EU Commission moving away from interoperability for European public services.

Paris, December 20th, 2010. Press release.

The European Commission released on December 16th, 2010 its communication relative to its "Interoperability Strategy and Framework for public services". This document is carrying on an unacceptable reversal on interoperability issues, and ratifies the disappearance of open standards, which were already threatened by the Digital Agenda for Europe.

The Digital Agenda for Europe, published in May 2010, was already making a pretense of reaffirming interoperability principles in order to better reduce their outreach and in order to ignore them in practice1. This new document continues in the same vein by forgoing even the terms "open standards", replaced for the occasion by "open specifications", which are open by name only.2. Such wording is more evasive, because it does not refer to existing legislation anymore. Hence it allows de facto standards to pass as open standards, whereas the previous revision of European Interoperability Framework, adopted in 2004, offered a clear definition of open standards that included a precise list of criteria for openness3. Such dispositions are more evasive and, above all, non-constraining4. "Numerous conditions necessary for interoperability, such as the freedom to reuse the standards, have disappeared from this definition of "technical specification"", explains Jeanne Tadeusz, public affairs officer at April. "Not only does this represent a threat for knowledge sharing and innovation, but, even worse, the Commission is already saying that it is not necessary to respect them"5.

Those "open specifications" are not always available freely or at a nominal cost: they might also be available under so-called FRAND (Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory) licenses. The Commission refrained from defining them precisely, giving right holders full freedom to choose the conditions of use and of licensing. Therefore, such licenses allow to opt in favor of a payment for each copy of the program, a practice that favors monopolies at the expense of new, innovative players and de facto excludes free software developers. "Such a definition is nothing else than an intellectual rip off", emphasizes Tangui Morlier, president of April. "FRAND licenses compatible with Free Software would mean licenses that do not impose any restriction to the use and distribution of the format. If the Commission really wanted to include all players, including free software, why has it not maintained the former definition, which was much clearer?"

The newly published version of the European Interoperability Framework is probably not quite as nefarious as some of the previously circulated drafts6, but this communication of the Commission is clearly a setback. April regrets that once again, the particular interests of a few big companies have prevailed over citizens' rights and over openness towards innovation, even though those are the values defended by the Commission.

April is therefore staying alert in order to ensure that Free Software players will not be excluded from the actions that will be set forth following this communication.

About April

Founded in 1996, April is the main French advocacy association devoted to promote and protect Free/Libre Software. With its 5476 members (5004 individuals, 472 businesses, associations and organizations), April is a pioneer of Free Software in France. Since 1996, it is a major player in the democratization and the spread of free software and open standards to the general public, professionals and institutions in the French-speaking world. It also acts as a watchdog on digital freedoms, warning the public about the dangers of private interests keeping an exclusive stranglehold on information and knowledge.

Press contacts:

Frédéric Couchet, Executive Director, +33 6 60 68 89 31
Jeanne Tadeusz, Public Affairs officer, +33 1 78 76 92 82

  • 1. See April's press releases on this topic: Digital Agenda: the EU Commission favors obscurantism over an innovative and open Information Society and Digital Agenda for Europe: interoperability in principle, but not in practice? .
  • 2. The official reason invoked by the Commission is that it allows for the use of existing standards as they are defined by European law (for instance, Directive 98/34/EC) as well as for specifications brought forward by consortiums and TIC forums, adding the use of de facto standards to the already recognized normalized standards. This is reminiscent of the "openness continuum" recently presented by Commissioner Neelie Kroes.
  • 3. Those criteria included:
    • "* The standard is adopted and will be maintained by a not-for-profit organization, and its ongoing development occurs on the basis of an open decision-making procedure available to all interested parties (consensus or majority decision etc.).
    • * The standard has been published and the standard specification document is available either freely or at a nominal charge. It must be permissible to all to copy, distribute and use it for no fee or at a nominal fee.
    • * The intellectual property —i.e. patents possibly present— of (parts of) the standard is made irrevocably available on a royalty-free basis.
    • * There are no constraints on the re-use of the standard."

    Source: European Interoperability Framework V1.0, page 9.

  • 4. The text explains that "If the openness principle is applied in full:
    • * All stakeholders have the same possibility of contributing to the development of the specification and public review is part of the decision-making process;
    • * The specification is available for everybody to study;
    • * Intellectual property rights related to the specification are licensed on FRAND 19 terms or on a royalty-free basis in a way that allows implementation in both proprietary and open source software.

    Source: European Interoperability Framework V2.0.

  • 5. The European Interoperability Framework states that "administrations may choose to use less open specifications, if open specifications do not exist or if they do not correspond to the administration's interoperability requirements". Source: European interoperability framework v2.0.
  • 6. See our open letter to European Commission (in French).