Open source developers step up anti-patent campaign

Projects hope a taste of one possible future will spur people to action
Written by Ingrid Marson, Contributor
Developers are using shock tactics to persuade the open source community to get involved in the campaign against software patents.

Over the last month various open source projects have replaced their Web home page with one that outlines the risk that the EU Directive on the Patentability of Computer Implemented Inventions, more commonly known as the Software Patent Directive, could pose to free software.

Kopete, an open source instant messaging project, joined this protest a couple of weeks ago. It claims that many free software projects may be forced to finish if the directive is passed.

"Software patents threaten the very future of free software applications -- many may be forced to stop and go out of existence because of 'patent violations'," states the Kopete home page.

Another page on the Kopete site provides information on some of the patents that affect the application, including an AOL patent that covers anything resembling a network that lets multiple IM users see when other people are present and then communicate with them.

Other open source sites that have got involved in this campaign include another open source instant messaging application AMSN and open source multimedia player MPlayer.

The MPlayer home page said it is in a particularly difficult situation due to the number of patents passed in the multimedia field.

"MPlayer is seriously threatened by software patents due to the numerous patented multimedia techniques," states the MPlayer home page. "Also threatened are the many programs built upon MPlayer and the other free software multimedia players, like xine, VLC, avifile, gstreamer and especially FFmpeg, which provides the framework all of the above players use."

"Multimedia is a patent minefield. All important techniques and formats are covered by broad and trivial patents that are harming progress and alternative implementations, such as free software multimedia players."

Each of the Web sites involved in the campaign ends with a cautionary statement that suggests the project could soon be terminated. "Enter the Kopete homepage while it is still available," states the Kopete Web site.

Some Web surfers have been confused by these temporary home pages. A posting to the Fedora forum expressed concern that the MPlayer project had ended.

"I just happened to visit the MPlayer website today and they have replaced their main page with something about 'Closed for patent infringement'," says the posting. "If what they are saying is true I worry about the future of MPlayer. If there is anyone that lives in Europe and thinks they can help, please do. I'd hate to lose MPlayer."

Duncan Mac-Vicar, the Kopete project leader, said that it decided to protest after seeing the interest generated by the MPlayer and AMSN homepage. He said it is important that people are made aware of the issue to make sure that the European Parliament rejects the directive during its second reading.

The legal affairs committee of the European Parliament is due to discuss the directive on 21 April, according to an EP spokesman on Wednesday.

Editorial standards