Free software gurus including Richard Stallman, founder of the free software foundation and Bruce Perens, author of the Open Source Definition, will speak at Cambridge University next month in a meeting to assess the impact of sharing computer code, copyrighted music and ideas over the Internet.
Inspiration for the event comes from the impact that peer-to-peer technologies such as Napster, the controversial MP3 music file sharing application, which is helping to reshape the music industry's attitude towards copyright and intellectual property. Also from the Open Source software movement, through which software is released under a license that allows anyone to view, modify and reuse code, and is similarly changing the software industry's view of copyright.
The prestigious meeting of free software revolutionaries, academics and business theorists illustrates the growing commercial importance of open source software solutions such as Linux, the free operating system based on Unix that poses a real threat to the success of Microsoft's Windows 2000. It also shows growing awareness of the potential value of peer-to-peer technology such as Napster, Gnutella and Freenet.
"The initiative started because of the impact on the creative arts, but the computer lab at Cambridge felt that this needed to be expanded over a broad range of industries." says organiser Peter Colyer, a representative from Academia Europaea.
The debate is also set to examine how open source software has impacted the digital economy and look at how European businesses can harness the power of movements such as the Open Source initiative.
Stallman is crediting with starting the whole free software movement by starting the GNU project, an effort to build a free Unix-like operating system.
Other writers and political contributing to the line up include Philippe Aigrain, head of the European Commission's Information Society programme on Open Source, Glyn Moody, author of the acclaimed Open Source historical book Rebel Code and John Howkins, author of the forthcoming Penguin book The Creative Economy, an examination of the business of new technologies.
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