Copyright law may aid open source in Ghana

Open source advocates in Ghana are taking advantage of a copyright bill being considered in the country’s parliament to push the government to adopt Linux, according to participants at the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Government conference here Friday.

The copyright bill, if made law, would require strict enforcement of intellectual property laws, and appears to favour Microsoft Corp. Software piracy is rampant in Ghana, common even in large organizations. Most bills that are presented to parliament become laws in Ghana.

Open source advocates here at the conference argued that the government, which most likely also uses pirated software, could make some savings on licenses if it adopts open source software such as Linux.

Ghanaian authorities say they may consider open source software for educational and research institutions and sections of its civil service that are not mission-critical.

“In the civil service, we are paying a lot on licenses on software, if we can move to the open system, we can save some money,” said Clement Dzidonu, an ICT for Government conference participant and the chairman of Ghana’s National ICT Development Policy Committee, the body that is drawing up Ghana’s IT policy.

Another argument the group is pushing for their government to adopt Linux is technology transfer. They reason that, in a world that is increasingly being driven and dependent on IT, it is critical for Ghana to build the capacity to produce technology. The nation can not do that if it is dependent on proprietary software, where the necessary knowledge and expertise are centralized overseas.

For example, the lack of programming skills in the country became apparent in Ghana’s first open source project, a telephone billing system, according to project developer Guido Sohne.

Sohne did not attend the ICT conference but is familiar with the issues. “Most of these people have been asking me to teach them to program. They do not have the skills to program,” he said, discussing the telephone billing project participants.

Open source advocates at the conference also pushed the reliability and the security of open source software. In sensitive areas like government affairs, they said, open source software offers the possibility to audit source code to ensure that there are no secret backdoors that will enable foreign governments to conduct espionage.

Microsoft recently, however, has announced that it will allow governments to examine Windows code.

Most companies developing proprietary software allow only their own programmers to make modifications to source code. Open-source software such as the Linux operating system is typically developed by programmers distributing source code modifications freely over the Internet, though users must pay for versions of Linux packaged by some software houses.