Public administrations in the EU facing resistance to their publishing of software as open source, are likely supported by a European Law, the 'Directive on the re-use of public sector information'. The PSI-directive, part of member states' national laws since 2005, obliges public administrations to avoid discrimination between market players, when making information available for re-use. Making source code available as open source is one way to avoid favouritism.
The PSI-directive may be relevant, if ever there is a complaint over public funding of open source software, confirms the EC's Directorate General for Competition. A spokesperson: "We are not aware of any state aid complaints regarding public funding of open source software."
The EU's DG Competition declined to comment further on recent complaints by Swiss proprietary software vendors over the planned publication as open source of OpenJustitia, a document management system developed by the Swiss Federal Court. The DG says it cannot take a position on a situation outside its jurisdiction.
Swiss newspapers last month quoted Weblaw, an IT vendor, and other sources, objecting to the publication of OpenJustitia, which they fear will compete with their proprietary software. Because of this, the publication of OpenJustitia, scheduled for this month, has been postponed until after a discussion in the Swiss parliament later this summer.
Other IT sources in the European Commission concur with DG Competition that it is likely the first time that a public administration's open source project is criticised for competing against commercial applications.
One of a kind
The Swiss complaint is unique, say also sources at the Spanish government's resource centre on open source, Cenatic. "Public administrations that develop and share their software, should not be regarded as unfair business practice, but taken as an opportunity for companies to build on and extend their service offerings.
Most tools developed by or for public administrations are very specialised, making it unlikely that they compete with commercial software. The Commission itself has published as open source several applications that could be seen as competing with commercial applications, such as the group-ware application Circa and electronic invoicing system e-Prior. Yet both offers features that make them different from commercial offerings, say those involved.
That argument is also put forward by those involved in OpenJustitia: "We developed it after finding that none of the existing solutions on the market satisfied met our technological and quality needs."