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Public Money, Public Code: Show Your Support For Free Software in Europe

The global movement for open access to publicly-funded research stems from the sensible proposition that if the government has used taxpayers' money to fund research, the publication of the results of that research should be freely-licensed. Exactly the same rationale underpins the argument that software code that the government has funded to be written should be made available as Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). Public Money, Public Code is a campaign of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) that seeks to transform that ideal into European law.

An open letter at the center of the campaign reads in part:

Public bodies are financed through taxes. They must make sure they spend funds in the most efficient way possible. If it is public money, it should be public code as well!

That is why we, the undersigned, call our representatives to:

“Implement legislation requiring that publicly financed software developed for public sector must be made publicly available under a Free and Open Source Software licence.”

The campaign has already collected over 13,000 signatures to the open letter, which has already been delivered to candidates for the German Federal election. But that's not the end of it—the FSFE also plans to resubmit the letter during other European elections, including the 2018 election in Italy, culminating in a big handover for the 2019 election for the European Parliament. So there is plenty of time to add your voice to those who have already expressed their support.

In the United States, under a Federal Source Code Policy that was introduced in 2016, agencies are required to release at least 20 percent of code developed by government employees and contractors as FOSS. But this isn't enough, particularly when you consider that 100% of code written by government employees is, by law, already in the public domain and should be available to the public for free. We therefore recommend that the next revision of the Federal Source Code Policy reflect that, by creating an “open-by-default” rule in place of the current 20 percent rule. Since 2013 we have also supported a proposed Open Access law called the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (S.1701, H.R.3427), or FASTR, that would require every federal agency that spends more than $100 million on grants for research to adopt an open access policy.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the advantages of releasing publicly-funded code under a FOSS license are the same. For example, it saves money by allowing code to be reused in multiple public or private projects, it makes government more accountable to the people by allowing them to review the software used by public agencies, and it stimulates collaboration and innovation. If you are European or have European friends or colleagues, we recommend that you review the FSFE's open letter and add your endorsement if you agree with it as strongly as we do.

EFF is proud to participate in Open Access Week. 

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