Freedom for Users, Not for Software

I finally published a short essay I wrote about a year ago: Freedom for Users, Not for Software.

Anybody who has hung around the free software community for a while will be familiar with the confusion created by the ambiguity between "free as in price" versus "free as freedom." In the essay I argue that there is a less appreciated semantic ambiguity that arises when we begin to think that what matters is that software is free. Software doesn’t need freedom, of course; Users of software need freedom. My essay looks at how the focus on free software, as opposed to on free users, has created challenges and divisions in the free software movement.

The essay was recently published in Wealth of the Commons: A World Beyond Market and State, a book edited by David Bollier and Silke Helfrich and published by Levellers Press. The book includes essays by 73 authors that include some other folks from the free software and free culture communities along with a ton of people working on very different types of commons.

My essay is short and has two parts: The first is basically a short introduction to free software movement. The second lays out what I see as major challenges for free software. I will point out that these are some of the areas that I am working most closely with the FSF — who are having their annual fundraiser at the moment — to support and build advocacy programs around.

6 Replies to “Freedom for Users, Not for Software”

  1. I’m very glad you made this point. I made a similar point here when discussing free software.
    Who’s freedom our licenses are targeting is an important part of the discussion.
    Share-alike licenses restrict the freedom to create proprietary derivatives in order to increase the freedom of users, and the open-source community, to use potential derivatives.
    Non-share-alike licenses give developers the freedom to create proprietary derivatives, but those derivatives restrain the freedom of users of those derivatives.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I think our points are different. I’m saying that the software doesn’t need freedom but that users of the software does. I mean, I agree with your point that we need to ask about freedom for who, and I also think we agree on what the answer should be (users!) so I see the connection there!.

    2. Sure, but only of users of these less free derivates. We’re not in the 1980s any more, when RMS created GNU. There’s lots and lots of free software running on lots and lots of hardware about. Users can choose to not use these less free derivates and go straight to the source.

      In my case, if, say, Apple were to include mksh with their iPhoneOS, I’d be glad. Happy that my code is perceived good enough to make available to lots of users, and people wanting the Real Thing could still use the original mksh (elsewhere, if the device itself is locked). I don’t mind them “stealing” the code, as it could only worsen were they to write a Unix shell themselves. Just they should give credits (which, in turn, may rise the “market value” of the developer).

      From a “copycenter” stance, I can see a case for an LGPL (and possibly ALGPL), but we don’t need the GPL any more.

  2. I think the point is “free knowledge” which belongs to all humans and the other is “my project” which can be totaly free or not, or can be as open source with multiply use different in each case.

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