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Russian Bill makes Free Software a Public Priority

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Legislators have drafted a bill that will boost Free Software on multiple levels within the Russian Federation's public sector.

The draft, approved by the Russian Federation's Duma (lower chamber) in mid-October, requires the public sector to prioritise Free Software over proprietary alternatives, gives precedence to local IT businesses that offer Free Software for public tenders, and recognises the need to encourage collaboration with the global network of Free Software organisations and communities.

The text enforces prioritising Free Software over proprietary alternatives by requiring public administrations to formally justify any purchase of proprietary software. The purchase will be considered unjustified if a Free Software solution exists that satisfies the list of technical specifications and standards. In addition, all IT purchase agreements in the public sphere must be registered in a dedicated registrar and detail the overall quantity and price of both purchased proprietary and Free Software.

In order to encourage local businesses, IT companies that distribute and provide Free Software products and services will by default receive bonus points in public tenders. With this measure, legislators intend to reduce the administration's dependency on foreign IT providers of proprietary software.

Despite the above, the bill also recognises the universality of Free Software. As the legislators acknowledge in explanatory notes appended to the text, the concept of "Russian Free Software" is meaningless due to the global nature of Free Software. The text recognises the need to support Russian Free Software companies in order to better integrate into global Free Software communities.

"[...]законопроект предлагает тем самым уйти от понятия «российское СПО», поскольку наборы программных кодов, открытых по разного вида свободным лицензиям, представляют собой по сути единую мировую платформу[...]"

English translation:

[...]the draft bill suggests to withhold the concept of "Russian Free Software", because the source code available under different open licences represents in essence one global platform[...]

Another interesting aspect of the law is how the authors of the bill have made an extra effort to ensure the language used in the draft are correct. For one, only software carrying licenses that allow the four freedoms may be legally labelled as "Free Software":

"Свободное программное обеспечение (СПО) - программное обеспечение, имеющее открытый исходный код и распространяемое по открытым лицензиям на условиях специального лицензионного договора, на основании которого пользователь получает неограниченное право на его установку, запуск, а также свободное использование, изучение, распространение и изменение (модификацию) по своему усмотрению в любых, не запрещенных законом целях."

English translation:

"Free Software - software which is open source and distributed under open licences based on special licensing contract terms, allowing a user unrestricted right to install, run, use, study, distribute and modify it freely, according to one's needs and for purposes that are not restricted by law."

Secondly, every time the bill text refers to the most famous free operating system, it refers to it as "GNU/Linux", not simply "Linux". This indicates an awareness not commonly found amongst authors of national legislations.

"The bill is an example of public software procurement done right." says Polina Malaja, Policy Analyst and Legal Coordinator at the FSFE. "The FSFE has long advised having all public administrations prioritise Free Software and recommended that all software developed by and for the public sector be published under a Free Software licence. As the authors of the Russian bill have come to realise, without Free Software public administrations will never be able to claim they have real digital sovereignty. Other European administrations should take note."