A few months ago, we wrote a story about the newly formed Iraqi Linux Users Group, ILUG (http://www.iraqilug.org). Their goals were as far reaching as their spirit and optimism were high. After months of war and strife within their country, how has this band of open source warriors fared? We caught up with two of the members, Bassam Hassan and Ashraf Hasson, to talk to them about the current state of affairs in the country, what they've experienced in the past year, and what they're looking to do and need in order to move on.
2) When we reported on this, new copyright laws were being put in place. Some feared that these would be DMCA-style regulations. How far along is that process and what have been some notable developments? (Have proprietary companies started to crack down on pirated software yet?)
Bassam: Yes, I heard these rumors myself. We took time to verify the information and we found that there are no such regulations in Iraq. From my experience, I can confidently state that such regulations wonít be in effect for another 15 years minimum, so there are no reasons for such fears in this regard.
Regarding the copyright laws issue, the copyright laws have been carefully designed and implemented, but not thoroughly enforced. It boils down to this: the governmental constitutions and agencies are currently obligated by the new Iraqi laws to comply with the stringent copyright regulations inside the governmental ministries and institutes. Unfortunately, proprietary software companies took advantage of this to create a monopoly-like lock on the software market. What is currently happening is that we are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for installing and maintaining proprietary software in the newly established governmental entities and ministries.
However, the hope is still present out there in the private sector which is constantly flourishing. Because of the fact that Iraqi population has used pirated software for decades, since this social phenomena is still present today, itís almost impossible to find a person in Iraq who has used a computer and hasn't used pirated software. Even we (the ILUG) use pirated software occasionally, not because we like to do it, but simply because we canít afford to pay for proprietary software with such deteriorated economy and individual income. That is why we, as founders of the ILUG, are almost certain that the Iraqi population will find the concept of open source more acceptable when considering the current demands of the Iraqi software market.
Iím making this conclusion because people here are used to the idea of paying money for consultation and services like system installation, maintenance and upgrading, but not for the software itself. Iraqis will prefer open source because itís free. (When I say free, I mean free of charge, not 'free as in freedom' like Richard Stallman is fond of saying.)
Ashraf: Proprietary companies are already ahead in the game as they have most (if not all) of their products floating the local market. Migrating a business from one layout to another is not something easy to work out, hence the DMCA-like regulations being a threat. But I think the government is not very focused on software law right now, instead focusing more on the main constitution itself, especially with the current events. Anyhow, I think wise people would choose Open Source when it comes down to it. A few rumors are floating around saying that the government is planning its own network infrastructure based on rigid systems like the Open Source ones. Nothing is certain yet, though.
3) Has there been any help from foreign military personnel in your efforts to spread the open source message?
Bassam: Yes, we got some help from few military personnel who supplied books and other educational resources to our group. They've also provided us with small contributions to help us get a constant Internet connection, which is extremely expensive here in Iraq. But frankly speaking, we anticipated much more assistance from many influencing and powerful military personnel who were mentoring and acknowledging our work and activities. Sadly, the security situation has been a major obstacle to their good will.
Ashraf: Yes, there have been some good intentions and help in certain areas where help was possible. Nevertheless, this couldn't be done in public due to security reasons, and wasn't continued, for the same reasons.