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Strengthening the Community

Building a national Linux organization and fighting for FOSS on the political stage

This presentation was first given at Linux Bangalore/2004, India's premier Open Source conference, 2 Dec 04. You can view the slides online here, or download them in PDF form.

Strengthening the community: building a national Linux organization and fighting for FOSS on the political stage


Linux Australia got its start as the parent organization of the annual Linux conference in Australia, linux.conf.au. As LCA has blossomed into one of the foremost technical conferences worldwide, participation from Linux User Groups (LUGs) around the country grew, and with that came an increased demand that there be an organization to represent Linux and Open Source on the national stage.

At the beginning of the year, the governments of Australia and the United States announced they had negotiated a Free Trade Agreement. It didn't take too long for Free Software advocates and others to realize that included in the FTA were entire chapters devoted to imposing US style software patents and DMCA anti-circumvention measures. Intellectual Property rights are one of the cornerstones of our freedoms, but unfortunately they can be used by unscrupulous companies in uncompetitive and unfair ways. Our legal advice was that if these clauses became law, it would be bad for open source developers. So, Linux Australia set out into the uncharted territory of public policy advocacy, hoping to raise the profile of these issues and get political support to protect our right to hack code!

These efforts have been surprisingly effective. We now have a notable media profile (the newspaper editors read our press releases!) and have established bridges to numerous levels of government. In the process legislators and civil servants at all levels have learned more about Information Technology in general and Free and Open Source Software specifically.

That in turn ties directly back to our organization's purpose - to enhance opportunities for people to develop and use Linux and Open Source Software and to promote the interests and enthusiasms of people in the industry.

So this talk will share these experiences and offer lessons for people interested in advocating policies in favour of Open Source in their communities. The best part about open source is that we can all build on each others successes — and I have every hope of inspiring you to go to your own greater things.

Andrew Cowie has been a member of the Board of Linux Australia for the last two years

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The slides used for this presentation were inspired by and evolved from slides authored by Stewart Smith, Vice President of Linux Australia, for presentation to a meeting of Linux Users Victoria. Many thanks for the inspiration and starting point.