Indonesia: the IIPA is "Watching" you

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A software pirate

If you use open source, you have no respect for intellectual property. Or at least, that’s what the International Intellectual Property Alliance seems to think. According to this article, the lobbying group is asking the US Trade Representative to put Indonesia on its "Special 301 Priority Watch List,” in part because of its policy encouraging the adoption of open source software by government agencies. The Watch List is essentially a blacklist of countries that the US believes do not adequately protect copyright or other intellectual property rights. The US then puts pressure (or bullies, depending on your point of view) the countries on the list to adopt more stringent IP enforcement practices. 

In regards to Indonesia’s open source procurement policy, the IIPA states:

Rather than fostering a system that will allow users to benefit from the best solution available in the market, irrespective of the development model, it encourages a mindset that does not give due consideration to the value to intellectual creations. As such, it fails to build respect for intellectual property rights and also limits the ability of government or public-sector customers (e.g., State-owned enterprise) to choose the best solutions to meet the needs of their organizations and the Indonesian people. [note: emphasis mine]

I can understand the IIPA’s concerns about market competitiveness when a government states a technology procurement preference. But I take issue [BIG ISSUE!] with the notion that open source software isn’t an intellectual creation, or that using or preferring OSS means that one does not respect intellectual property rights.

This is just one of many attacks that try to equate open source software with software piracy and an overall lack of respect for copyright law. And it’s rhetoric that we, as open source advocates, need to quash. Sometimes we even have to educate our own people. The chairwoman of the Indonesian Association of Open Source (AOSI), said in an interview a few months ago “[P]eople have two options: either to pay for licensed software or go open source.” I’m hoping she was misquoted.

Open source is licensed software. It is intellectual property. The difference is merely how the author chooses to exercise his intellectual property rights, generally allowing users the freedom to redistribute, copy, and/or modify the code under a specific license. Piracy violates the copyright and terms of that license, just as it does when talking about proprietary software.

 A government (or any consumer, for that matter) that chooses to use OSS should not be accused of failing to respect or value intellectual creations or property. Equating them with software pirates is a low blow. Arrrrrgh.

Melanie Chernoff | As Public Policy Manager for Red Hat, Inc., Melanie monitors, evaluates, and works to influence U.S. and international legislation and government regulations affecting open source technologies and open standards. She also serves as chair of the company's Corporate Citizenship committee, coordinating Red Hat's charitable activities.


I'm infuriated by the IIPA's position. What the IIPA is saying is that any creative endeavor not directly revenue-bearing has no value. We all incorporate creative endeavor into our daily lives - we write blogs, we sing in church choirs, we paint murals to brighten a neighborhood, our children are in school plays. Is the IIPA seriously telling me that we as a society don't value intellectual creation because we do it for free? It's just the opposite, we value it SO MUCH we often do it without any expectation of compensation (and even absorb the cost of creation ourselves) simply to improve the quality of our lives. Just imagine a world where you had to pay for all creative works that you enjoy daily.

If you expect me to respect your right to license, respect my right to do the same!

What I realized when I read this article, and the "Why I Will Not Sign the Public Domain Manifesto" in your 'What We're Reading' section, was the term intellectual property sustains a double standard. The rights holders "own" the content, but when they sell it to you, you don't "own" that copy. If it really was property, you should be able to do what you want with it, such as resell or modify it. Yet the rights holders don't want that to happen. If anything, open source is closer to property than closed content.

Not only is this decision wrong but also shows the double mined US government. NASA for instance uses FLOSS software in many places as we all know. The last Mars probe runs GNU+Linux of some sort. Resellers to the government have been vending GNU+Linux to them for years in select locations and for select jobs.

By their own standards the US government is calling its self a pirate and doing it publicly and internationally. In time I think that they will see the error of their ways but it will only come from their trying to justify them selves in the compromising situation they have put them selves in. It maybe out of their cost concerns or technological. But it will happen.

While entertainers at a magic show might use bait and switch to "pull a rabbit out of a hat", all manner of scoundrels and thieves use bait and switch to pull your wealth from their wallet.

Ideally the economy should be built on gains from exchange. Bait and switch detracts from honest exchange by using manipulation to enhance the value of the product, and when a poor product is delivered, more manipulation to increase the cost (real or psychological) of reversing the trade (if that is even possible). Of course, the worst examples of bait and switch are found in the recent mortgage and financial crises, but they trickle all the way down to dollar-level purchases.

Open source is not based on such games, manipulation, or lock-in. Open source allows a customer to try and test many alternative solutions and see them in their entirety. Open source encourages customers to purchase professional expertise to adapt software to their needs as well as professional training and support. The open source software, any modifications, and the training can be evaluated and purchased incrementally. If the buyer has appropriate skills they can modify or configure the software themselves. In this way the buyer can make more rational decisions about what is being purchased and whether the costs are in line with the benefits.

In contrast, proprietary software is sold more often in bundles, so that you must buy things you don't want to perhaps have a chance of getting to what you do want, and is more often sold sight unseen. Sometimes the benefits so outweigh the costs that problems with the deal can be overlooked. But it also common that the consumer, having paid for the software, often thinks that is the total price and does not want to consider paying for support, training, or modification. Skilled buyers detest buying high priced add-ons for simple changes that they could have done themselves had the relevant parts of the solution not been welded shut. At that point they feels bait-and-switched.

The true pirates are those who rob people and take their money. It doesn't matter if they have peg legs or business suits.

"government's policy... simply weakens the software industry and undermines its long-term competitiveness by creating an <strong>artificial preference for companies</strong>"

Artificial preference. Funny, I thought that's what the world's Imaginary Property laws were designed to do.

It seems to me that the IIPA have this backwards.

Obviously there is growing dissatisfaction, amongst many, with the restrictions imposed by intellectual property law and the potential of the current IP protection framework to act as a barrier to innovation and the free flow of knowledge and ideas. Nothing wrong with that; people are allowed to be dissatisfied with the law, they are just not allowed to break it.

This dissatisfaction can be--and is being--expressed in a number of ways. One way is resorting to piracy and other violations of intellectual property law. Another is campaigning for changes to the current framework, such as increasing the exceptions to copyright law and weakening the protections afforded to intellectual creations. And yet another is licensing intellectual creations under licenses which guarantee maximum user freedom and which prevent people from taking away that freedom.

What has me all confused about the IIPA's stance is that the third of those options--the open source option--is the LEAST destructive to the current intellectual property regime. It is based on mutual consent and utilizes existing legal principles; it is achieving its aims without any major reforms to the current system. It provides a solution to many of the real and perceived problems with the law in this area, while allowing the law itself to remain essentially intact and substantially unchanged. In a way, it could almost be said to defend or justify the current system.

That doesn't mean that open source advocates think the law is just fine the way it is, many of us want changes to the law in this area. But if you attack the open source movement, then agitation with the shortcomings of the current law will lead to more people utilizing the other options I mentioned above, which would if nothing else be more destructive to the current protection framework. So, even on the IIPA's own terms, this position does not make sense to me.

Melanie, what do you propose that we should do about this? I see that segments of the web are abuzz with outrage about IIPA's filing, but I don't see a lot of thoughtful or constructive suggestions for what the open source community (either as individuals or in the form of its corporate supporters) can constructively do to respond to this.

Thanks for your excellent question. The USTR has set up a process to receive public comments at

The comment period ends March 10, 2010 at 11:59pm ET.

I wonder just how many US Govt websites are on Apache at this very moment. Probably more than 50%, I would guess.

This is something I meant to say in my previous comment. This isn't a case of the establishment vs the little guy. There are plenty of "big guys" on FOSS's side too. This includes governments, local authorities and businesses big and small. So I find it hard to believe that anything significant will come of this, but then I am not speaking from an American perspective.

If you look at IIPA's website and the roster of groups it represents, I think you see industries with a diverse range of products but a startling commonality in what they want from the government process. The people pushing the Indonesian issue don't care about the conditions on the ground, they're responding to a real or perceived threat to their bottom line. This tends to concentrate your mind if you have a payroll to meet or investors.

The OSS community is significantly more fragmented, and IMO, at a significant disadvantage. I think we spend way, way too much time pointing out the opposition's perceived legal, ethical and moral failings, and not constructing a positive argument about the benefits of open source. It comes across as whiny and emotional, and at least in the U.S. I have trouble seeing that approach getting any traction with outside observers or policymakers.

The OSS "movement," if you will, is fairly new in the political space compared with other business interests, so I think it's natural that the messaging hasn't been as consistent thus far. But I do think that's been changing in recent years.

Are you familiar with Open Source for America? It's a great OSS coalition in the US that just formed in July '09, and you can see in the "Learn More" tab of their website that they have a "Benefits of OSS" page. I think this new org addresses a lot of your (very legitimate) concerns, and I would encourage you to get involved.

Update from Simon Phipps, one of the Board of Advisors for Open Source for America, at

Perhaps the US Gov't should ban all open source practices? I mean, since we always violate intellectual property rights... Just, always, even though if they bothered to read the licenses that the programs were released under, they would realize that it is somebody's property, they are just allowing other people to use, improve and redistribute it...

If only...

Apart from the issues with IIPA's painting of open souce as anti intellectual property, this article also highlights the need for all of us to communicate right message to uninitiated. It is absolutely important to communicate the benefits of open source software, the licensing (GPL...) of it and the high moral values behind it.

We are doing it in our way in Singapore. Hoping to make it more impactfull around the region.


Hi Melanie, I'm Harry, vice president of AOSI. Many thanks for your post on the issue. Hopefully this will create more awareness on the situation to broader audience.

Indonesia was plagued by very serious piracy problems. AOSI offered to help by advocating the use of F/OSS software to the masses.
The response have been overwhelming from all kind of institutions - government, academics, corporations, and general population.
We even advocates F/OSS to specific audiences, for example, various madrassa. We informed them that F/OSS is "halal software" - software which are considered legal by Islam they can use to teach their students with. And their response have been quite spectacular; many have created their own initiatives to further spread awareness in their communities.

Last year we also held an international conference in Jakarta, GCOS (Global Conference on Open Source) -
Held at Shangri-La hotel, the conference was fully booked in a very short time. For this year's event we're going to do it in a bigger place. It's a very interesting time for F/OSS in Indonesia indeed.

Therefore we're very shocked to find out about the IIPA recommendation. Some of the accusations are even plain untrue.
For example; quoted :

"Government Procurement Preference Denies U.S. Software Companies a Level Playing Field"

There's NO foul play. The Indonesian gov't recommends use of F/OSS software - which means ALL US Software companies are welcome. Redhat, Novell, Sun, Microsoft, etc.
As long as the product offered is licensed as F/OSS. That is all.

This kind of FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) campaign is not fairplay. And if IIPA recommendations are accepted, the resulting penalties can have serious repercussions to Indonesian economy, at the time when we're still working to recover from the last economic crisis.

Re: AOSI chairwoman, I would believe that she was misquoted. She usually would say sometime like "pay for your proprietary license, or use F/OSS" or "Go Legal", or something along those lines.
I'd understand the misquotation, since F/OSS is not a topic where mainstream journalists are very well-versed with. AOSI is continuously working with & will happily assists any journalists with articles related to F/OSS.

Again, thanks very much for your post, Melanie. If you need any further information, don't hesitate to contact us. We'd be very happy to be of assistance. Thank you.

Best regards,
Harry Sufehmi


If you need any support in this matter from the Open Source Initiative, who raised this matter for OSfA's attention, please feel free to contact me or any of the other Board members directly (I'm simon at webmink dot com).

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