When Silicon Valley arrives in Cuba

HAVANA — Some years ago, Julio decided to “build a makeshift,” i.e., buy a monitor here, a tower there, a keyboard wherever, until he had a complete computer. As he updated each part, the operative systems changed also, from that simple Windows XP until today, when his setup works with Windows 10.

Julio has never been bothered by the fact that he is using “cracked” software. Sure, he knows that anywhere else in the world that would be illegal, but here in Cuba the procedure is very common. Besides, even if he wanted to pay for a program, the U.S. blockade bars him from doing it.

While today the dialogue between Cuba and the United States is taking an uncertain course, the copyright issue in computer technology is one that’s included in the bilateral agenda.

As part of this scenario, one of the more generalized predictions is a tsunami of lawsuits against all common users and institutions that utilize proprietary software that was not legitimately purchased.

But Jorge Luis Batista, organizer of the International Conference on Free Technologies CubaConf, rules out this doomsday perspective.

“That wave will never come. It’s a myth,” he asserts. The benefits can come in different ways. For example, agreements like Google-Kcho MOR but in a larger scale, perhaps more similar to the collaboration between Cisco and the UCI.

“They won’t come here to collect but to give away,” Batista says. “Like, someday Microsoft will come here and allow the entire University of Havana to use Windows. In other words, in the world of technology it’s not convenient to create scarcity; on the contrary, they want you to use [their systems], so as to generate capital later on.”

And “later on” means millions of users (warning: connected users) who begin as a target audience for advertising and commercial offers. The information about our consumption patterns, our likes, interests, behavior, all that is worth money. In fact, Facebook, Twitter and other major companies dedicate themselves to using and selling those data.

Even so, in a “normal” situation, the keys, licenses and updates would be on our shopping list because they are services. On the other hand, the institutions would have to pay for use licenses. Or change to free software, like the courthouses in Las Tunas province, which have used Ubuntu, an open-code platform, since 2015.

“We did so because we are courts of law. We cannot violate the laws of intellectual property,” said David Alejandro Rivas, the institution’s network administrator.

Except for some other entities like Customs, the great majority of official spaced utilize proprietary software. At Cuban universities, including those that train computer specialists, Windows is taught. The same goes for the Joven (Young People’s) Clubs.

“To migrate to free software implies that all public services must operate on those platforms,” says Batista. In many countries, public administrations are migrating because, since they function from taxes, the taxpayers don’t want their money to enrich Bill Gates any longer. This process can be expensive, Batista says, but costs less than paying for a license every year.

Nevertheless, a nationwide “outage” by Windows is unlikely.

“People don’t have a real need to use free software,” Batista says. “The minute you impose it, it ceases to be free.”

Starting at home

So far we’ve coexisted in an environment of moral right, where the U.S. blockade forces us to access the technology by devious means. So, the big challenge is to move toward forms of consumption that are in accord with the rules of commerce and intellectual property, says Yarina Amoroso, president of the Cuban Society of Informatics Law.

The appropriate legislation has been in the books for many years: the Copyrights Law of 1977 and the Joint Resolution No. 1 of the Ministry of Culture and the then-Ministry of Sideromechanics Industry, which in 1999 established the regulations for the protection of the computer and data-base programs.

Article 9 of Resolution No. 1 grants equal recognition to the moral rights of the programmers who created their work independently, on assignment or as part of their employment. This clause points out that there is a “submerged” potential, an indefinable number of developers who work informally for foreign employers.

“There are those who take advantage of the low salaries and pay minimal wages, applying the rules of manufacture,” says Batista. “Someone who’s locked in a room, programming for an American company, is a sweatshop worker, same as if he were sewing Adidas garments, exactly the same. The idea is to manufacture our own things, because that’s what creates development.” Once again, economic necessity hands us the bill.

It seems obvious that such a professional force could be Cuba’s main contribution to a relationship with the United States. Amoroso points out that there could be compensation links and new businesses that would benefit both parties, for example, national solutions to the same proprietary softwares.

Besides, the country is in the axis of diverse networks of information circulation.

“Cuba has always had that privilege, that global social attention,” says Fidel Alejandro Rodríguez, a professor the School of Communications of the University of Havana. “So, when we articulate a group of scenarios/markets in the world, we are important as a center that produces and generates data.”

Last May, officials at the Ministry of Communications announced that the regulatory framework of that institution “is being fully updated, in accord with the worldwide context.” This legislative process is not conveyed to the public, but presumably the package of rules includes matters involving copyrights.

In any case, a possible opening (by the Internet, or by relations with the U.S. and other countries) implies greater opportunities.

“It’s not a question of companies coming here to swallow us,” Batista stresses. “There will be a lot of openings where we can insert ourselves, and we’ll get a lot more chances to compete with what we have.”

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