Five questions for Russell McOrmond.

Who? Exactly my point.

Michael Geist may get all the attention, but there are other Canadians working tirelessly to promote non DMCA-style copyright reform — and in this case, open source software as well. Russell McOrmond is one of them.

In addition to his prolific writing for Digital-Copyright.ca and IT World Canada Mr. McOrmond has taken on the herculean task of promoting FLOSS in Ottawa, through a project called GOSLING — an acronym for “get open source logic into government”.

If such noble work isn’t worthy of inclusion on these humble pages then I don’t know what is.


1. Pretend I’m the new IT guy for the Canadian government, but with purchasing and decision-making power. How would you pitch FLOSS to me?

I pitch FLOSS to people using the way I think about software. I think of software as the rules which computers obey, and laws and policy as rules which humans obey. Governments have always collaborated on the creation of policies and best practices. FLOSS is an implementation of existing government practices and procedures, simply applied to a different type of rules.

People working in the public sector know far more about software than they think they do. They have been told by vendors that acquiring software is like acquiring a car, something that they have to go to MERX and their procurement people to do. In reality software should be thought of as just another set of policies, implemented in specialized languages, and should be seen as a human resources issue and not an acquisition issue. Not all projects have the necessary expertise in-house, so budgets should focus on bringing in the right outside consultants and/or consulting/support firms.

The government of Canada, along with everyone else on the planet, is already licensed to use FLOSS in all the ways where non-FLOSS requires a procurement. Whether people treat the procurement as already done with an existing site license where the site is everywhere, or treat the procurement as unnecessary, is simply a matter of how they wish to file their paperwork.

2. So why do you think our government isn’t all over this, or any government for that matter?

It is hard to talk about the Government of Canada as if it were a single entity. All the existing policies and procedures within allow a full spectrum of business and licensing. My personal experience has been that individual middle-management people within government departments are the barrier.

Many in government believe that software is something that must be treated as a product. FLOSS turns the process on its head by saying that the government is already licensed, and the only thing that may need to be acquired are additional human and support resources. These additional human and support resources are needed with non-FLOSS as well, but decision makers are used to going to the software vendors for that near sole-sourced support.

Some people believe there is no support for FLOSS, which is false. FLOSS offers a free market for support, while with proprietary software there is a single company that, through their proprietary rights, controls the market for support.

Education is needed government wide to break free of the misconceptions that people have.

3. You think that it’s possible to teach an old dog new tricks, then? A regime change isn’t necessary to make the widespread adoption of FLOSS software in government happen?

If by regime change you mean a change in what political party forms the government, then the answer is no. This level of decision making isn’t something that is visible to parliamentarians, nor would I expect parliamentarians to understand that level of detail within the bureaucracy.

There are individual MPs that have understood the issues better than others, but I think this is a matter of those individuals and not the political parties they happen to run under. The issues I focus my time on are not partisan issues.

4. Hey, I heard that Minister Moore has blocked you from his Twitter feed. What’s that about?

I wish I knew what Minister Moore was thinking.

In my roll as policy coordinator for CLUE, Canada’s Association for Open Source, I am active on Copyright. I am there to represent creators in an industry that many suspect is larger than the recording industry. While the recording industry has the ear of the Heritage Minister, we have received nothing but disrespect.

I wish I could say this is unique to Minister Moore, or to any specific political party. I received similar disrespect from past Liberal Heritage Minister Sheila Copps. She, like Minister Moore, seemed confused that there are so many creator groups which are strongly opposed to the policies they are bringing forward.

I am an opponent of Bill C-32 not because I want to freely use copyrighted content without any permission or payment, but because I believe there are many provisions that are harmful to independent software authors and many other copyright holders.

When it comes to TPMs (technology protection measures, another way of saying DRM), many copyright holders do not have the technical expertise to understand the impact of technical measures. The rise of technical measures coincided with the rise of other technologies such as the Internet and P2P software. The statistical methods used by copyright holders to allege harm from infringement doesn’t differentiate between the two. What portion of the alleged losses is due to copyright infringement, and what portion is due to misunderstood or misapplied technical measures, is unknown at this time.

5. What can Canadian citizens do to voice their concerns about changes in copyright?

Here I speak as a software author. Before Copyright can offer software authors anything, computer owners need to be able to make their own software choices in order for them to be able to choose our software. Anything which reduces software choice harms our businesses.

The type of technical protection measures protected in Bill C-32, especially access controls, have nothing to do with copyright. Copyright is a set of activities which, if done by someone with access to a copyrighted work, requires the permission of the copyright holder.

When analyzed properly, access controls can protect e-Commerce sites such as subscription services, or specific contracting terms. If a copyright holder doesn’t know that a technical measure is protecting a contracting term, how can they possibly analyze whether those terms protect or harm their rights?

The most common abuse of access controls is to tie the ability to access copyrighted works to a specific brand of technology. A common example is DVD CSS, which protects contracting terms set out by the DVD Copy Control Association. Only those software vendors who can agree to those contracting terms are allowed to author compatible software, which lowers software choice. And as a bonus, no FLOSS software can ever agree as those terms conflict with FLOSS definitions.

This removes software choice, while concurrently not offering the copyright holders any new value in return. These contracting terms protected in technical measures only helps the providers of these technologies, in that it reduces the ability of software alternatives to compete.

A number of software vendors behind Bill C-32 have been appropriately sued by the US and European governments for violations of Anti-Trust laws in the past. What we are seeing now in C-32 is the attempt by Apple, Adobe, Microsoft and similar companies to legalize and legally protect similar anti-competitive practices in Canada.

There are a number of ways people can help.

We have a Petition to protect Information Technology property rights which people can sign and get to me. This will be a paper document that follows the format for petitions that can be tabled by MPs in the House of Commons. This has a much greater impact than electronic petitions.

I have authored a letter to my provincial representatives which people can modify and send to their MPP’s as well.

People should write their federal member of parliament about this issue. If they aren’t comfortable speaking with a politician, ask them to meet with me as I am always happy to speak with any politician who wishes to become better informed on these issues.

The overall message is that there are legitimate concerns from creators in the technology community which must be addressed, if this bill is to protect the interests of all creators and not just the tiny subset which currently has the ear of the Minister of Canadian Heritage.


If you’d like to hear more from Mr. McOrmond on copyright please join us for the next episode of DyscultureD, recording tonight at 9:30pm Eastern. You can also download the finished podcast at your leisure once it get posted.