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Classification of Free Software as an intangible world cultural heritage

A working group has been set up in January 7th, 2002 by APRIL and FSF France. The original idea is from Pierre Jarillon (ABUL president). The objective is to have Free Software classified as an intangible world cultural heritage by the UNESCO.

Why? First you must understand it would benefit to the Free Software community, but also to humankind as a whole. Free software is not only about computer science, technique or even licenses. It deals with freedom, equality and fraternity. Freedom to copy, to study, to modify and to redistribute software or documentations. Equality, same rights for every user, without discrimination. Fraternity, because we talk about sharing and mutual help. Moreover Free Software is already part of the humankind heritage, in fact. We are trying to obtain a UNESCO recognition. The previous values are common to the Free Software community and the UNESCO.

Now let's see what the community could expect from this recognition. First a strong support, because the UNESCO is a major organisation, with an important aura. It could give a major recognition to Free Software, and a very large diffusion. Sort of planetary promotion. Finally, it would also bring legal protection to Free Software (via the UNESCO legal services), against looming threats.

We'll begin by ethic/philosophical arguments. We previously talked about freedom, equality and fraternity values, about our philosophy which is beneficiary for humankind as a whole. We also add the transparency value, which prevails in our community. Finally you should keep in mind only Free Software can be considered as world heritage. "To serve humanity with software, software should be free, because software belongs to human knowledge. Proprietary software does not belong to human knowledge." (Richard M. Stallman, GNU project founder and Free Software Foundation president).

Now, the social arguments. It's a question of mutual help and knowledge sharing. To make tools (and even much more than tools) available for everybody. It seems to meet UNESCO values. Free Software allows a situation where nobody limits others freedom. Nobody forbids you to copy, to use, to modify or to redistribute, nobody chains you up. Let's add Free Software allows a quicker development for developing countries (not only them, it's also true for other countries). They also allow protection of cultures and a better ease of use, due to multilingual support.

Technical arguments? Free Software has already proved itself (stability, performances, etc). It's also essential in the field of computer security, because it's the only one which gives transparency and verification, in a field where there can be no blind confidence in this or that software editor. Internet would be pretty different from what it is now without Free Software (60% of web servers, large part of email or DNS servers, etc) and the Network would have grown slower without it. Free Software brings continuity: you won't be blocked by an editor disappearance or trapped in the version race ("sorry version N-1 is no more supported and nothing runs with it, and you'll need to change all your hardware to use version N, whose files are not compatible with version N-1"). Finally Free Software is about benefit from work already done, not reinventing the wheel, "sitting on giants'shoulders" (one can see further).

What about independence? First, there is independence of governments. Not just voters or citizens to satisfy, no election dates to muddle decisions. Secondly, independence of companies. Not just market shares, consumers or shareholders. Finally, independence of political parties. And no frantic pursuit of profit in contempt of everything else, no obligation to release unfinalised versions. Even if a government, a company or a party develops a free software, user freedoms are protected and everybody can carry on with the project in their own way if necessary.

And now, the facts: Free Software is already part of the world heritage, as previously said. And it has numerous supports, from governments, associations, firms, and more and more users. Even the UNESCO has a Free Software portal and leads actions in Latin America.

Group leader: Benoît Sibaud (bsibaud@april.org)