FSFE: Publicly funded software has to be Free

The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) has published an open letter to EU legislators. The organization calls for new legislation that will require code paid for by the people to be made available as Free and open-source software. “Public Money? Public Code!”

The open letter, signed by tens of organizations and thousands of individuals, calls on EU legislators to:

Implement legislation requiring that publicly financed software developed for public sector must be made publicly available under a Free and Open Source Software licence.

The FSFE brings up all the usual benefits in its arguments for requiring that public software is developed in the open: tax savings, collaboration between local governments within and beyond nations, and fostering innovation and security research.

Do neighboring counties (or even countries) need to reinvent the wheel and reproduce the same code and functionality to solve the same problems? Do our society get the most value out of privately owned software or software owned by the people?

Private ownerships over critical software infrastructure support monopolies and hinder competition. Governments shouldn’t run on licensed software it doesn’t control. It gives private companies too much control over how public software works and even whether public service remains operative.

Public funds shouldn’t be used to develop software that puts the profits and interests of corporations before the general public. Public money should only fund public code.

I agree with the Free Software Foundation Europe’s goal in this campaign. Public money shouldn’t go to privately controlled and owned software. Governments should require that the public owns the software that the government depends on to provide public services.

A small subsection of software components may need to be developed and kept out of the public’s view. However, I believe this should be the exception and not the norm for publicly funded software projects.

Software developed for our governments should belong to the people. The people can be a valuable contributor to the development of software instead of only getting the opportunity to complain about a finished software work that doesn’t fulfill their needs after a secretly developed project is made available to the public.

To be clear, I don’t have anything against private contractors contributing to public software. However, the work must be undertaken in the public view — following open development processes. This not only allows for early feedback from other interested parties but from the public at large.

I urge you to read and sign the open letter. Sign the letter if you believe that tax-payer funded software should be required to benefit and be open to the public instead of being owned and controlled by private companies. Restrictively licensed software that isn’t owned by the public shouldn’t be the product of any publicly funded project.

Signatories to the open letter include the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), Open Source Initiative (OSI), European Digital Rights (EDRi), The Document Foundation, Debian Project, openSUSE, KDE e.V., among other open-source and digital rights advocacy groups.