Last Wednesday, August 27th, several organisations called for a demonstration in Brussels and for an on-line demonstration against the proposed EU "software patent directive" COM(2002)92, euphemistically titled "on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions".
Citizens demonstrated in front of the European Parliament, wearing black t-shirts and launching black balloons "to symbolise their sorrow for the innovation that the EU would lose if it approved a monopoly regime on computer based solutions as the Commission and the JURI report propose", as one of the organisers explained. Surrounded by banners and patent tombstones, several speeches were held and a pantomime play was performed which showed the EU bureaucracy helping wealthy corporations to strangle small innovative software enterprises.
In spite of the short notice (it was only announced one week in advance), the online demonstration, calling to substitute homepages by a protest page for all of Wednesday, was followed by over 2800 websites. Among those were important websites such as those of the biggest Spanish labour union Comisiones Obreras, the Andalusian CGT union, the French SPECIS; large associations of computer professionals such as ATI.es, AI2 and Prosa.dk; user associations like SSLUG, Hispalinux, Asociación de Internautas, AFUL and GUUG; software projects like Apache (developers of the most used web server in the world, with over 25 million installations), PHP (a very popular programing language), the two main free desktop projects (KDE and GNOME); operating system distributions LinEx, Slackware, Debian, Knoppix and Mandrake; civil rights associations, distributed development platform Savannah (hosting over 1500 projects), companies, weblogs, personal websites...
The strike coincided with initiatives by new players, including national associations of SMEs, national labor unions, the internet sections of the French Parti Socialiste and German Social Democratic Party, and a group of economists, all of whom sent letters to members of the European Parliament, warning them of faulty reasoning in the JURI report and catastrophic consequences for the European economy.
The Parliament was already divided in June, when it postponed the decision to September. The massive protest among computer professionals, software companies and computer users, and its echo in the press on the Internet, radio and television, appear to have further eroded the directive's support in the European Parliament and encouraged various party groups to come out with new amendment proposals. The presidents of the transnational groups decided in a meeting on thursday afternoon to postpone the debate again from the planned European Parliament plenary session of Monday September 1st. The debate and vote may now take place in the next session (September 22-25) or at a later date, subject to decision next week. The directive has been controversial since its publication on 2002-02-20, and decisions have been delayed already seven times from the initially scheduled vote of 2002-12-16.
During a conference in the European Parliament on Wednesday 14.00-16.00, Reinier Bakels, a dutch law scholar who had written a study on the directive at the order of the European Parliament, criticised:
This directive proposal brings no clarity and no harmonisation. It is unclear and contradictory both on its aims and on the means of achieving these aims. The European Parliament can not be expected to repair such a fundamentally broken directive proposal. The best thing the Parliament can do is to send this proposal back to the Commission and demand that an interdisciplinary group of experts should work out a new proposal.
Hartmut Pilch, president of FFII and speaker of the Eurolinux Alliance, agreed to this, but added:
We hope that MEPs can, during the coming 3 weeks, understand that almost every single article and every single recital of this directive needs major amendments, if a clear limitation of patentability is to be achieved. We have proposed a set of amendments which could do the job and has received backing by a large part ot the interested communities. Many of these amendments have already been or are being tabled by MEPs from various political groups. By voting for these amendments, MEPs can prompt the Commission and the Council to come up with a new proposal, this time based on a serious assessment of the interests of all parties and a verifiable solution to the problems, without any more doublespeak or ambiguous terminology.