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You are here: Home Blogs Licensing Free software activists come together to improve proposed U.S. Department of Education regulations

Free software activists come together to improve proposed U.S. Department of Education regulations

by Donald Robertson Contributions Published on Dec 22, 2015 12:26 PM
The Free Software Foundation submitted comments from free software activists in response to the U.S. Department of Education's proposed new regulations on the licensing of grant-funded works.

The U.S. Department of Education posted a Notice of Proposed Rule Making earlier this fall, Open Licensing Requirement for Direct Grant Programs, requesting comments from the public. While the Department's use of the watered-down term 'open' is unfortunate, the goals expressed in that notice are something that free software activists can be pleased with. The Department was looking to provide greater access to and distribution of works created using the grant funding it awards. In order to bring this about, it proposed new regulations requiring that all grant-funded works be released under a license that permits the public and educators to use them freely.

There was just one small hitch; the new regulations didn't explicitly require that the license permit redistribution of modified versions. Without this condition, users could create modified versions, but might not be able to then share those modified versions with others who could benefit. The ability to share modified versions is important not just to add value to the materials; it is also necessary to respect the rights of computer users. If this condition were missing, then grant-funded works could potentially be released under a license that failed to guarantee all of the four freedoms required for a work to be considered free software.

So we asked free software activists to help us let the Department know about the issue, requesting that you send us comments of your own or to co-sign the comment we were submitting for the FSF. People from all over the U.S. (and even some from around the world) responded by sending in thoughtful comments and requests to join our statement. We have now mailed those comments to the Department, and are hopeful that they will aid in making sure the new regulations accomplish the goals set out for them.

We also sent a letter with our submission explaining why we had to print and physically mail these comments. The only way to submit comments electronically is to use the government's portal, which is encumbered by proprietary JavaScript. Users shouldn't have to choose between permitting non-free software on their computers and being able to communicate with their government. Governments should promote the use of free software, not impede it. While the Department doesn't control the portal (many agencies use it), we wanted to put the issue on their radar -- especially since requiring proprietary JavaScript is inconsistent with the very principles their proposed regulations seek to advance.

We are hopeful that the Department will respond to our comments, and make the small correction that is necessary to prevent the proposal from being a near-miss. We will keep you updated on progress. Thank you to everyone who shared their comments with us, and to everyone who helped bring this proposal to fruition!

Didn't get a chance to join in on the effort? Here's what you can still do to help:

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