Simon co-hosted FLOSS Weekly 616 this week and along with Doc Searls interviewed Roberto di Cosmo from (among other things) the Software Heritage project, which has the goal of archiving all the world’s software source code. The discussion was as wide-ranging as you’d expect, covering both the idea of software as a cultural artefact and the specifics of Software Heritage such as the unique IDs it gives every software version it archives so that software becomes citable in research. One particular topic was the grant programme that Sloan Foundation funds to get new connectors for Software Heritage written, which readers may want to consider.
You may recall I attended a meeting in Paris last November where we worked on a statement about the cultural value of software. I am delighted to say it has now published both a call for action by UNESCO and a report explaining in more depth.
This is the first work of public policy of which I’m aware that explicitly recognises “that the source code of software used for the implementation of laws and regulations defines the experience of the law by citizens.” That important statement forms the anchor for much change in global legislation relating to digital rights, and as a UNESCO Call it will be considered by each and every future UNESCO policy and consequently by national policy of UNESCO members. Notably, it calls on all to “enable effective independent auditing of software source code used to make decisions that may affect fundamental rights of human beings and where possible ensure it is made available under an open source license.”
Software embodies the procedures by which the citizen engages with the state, through which the citizen and the market interact and in which citizens engage each other and enjoy cultural and leisure pursuits. Our ability to see society in action and guarantee the democracy that sustains it is increasingly dependent on our ability to review the software by which it is enabled at every level. When we have no right of review – let alone a right to directly participate in maintaining the software – we have lack the most import of the checks and balances of a 21st century democracy.
The Paris Call identifies software as a primary cultural artefact, requiring public access, demanding preservation and deserving cultivation. It sets a benchmark for the treatment of software as modern treasure. Now its the turn of the framers of wider policy to take that into account.
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. Continue reading