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The Wassenaar Arrangement

Our first information about the new Wassenaar Arrangement came in the form of a newspaper article, which said that export of encryption software would be prohibited—and this seemed to include free software. So we posted an announcement seeking people in non-Wassenaar countries to participate in distribution and development of free software for encryption.

Subsequently the actual text of the new version of Wassenaar Arrangement was published. Then we saw that it continues to have an exception that seems to cover free software. (They use the term “public domain”, but they seem to mean something like free software by that.) So the problem seems to have been a false alarm.

However, the US continues to seek such restrictions, and therefore it makes sense to continue our preparations, as a precaution in case a future version of the Wassenaar Arrangement places further restrictions on exportation of free software.

Here is our interpretation of the text of the latest Wassenaar Arrangement, as we have seen it. This has not been checked by a lawyer.

According to the General Software Notes, entry 2, the agreement does not cover software which is in “the public domain”. This is defined in the definitions as technology or software which has been made available without restrictions upon its further dissemination. There is also a statement that copyright by itself does not deny a program this “public domain” status.

There are currently discussions about the agreement and it would seem logical that the definition of “public domain” is something that will be clarified at future meetings.

Finnish officials have stated that “nothing will change as far as the “public domain” software and the Dec 3 Wassenaar Arrangement are concerned.”

In Denmark, we are told, there has been an incident where the Ministry of Commerce informed an administrator to stop offering the program PGP for download.

Recent news indicate that the Australian government has prohibited the export of free software for encryption by modifying the Wassenaar list that related to the definition of software “in the public domain.”


 [FSF logo] “The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is a nonprofit with a worldwide mission to promote computer user freedom. We defend the rights of all software users.”


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