Rami Olwan

All About CyberLaw, Copyright and Developing Countries

Do We Need Research on OSS Legal Issues in the Arab world?

Introduction

Free or Open source software (OSS) refers to computer software available with its source code and under an open source license to study, change, and improve its design. OSS applications such as Linux, Apache and Bind have become widely used in the last few years, along with the expansion of the internet.

OSS is a fascinating phenomenon for study by legal scholars and practioners; it is fascinating since it turns traditional notions of copyright, software licensing, distribution and development on their heads, even to the point of creating the term “copyleft” to describe alternative approaches to software copyright protection (See  Dennis M Kennedy, “A primer on open source licensing  legal issues: copyright, copyleft and copy future”. Furthermore, some scholars argue even more strongly that open source software has demised copyright and intellectual property (See Patrick K. Bobko, “Open-source software and the demise of copyright”.

I became interested in OSS legal issues when I was researching categories of software and different forms of intellectual property protection, I noticed that this particular subject has not been given the full attention it deserves as there are no research in the Arab world that discuss these issues. Research of copyright law in the Arab world did not go beyond considering the very basic concepts of software protection and not much beyond this point has been done.

Why OSS Research is important?

The importance of researching this subject stems from the contemporary legal debates regarding OSS that are talking place not only in the developed countries, but also in developing countries like Argentina, Brazil, Malaysia, South Africa, India, and Indonesia. In those countries, governments are promoting the use of OSS and many different private organizations are using OSS. This creates many legal challenges regarding the use of OSS either in government or business sectors.It is interesting to note that a number of Arab countries such as Palestine have drafted information technologies policies that promote the use of OSS, but unfortunately most of those policies do not discuss the legal issues related to OSS at all.

Questions that need to be answered

There is a need to study to what extent OSS has challenged the legal thinking and actual practice of intellectual property law. Among the questions that should be considered are the following:

– To what extent would it be useful for Arab countries to use OSS?

– What lessons could be learned from developing countries that are using OSS?

– Does the use of OSS challenge copyright, patents and other intellectual property laws?

– If yes, how and is there a need to change the current legal landscape and intellectual property laws?

– What are the legal risks associated with using of OSS in governments or businesses? – What are the most appropriate legal practices that could be followed to avoid or at least limit those legal risks?

– Is the American GNU General Public License (GPL) enforceable under the civil legal systems generally and copyright laws applicable in the Arab countries?

Conclusion

Open source software represents a phenomenon changing the information technology landscape in many fundamental ways. As indicated many governments in the developing countries and businesses are using OSS now and many more are considering using it in the near future. Nevertheless, not many have undertaken a systematic analysis of their legal system in the context of OSS use and adaptation. Legal issues related to OSS have not been given the attention they deserve in Jordan particularly and in the Arab world. I recommend conducting such a study by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology in Jordan and then expanding it to cover other Arab countries.

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