World Social Forum: Open Systems for Open Politics

2005-08-09 00:00:00

LONDON, Jan. 26 (IPS) - The World Social Forum opens Wednesday with open information systems in place to go with an open political ethos.

The World Social Forum opens Wednesday with open information systems in place to go with an open political ethos. All of about 1,000 computers at the forum are using free software. The official website has been developed for the first time in 'php,' an open source language.

A new translation system is also a free software tool. The system has been developed by Nomad, a group of programmers from India, Brazil, France and Britain working since 2003 on a voluntary basis to build the system for the World Social Forum (WSF).

A Tunisian group has developed a programme to store video footage and offer it on the Internet. Discussions at more than 400 panels and workshops will be transmitted live, permitting virtual participation from around the world.

The idea is to turn the Forum into a space where practice reflects models of a better world. The 'world social territory', as the organisers call the venue, is therefore seeking to use open source technology, fair trade groups and renewable sources of energy.

Around 744,600 dollars of the total WSF budget of 5.2 million dollars has been allocated to fair trade organisations and to manufacturers of open communication systems.

The WSF is also bringing together free software activists at a 'free knowledge laboratory' at the WSF youth camp. The digital revolution promoted by free software will be at the core of several WSF debates. The debates will be joined among others by members of the Free Software Foundation, Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells, and Lawrence Lessing from the Creative Commons initiative.

Creative Commons is a project started December 2002 to seek an alternative to traditional intellectual property rights. It promotes a flexible copyright framework that protects creative works while also promoting access to knowledge.

It provides a system of ”some rights reserved” on websites, software, music, films and literary works. An author can for example prevent commercial use of his work, but allow free exchange for non-profit purposes.

The Creative Commons system offers a choice of 11 different licences that are being adopted around the world. In May last year the BBC announced that an archive of video and audio material will be released under Creative Commons licence, allowing people to download parts of it, but preventing commercial use.

Not surprisingly the Brazilian government is taking part in the debate on alternatives to the intellectual property rights system.

At the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society held in Geneva in 2003, the Brazilian government strongly opposed intellectual property on software, and succeeded in getting this omitted from the final resolution.

Free software is also part of the Cultura Viva (lively culture) project launched last year by the ministry of culture in Brazil to encourage cultural initiatives at the community level.

”Working with open source software and recycling old computers, civil society groups create multimedia laboratories in underdeveloped communities,” Vitor Cheregati from the ministry told IPS. In all 261 communities are already involved in the project, and 250 more will be included next month.

Cultura Viva groups have been moving to the World Social Forum in caravans, stopping in cities along the way to organise workshops and meet the local communities.

”We give voice to all the experiences of community media we are meeting along the way, sharing what we know and learning from them,” Gabriel Furtado from Media Sana (a group promoting democratisation of media) told IPS on telephone from their last halt in Florianopolis before joining the youth camp.