Welcoming Software Heritage

Coade Stone is a fantastic artificial rock whose creation process was lost for more than a century because it was kept secret, although it has recently been reverse engineered.

Comments delivered at the opening of Software Heritage at UNESCO:

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to bring greetings from the Open Source Initiative, the global charity promoting open source and acting as steward of the open source definition and the list of approved licenses.

Open source is 20 years old. By popularising the pre-existing concepts of free software, it has been at the heart of the connected technology revolution. Open source gives developers permission in advance to collaborate and innovate regardless of affiliation. OSI-approved open source licenses are the hidden power behind Linux, Apache, Mozilla, Android and more.

But by granting all the rights necessary to us and our fellow community members to use, study, improve and share the software powering modern systems and networks, allowing us to collaborate with many “known others”, open source also unreservedly grants permission to “unknown others” to repurpose, rehost, reuse and revolutionise.

Availability to the outsider — to society in general — is crucial to our future. When software stays locked up inside the corporation or institution, when code created by the state with public funds remains secret, it does not add to our collective knowledge and is lost when its host moves on and the innovation it embodies is lost to society. This was the original motivation for previous generations to create temporary intellectual monopolies such as copyright, as an incentive to creators to make their creations public.

As time has passed, those intellectual monopolies have themselves been regarded as property and the knowledge and culture they embody is increasingly witheld from society. Open source allows that new-found wealth to be “spent” in a new way to stimulate collaboration. Collaboration in community has gone on to amplify innovation and accelerate adoption.

Software Heritage completes the new social contract enabled by open source. It provides the ultimate historical reference for the code behind our culture and comprehensive library of innovation to provide a “mounting block” to the shoulders of the giants before us. We should strive to get all the software that matters into this new digital Library of Alexandria.

It’s especially important that software funded with public money finds its way into Software Heritage. As Lessig observed, the practical experience of the law and of society is through code and all the software that governs our lives and liberty should be public code in this new library. More than just allowing us now to guard our freedoms, future historians will need source code to fully understand our digital present.

So as President of OSI, I warmly welcome the opening of Software Heritage. Open source delivers software freedom, and the Software Heritage archive takes the result and keeps it free for all time. That’s a great contribution to the modern world – congratulations!