
It's NOT a development model
A development model is a set of rules that describes how to project and write
software. Free Software can be developed in many different ways (by one single
person, by a team of fans, by a company, by people that don't know each other, in
asynchronous mode, hierarchic, …). The development model does not deal with the
rules of use and freedoms granted to the end user.

Free Data Format definition
A free file format is a file format that is both3
1) published so that anyone can read and study it in its entirety and
2) not encumbered by any copyrights, patents, trademarks or other restrictions
so that anyone may use it at no monetary cost for any desired purpose

How is it possible to base a commercial activity on software (or data formats) with
such freedom?

2 Chapter added after reading Francesco Potorti' 2010/12/01 posted on

Free Software and Free Data Formats, an opportunity for Everyone Paolo Pedaletti

Examples of Free Information used commercially
The economic/commercial exploitation of free information is not a novelty of the
computer era4:
• The laws are freely accessible (they're not freely alterable), they are not
protected from copyright or patents, but in spike of this lawyers are able to
get fair earnings managing this free information on our behalf.
Why having anyway the possibility to freely access all the laws, do we decide
to use a middleman that gets paid for this?
Would you live better in a state where access to the laws was restricted to a
limited number of people?
• Words are free (and modifiable), not “gratuitous”. Books have a cost (and I
am not paying only for the paper) giving the possibility to the writers (and
not only them) to earn money. Their works are protected by copyright, not by
Would there be more books or better books if single words were protected by
patents or copyright?
• Cooking recipes are free (and modifiable), not patented either under
copyright. Yet a lot of people (cooks) are paid by us for using this information
to our benefit.
Why do we decide to pay someone else to cook a dish that we could have
done by ourselves?
Would we eat better if the recipes were patented/copyrighted?
• Musical notes are free (not modifiable), yet composers are able to earn
fairly from an opportune matching of notes.
Why don't we produce our own musical information that we need so much?
Who prevents it?
The songs/music fruit of their labour are protected with copyright, not with
The truth is that we are not all equal5, we don't reach the same results even if we
own the same information.
But then where is the "added value", if it is not in the information itself?

4 any comparison has some limits of validity, they are only similes with some exceptions
5 This “myth” of universal equality has industrial origin, when “perfect” pieces were only and only
one identical to the “master” piece, and even a small difference was synonym of defect. This
theory applied to the human beings is deeply wrong. We are all different (different doesn't mean
inferior or superior, but only … unique), and this is our main strength.

Free Software and Free Data Formats, an opportunity for Everyone Paolo Pedaletti

Possibility of commercial use of Free Software
With Free Software you don't sell a sequence of bytes or instructions, but you sell
the assistance, the consultation, the documentation, the courses for the use of the
software, the certifications, the support, the personalization...
The "added value" of any information technology solution
is the Human Being
who knows how to:
● choose
● install
● configure
● use
● update and correct
the software, making it a solution to a problem (to write a letter or do some
Software and the hardware are not a solution by themself.
Free Software realizes this and says:
Can you do it by yourself? Well, good luck and "bon voyage"...
Don't you know how to do this? Nice to meet you! Paolo Pedaletti, 50 € per hour :-)

The most important change that Free Software introduces is
to move the "added value"
from the immaterial object
to the Person.

In this way there is an enormous contractual power from both the parts.
From the point of view of the supplier of solutions, he/she can be paid as much as
is necessary the provided added value.
From the client's point of view, he/she can choose the level of quality of the
supplier of solutions on the basis of his own choice, taste, budget. He/she doesn't
depend on a single supplier anymore with all the benefits that derive from it (50€
is too much for you? You are free to find someone else, much cheaper but hopefully
with the same skill, performance and professionality).

There is Freedom of Choice
for Everybody

Free Software and Free Data Formats, an opportunity for Everyone Paolo Pedaletti

Benefits of developing Free Software
Why should a programmer find it interesting/useful to develop Free Software?
Because the profit is mutual, both for the one who writes Free Software and the
one who uses Free Software.
The detection and correction of inevitable defects that every software has, is
boring and difficult work for the person who has written the program (like it is
boring and difficult to find the errors of typing for who write a text).
It is more productive to submit this assignment to others.
To detect a problem is simple and immediate for person who uses that software
every day, trying to correct it can be very instructive and useful for anyone wants
to begin to program.
But only if the source code is freely available is it possible for everyone to try to
correct the “bug”.
Consequently the original programmer who makes his own software freely
available has a return both economic (like personalization and education to the use
of the software) and educational (with the suggestions and the corrections that can
be introduced in the original program)
You create a natural two-way flow of information6,
among the producers and users of Free Software.

Free Software, the value is in the freedom
The advantage of Free Software is not just in the fact that it is commercially
exploitable, but in the fact that is Free.
In this way it's not possible to create monopolies, clients are not forced to make
unwanted choices. Whoever provides Free Software has the opportunity to spread
his/her own computer solution in the widest possible way, creating a customers
base that for professional use seeks dedicated assistance.
In an other way,
A monopoly says "Me or no one else",
Free Software says "If not me, someone else".
For this reason Free Software maximizes the probabilities of success / survival
(maximizes, it doesn't mean guarantees, considering that nobody can guarantee
anything for sure about the future)

6 … contrary to other more permissive licenses such as the BSD license, which allow the software
created freely to become closed / proprietary.

Free Software and Free Data Formats, an opportunity for Everyone Paolo Pedaletti

Monopoly is
in the economic field
what dictatorship is
in the social field:
a lack of freedom
of choice.

Free Software and Free Data Formats, an opportunity for Everyone Paolo Pedaletti

The obstacles to Free Software
Contrarily to what can be thought (or wrote, even on important sites of reference7),
the obstacle to the Free Software is not proprietary/closed software.
The problems come from the:
● software patents
● proprietary closed data format
because these constraints prevent the Free Software to exist/work.
For the information (software, books, music...) it's more proper, rather perfect the
copyright, not certain the patent.
The difference between copyright and patent consists in the fact that8:
● the copyright makes exclusive an implementation (a single program, a book,
a song)
● the patent makes exclusive an idea (a functionality, a story, a melody)
The patent works very well (it works = it reaches the purpose for which has been
introduced) as it regards the matter, while it would be (and it is) harmful if applied
to the Information.
The monopoly that derives to patent the information is an excess of private
ownership, because it prevents the competition, contrarily of the copyright.
I want to clarify that this last sentence doesn't have any connection with some
ideologies trend in the past, because I consider the private ownership a value
inalienable (it is "the excess" to be not correct/opportune).

8 Symplifyng:
if I “copyright an house on a mountain”, I have all the rights on that house,
if I “patent an house on a mountain”, I have all the rights on every house on every mountains.

Free Software and Free Data Formats, an opportunity for Everyone Paolo Pedaletti

The misunderstanding comes from the mistake of not considering the intrinsic and
fundamental differences between matter and the information:
● Uniqueness
• MATERIAL: it's necessarily "localized"
My watch is on my wrist, and if it "appears" on someone else wrist, it
means necessary that it has disappeared from mine
INFORMATION: to communicate the information that I own doesn't
imply that I "forget" it (not necessarily)
● Duplicability
• MATERIAL: it's not easily duplicable
My watch surely it's not the only one existing in the world, but to
duplicate it it's necessary a not negligible amount of energy, prime-
material, work and time
INFORMATION: digital information is easily duplicable with a
consumption of practically negligible energy/material/work/time
● Customization
• MATERIAL: it's hardly editable/customizable.
It's sufficient to consider a car, and think of change the color of the
chassis or the interns. Any modification is surely expensive (many percent
point of value of the car)
INFORMATION: digital information is easily editable / customizable.
Obviously you need to have a knowledge (even if only superficial) of the
language which the program has been written in (having available the
source code)
● Transportation
• MATERIAL: to transport matter from one place to another costs a lot.
Generally, the cost is directly proportional to the quantity of matter and
the distance to cross
INFORMATION: it's easy to transport and the cost of the transport is
practically insignificant, if you don't consider really notable quantities of
information (encyclopedias? libraries?)
● Movement speed
• MATERIAL: the velocity of transport/diffusion is very slow
(compared to the information)
INFORMATION; the velocity of transport/diffusion is very hight
(compared to the material)

Free Software and Free Data Formats, an opportunity for Everyone Paolo Pedaletti

It is evident that
the greatest part of the "natural" property of the material
is ballast for information.9

Coming from an economy based on the exchange of material, there are those who
find it normal (but only for mental inertia) "to stick" to the old properties to the
new good (the information), while on the other side there are those who realize
this useless ballast and would gladly act without them.
But why do we persist with old traditions, if now we can do it better?
Why bring along the old limitations, if it's possible to act without them?

9 Stefano Quintarelli:
“La remunerazione dell’opera dell’ingegno è essenziale per lo sviluppo; io lo vedo come un fattore
di fiducia nel futuro perché le risorse immateriali sono illimitate, a differenza di materie prime ed
energia (che in particolare, in Italia, non abbiamo). Tutti noi cosiddetti “lavoratori della
conoscenza” abbiamo risorse illimitate su cui costruire: la nostra immaginazione e fantasia.”

Free Software and Free Data Formats, an opportunity for Everyone Paolo Pedaletti

The real problem
The problem is only apparently technical or economic.
In reality the problem is Social and Political.
We are digitalizing our Life more than ever
● our Identity, with electronic signatures and the digital ID cards
● our Activity, with on-line purchasing, on-line banking transitions and on-line
In this way we are creating a digital alter-ego of ourselves, that lives and acts on
behalf of us in the digital world.
Who will rule the digital world will also rule what our digital alter-ego will or will
not be able to do on “the other side” of the monitor.
And who will rule our digital alter-ego will rule by reflex, also automatically our
real life and us, here, on this side of the monitor10.
To be able to continue to have the freedom that we have from this part of the
monitor (laboriously gotten in the past), we must give the possibility to our digital
alter-ego to enjoy the same freedom, on the other side of the monitor.

I hope to have clarified what Free Software and Free Data Formats really mean,
and why it is important to keep on guaranteeing the freedom of choice that we
have earned with so much hard work in the real world, also in the digital world,
toward which we are heading.11

Because the Freedom of Choice
in a Democracy
is vital.

©Paolo Pedaletti

10 The “war” between Free vs closed software/data formats is the updated version of war(s) in the
past century between people pro Freedom (Democracy) and people against it
Less blood, same target.
11 Translated from Italian with the contribution of Federica Grisoni and Emma Quick.

Free Software and Free Data Formats, an opportunity for Everyone Paolo Pedaletti

Useful links:
Andrew Oram: Promoting Open Source Software in Government
Marco Fioretti: Cos'è più importante, l'alfabeto o la penna?
Marco Fioretti: How to turn into Free Software supporters people who couldn't
care less
Simone Aliprandi:
Simone Aliprandi:
Paolo Pedaletti:
Richard Stallman:
John Mark Walker:
Bill Gates Lawyers:

Free Software and Free Data Formats, an opportunity for Everyone Paolo Pedaletti


Economic effects
The use of open formats would permit the free and public data distribution of
commonly called OpenData12, data that
• could be analyzed, correlated and republished/sold developing a market and
a business that is now very limited
• could permit citizen to be informed/aware about the effects of their lifestyle
and their actions.

Data accessibility
Concerning data accessibility in the long term13, two different problems must be
hardware accessibility: physical support must be accessible/readable, otherwise
even if I own it I won't be able to access the information contained inside (who still
has a 8' or 5'1/4 floppy drive?)
software accessibility: format, if it's in open format, it means that technical
specifications are freely available and freely implementable. This guarantees the
accessibility of the information memorized in those formats for a very long time
without any (artificial) legal obligation.
This feature (of data accessibility without constrains over a long period) is
indispensable for a State (hopefully a long term project...).14

13 Obsolescenza digitale, Medioevo Digitale, Preservazione Digitale

Where were you?

I worry about my child
and the Internet all the time,
even though she's too young
to have logged on yet.
Here's what I worry about.
I worry that 10 or 15 years
from now, she will come to me
and say:
'Daddy, where were you
when they took freedom of the
away from the Internet?'”

Mike Godwin
Electronic Frontier Foundation