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Free software and copyright enforcement: A tool for global copyright policy?


One of the paradoxes of the free software ideology is its reliance on the legal institutions it was created to object to. One could argue that Free Software Foundation is using copyright to enforce their free software licenses as aggressively as the Business Software Alliance is enforcing its clients’ copyrights. We will show that the reality is more complex and that there is a significant difference: the free software community uses primarily non-legal enforcement methods and trusts on social norms. We argue that free software could be used as a tool to make copyright more accepted in the less developed world because of its positive connection with copyright and community based approach. We explain why strong copyright is also in the interest of free software developers. The article concludes by suggesting that World Intellectual Property Organization should include free software into its development agenda.

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Oksanen works currently at Helsinki University of Technology as a researcher. He was a visiting scholar at UC-Berkeley 2001–2002 and is now preparing his Ph.D. on the economic rationality of copyright system in the University of Joensuu. Oksanen is currently a board member of Electronic Frontier Finland, which he co-founded in 2001. He’s also co-chairing European Digital Right’s IP working group.

He also teaches technology and intellectual property law as an adjunct professor at Helsinki University of Technology. Mr. Välimäki has consulted for software companies and is the author of a book on open source licensing (available at Previously, Mr. Välimäki has been a visiting scholar at University of California, Berkeley.

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Oksanen, V., Välimäki, M. Free software and copyright enforcement: A tool for global copyright policy?. Know Techn Pol 18, 101–112 (2006).

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  • Intellectual Property
  • World Trade Organization
  • Free Software
  • Development Agendum
  • World Intellectual Property Organization