Software Legal Deposit?

April 28, 2008

Publishers of books, magazines and other print, sound and video materials are required under the Copyright Act to deposit publications with the National Library (and, under State Copyright Acts, to various State and University libraries). The reason for legal deposit is obvious: use by the general public, both now and into the future. Having copies of books available in libraries means that they will still be available after they go out of print or the publishers disappear. It’s a good protection for cultural material.

One thing not covered by legal deposit (at least in most jurisdictions) is software. The nature of the software industry makes it far more likely that a given program will go ‘out of print’ – over the past 25 years countless software companies have gone out of business. Unlike books, however, the copies of the software purchased by consumers aren’t human-readable. While an old software package may be available on eBay, its source code may very well be lost forever when the company collapses. Source code needs to be preserved for several reasons: it’s needed for future usage (recompiling and porting to newer architectures and operating systems) and it’s needed so the software can be studied.

I propose a legal deposit system for computer software. Software publishers with an annual turnover of more than $1 million would be required to submit a full, complete copy of their final source code, release binaries, documentation and associated materials to the National Software and Multimedia Archive. The Archive would keep access to the material (other than documentation and freely available material) closed for 15 years, when it would be released for public access. An extension on this period would be available if the company could prove that the software is still of commercial value.

A software archive has other advantages: access could be provided to government agencies and academics on NDAs for security research and bugfixing purposes, and software indexes could be of great value to consumers and procurement agencies.

Legal deposit needs to protect today’s software, before it goes forever.

(NB: The best solution, of course, is to release all software as Free Software. Not that that will happen soon, unfortunately.)

Advertisements

Australia 2020 Youth Summit

April 14, 2008

[ NB: This is a long recount of what happened. If long recounts bore you, skip to the end where I summarise. This is also a WIP. ]

Awesome weekend.

Arrival was pretty good, except for a particular large airline who I shall not name losing my baggage at Sydney Airport. (It arrived on a flight a few hours later.) Got picked up by some DEEWR people, sent over to Parliament House, from there checked in at Rydges Lakeside.

Friday night was a good introductory activity. Hugh Evans and Kate Ellis gave speeches, we did some team building and introductions. I met with an engineering/IT student from ANU who approached me after hearing I was interested in ICT.

The main work was on Saturday, starting with the official opening, and Julia Gillard clarifying that the real reason for turning down the ‘robot teachers’ idea suggested by some Schools Summit participants was not ‘maintenance costs’ as some newspapers had reported. Hugh Mackay gave his somewhat scary but probably accurate predictions about Australian society over the next 12 years.

When we started the groupwork that morning that was where it seemed the program was thrown out the window, with some facilitators deciding to just cut to the chase and drop a few activities. It was a free-for-all with ideas being thrown in from all over. In my group, economy and infrastructure, we ended up with eight or nine whiteboards of writing. Improved transportation, social justice, equitable technology access, more freedom, less taxes and red tape, more environmental considerations, better education, more rural equality, increase in green-collar jobs, open trade – if it could be connected with the economy it was suggested.

The most exciting part was the open space melting pot. The ideas that came out of the Infrastructure sub-group included a transport revolution, improved data infrastructure, all future power needs to be met renewably, and the most interesting one, youth run infrastructure ‘for tomorrow today’.

Youth run infrastructure, or YRI as I shall refer to it, was suggested by Simon Sheikh, who works as an advisor to Michael Costa in NSW Treasury. The idea is to have combined community and business centres for young people and entrepreneurs to get advice and access to facilities. Sure, not revolutionary, but it was definitely something I hadn’t heard before. Transport, power, data are a bit more… traditional.

Action sessions were good, covering ideas in depth. I managed to get open source mentioned in connection with e-voting, which I disagreed with anyway.

Saturday night was interesting, with a networking session that ended up with me talking with a public service executive for an hour. Apparently his ‘very small program’ has a budget of $37m. He tells me a while back he was responsible for approving withdrawals from the Department’s account with the RBA, which once meant he ‘signed’ a $1.2 billion cheque. Government is quite big. Slept at 12:45 Sunday morning.

[ NB: This is ‘the end where I summarise’. ]

More action sessions Sunday morning. Three of them, rather than the two we had scheduled, since we were running behind. Voting on the best of the ideas, the highest priorities, was hard, because they were all brilliant. Integrated transport, drug patent reform, arts funding, improved education, promoting rural communities, a national sustainability challenge. Lower voting age to 16, enrol automatically, investigate e-voting. 100Mbit/s FTTP by 2012, 1Gbit/s by 2020. Feed-in tariffs in all states ASAP, promotion of microgeneration and other forms of renewable energy to meet future needs to 2020. Car-free CBDs, improved public transport, no city dweller to be any further than two kilometres from a bus station, train station or light rail. They were all great ideas.

We had photos. Lunch, where I just had hot chocolate instead. Discussion on the Australian Youth Forum. Lessons learnt. Last submissions for the communique. Then came the closing.

Then, it turned out the rumours were true, and Kevin Rudd was indeed there. Standing ovation and very loud applause. Many hands were quite sore by the time we’d gone through the winning ideas and the delegates voted to attend the main Australia 2020 Summit on our behalf.

The people I met were amazing. Just walking around, encountering a member of the NSW Board of Studies, an advisor to the State Treasurer, an UNYA coordinator, a YMCA Youth Parliament organiser. Many varieties of uni students, rurals, some high schoolers. It was great.

Back to the hotel, picked up our baggage. On the bus, back to the airport. Checked in, through security. Up to the departure lounge.

TV was on. News was on. Ten or fifteen of us delegates up there at the time. Then Kate Ellis walks in. ‘Hi everyone!’ ‘Hi Kate! Ooh, look, WE’RE ON!’ The faces on some of the other passengers were a bit WTH-ish. It was quite funny.

Flight back was turbulent. Canberra to Sydney was a few minutes late. Sydney was closed by Airservices due to lightning alert for a while. My connecting flight ended up two hours late, and before landing we were circling around for 15 minutes waiting for the storms to clear. I was rushing around Sydney Airport trying to find the right bag drop desks and the correct gates, only to find out I wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while. Oh well, I got home in the end.

It was good. Now, for results. Communique should be released any time now. If the government doesn’t take it up, we will.

Best quotes:

“You’re not just a generation of Coreys” – The Hon. Kate Ellis MP
“I’ve been back in the country for four hours, and I’ve already got some homework.” – The Hon. Kevin Rudd MP


The Media

April 2, 2008

Interviews with TV, radio and print media all on one day. TV was the worst. The newspaper was the best.

I wonder how much research has been conducted into the difference between how we hear our own voice and how others do. Hearing a recording of my own voice is disturbing.