Open Brands

In late July, the Awesome Foundations invited me to participate in an interesting conversation about open brands at their conference. Awesome is a young collection of organizations struggling with the idea of if, and how, they want to try to control who gets call themselves Awesome. I was asked to talk about how the free software community approaches the issue.

Guidance from free software is surprisingly unclear. I have watched and participated in struggles over issues of branding in every successful free software project I’ve worked in. Many years ago, Greg Pomerantz and I wrote a draft trademark policy for the Debian distribution over a couple beers. Over the last year, I’ve been working with Debian Project Leader Stefano Zacchiroli and lawyers at the Software Freedom Law Center to help draft a trademark policy for the Debian project.

Through that process, I’ve come up with three principles which I think lead to more clear discussion about whether a free culture or free software should register a trademark and, if they do, how they should think about licensing it. I’ve listed those principles below in order of importance.

1. We want people to use our brands. Conversation about trademarks seem to turn into an exercise in imagining all the horrible ways in which a brand might be misused. This is silly and wrong. It is worth being extremely clear on this point: Our problem is not that people will misuse our brands. Our problem is that not enough people will use them at all. The most important goal of a trademark policy should be to make legitimate use possible and easy.

We want people to make t-shirts with our logos. We want people to write books about our products. We want people to create user groups and hold conferences. We want people to use, talk about, and promote our projects both commercially and non-commercially.

Trademarks will limit the diffusion of our brand and, in that way, will hurt our projects. Sometimes, after carefully considering these drawbacks, we think the trade-off is worth making. And sometimes it is. However, projects are generally overly risk averse and, as a result, almost always err on the side of too much control. I am confident that free software and free culture projects’ desire to control their brands has done more damage than all brand misuse put together.

2. We want our projects to be able to evolve. The creation of a trademark puts legal power to control a brand in the hands of an individual, firm, or a non-profit. Although it might not seem like such a big deal, this power is, fundamentally, the ability to determine what a project is and is not. By doing this, it creates a single point of failure and a new position of authority and, in that process, limits projects’ ability to shift and grow organically over time.

I’ve heard that in US politics, there is no trademark for the terms Republican or Democrat and that you do not need permission to create an organization that claims to be part of either party. And that does not mean that everybody is confused. Through social and organizational structures, it is clear who is in, who is out, and who is on the fringes.

More importantly, this structure allows for new branches and groups outside of the orthodoxy to grow and develop on the margins. Both parties have been around since the nineteenth century, have swapped places on the political spectrum on a large number of issues, and have played host to major internal ideological disagreements. Almost any organization should aspire to such longevity, internal debate, and flexibility.

3. We should not confuse our communities. Although they are often abused, trademarks are fundamentally pro-consumer. The point of legally protected brands is to help consumers from being confused as the source of a product or service. Users might love software from the Debian project, or might hate it, but it’s nice for them to be able to know that they’re getting "Debian Quality" when they download a distribution.

Of course, legally protected trademarks aren’t the only way to ensure this. Domains names, internal policies, and laws against fraud and misrepresentation all serve this purpose as well. The Open Source Initiative applied for a trademark on the term open source and had their application rejected. The lack of a registered trademark has not kept folks from policing use of the term. Folks try to call their stuff "open source" when it is not and are kept in line by a community of folks who know better.

And since lawyers are rarely involved, it is hardly clear that a registered trademark would help in the vast majority of these these situations. It is also the case that most free software/culture organizations lack the money, lawyers, or time, to enforce trademarks in any case. Keeping your communities of users and developers clear on what is, and what isn’t, your product and your project is deeply important. But how we choose to do this is something we should never take for granted.

A Model of Free Software Success

Last week I helped organize the Open and User Innovation Conference at Harvard Business School. One of many interesting papers presented there was an essay on Institutional Change and Information Production by Fabio Landini from the University of Siena.

At the core of the paper is an economic model of the relationship between rights protection and technologies that affects the way that cognitive labor can be divided and aggregated. Although that may sound very abstract (and it is in the paper), it is basically a theory that tries to explain the growth of free software.

The old story about free software and free culture (at least among economists and many other academics) is that the movements surged to prominence over the last decade because improvements in communication technology made new forms of mass-collaboration — like GNU/Linux and Wikipedia — possible. "Possible", for these types of models, usually means profit-maximizing for rational, profit-seeking, actors like capitalist firms. You can basically think of these attempts as trying to explain why open source claims that free licensing leads to "better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost" are correct: new technology makes possible an open development process which leads to collaboration which leads to higher quality work which leads to profit.

Landini suggests there are problems with this story. One problem is that it treats technology as being taken for granted and technological changes as effectively being dropped in from outside (i.e., exogenous). Landini points out that software businesses build an enormous amount of technology to help organize their work and to help themselves succeed in what they see as their ideal property rights regime. The key feature of Landini’s alternate model is that it considers this possibility. What comes out the other end of the model is a prediction for a multiple equilibrium system — a situation where there are several strategies that can be stable and profitable. This can help explain why, although free software has succeeded in some areas, its success has hardly been total and usually has not led to change within existing proprietary software firms. After all, there are still plenty of companies selling proprietary software. In Landini’s model, free is just one of several winning options.

But Landini’s model raises what might be an even bigger question. If free software can be as efficient as proprietary software, how would anybody ever find out? If all the successful software companies out there are doing proprietary software, which greedy capitalist is going to take the risk of seeing if they could also be successful by throwing exclusive rights out the window? In the early days, new paths are always unclear, unsure, and unproven.

Landini suggests that ethically motivated free software hackers provide what he calls a "cultural subsidy." Essentially, a few hackers are motivated enough by the ethical principles behind free software that they are willing to contribute to it even when it isn’t clearly better than proprietary alternatives. And in fact, historically speaking, many free software hackers were willing to contribute to free software even when they thought it was likely less profitable than the proprietary alternative models. As Landini suggests, this group was able to build technological platforms and find new social and business arrangements where the free model actually is competitive.

I think that the idea of an "cultural subsidy" is a nice way to think about the important role that ethical arguments play in movements like free software and free culture. "Open source" style efficiency arguments persuade a lot of people. Especially when they are true. But those arguments are only ever true because a group of ethically motivated people fought to find a way to make them true. Free software didn’t start out as competitive with proprietary software. It became so only because a bunch of ethically motivated hackers were willing to "subsidize" the movement with their failed, and successful, attempts at free software and free culture projects and businesses.

Of course, the folks attracted by "open source" style superiority arguments can find the ethical motivated folks shrill, off-putting, and annoying. The ethically motivated folks often think the "efficiency" group is shortsighted and mercenary. But as awkward as this marriage might be, it has some huge upsides. In Landini’s model, the ethical folks can build their better world without convincing everyone else that they are right and by relying, at least in part, on the self-interest of others who don’t share their principles. Just as the free software movement has done.

I think that Landini’s paper is a good description of the critically important role that the free software movement, and the FSF in particular, can play. The influence and importance of individuals motivated by principles can go far beyond the groups of people who take an ethical stand. They can make involvement possible for large groups of people who do not think that taking a stand on a particular ethical issue is even a good idea.

My Setup

The Setup is an awesome blog that posts of interviews with nerdy people that ask the same four questions:

  1. Who are you, and what do you do?
  2. What hardware are you using?
  3. And what software?
  4. What would be your dream setup?

I really care about my setup so I am excited, and honored, that they just posted an interview with me!

I answer questions about my setup often so I tried to be comprehensive with the hope that I will be able to point people to it in the future.

Update: I wrote this several years ago. If you’re interested, I’ve been keeping a ChangeLog of things I’ve added, changed, or removed from my setup.

Half the Battle Against DRM

As the free software and free culture movements have sat quietly by, DRM is now well on its way to becoming the norm in the electronic book publishing industry.

The free culture movement has failed to communicate the reality of DRM and, as a result, millions of people are buying books that they won’t be able to read when they switch to a different model of ebook reader in the future. They are buying books that will become inaccessible when the DRM system that supports them is shut down — as we’ve already seen with music from companies including Wal*Mart, Yahoo, and Microsoft. They are buying books that require that readers use proprietary tools that lock them out from doing basic things that have always been the right of a book owner.

Some anti-DRM advocates are, indirectly, part of this problem as they buy these books and turn to shady methods of stripping the DRM. Buying DRMed books is voting with your wallet for a system that criminalizes those that insist on living in freedom and will screw us all in the long run when DRM is the only choice we are offered and removing the DRM is difficult, unsafe, and illegal.

Buying non-DRMed e-books is a more freedom-friendly alternative for those that, like me, are excited about not lugging kilograms of paper around our cities and the world. We can do this at "non-mainstream" publishers like Smashwords who explicitly reject DRM. Of course, the big ebook sellers like Amazon, and Barnes and Nobel, and Google all offer non-DRMed books. But none of the major ebook retailers explicitly reveal the DRM status of locked down books before purchase.

On Amazon, there are some cryptic signs and signals that, if you understand them, suggest the absence of DRM. Google and Barnes and Nobel currently offer no way to know if a book is DRMed without buying it first and questions in their support forums go unanswered.

It’s hard to support non-DRM alternatives when we can’t recognize them. It’s hard to tell people to not buy DRM ebooks if we can’t even tell them apart. Getting this message through to book buyers — and perhaps even to ebook retailers — seems like a critical first step.

Slouching Toward Autonomy

I care a lot about free network services. Recently, I have been given lots of reasons to be happy with the progress the free software community has made in developing services that live up to my standards. I have personally switched from a few proprietary network services to alternative systems that respect my autonomy and have been very happy both with the freedom I have gained and with the no-longer-rudimentary feature sets that the free tools offer.

Although there is plenty left to do, here are four tools I’m using now instead of the proprietary tools that many people use, or that I used to use myself:

  • StatusNet/ for microblogging (instead of Twitter): I have had my account since the almost the very beginning and am very happy with the improvements in the recent 1.0 rollout.
  • Diaspora for social networking (instead of Facebook): Diaspora has made important strides forward recently and has become both quite usable and quite useful. Not having used Facebook, I’ve not managed to totally figure out where the system fits into my life, but I do periodically post updates that are more personal and less polished than the ones on my blog. I still have not set up my own pod but look forward to work that the Diaspora team is putting into making that process easier.
  • NewsBlur for feed reading/sharing (instead of Google Reader): NewsBlur can be thought of as a replacement for Google Reader and is, in my opinion, much better even before one considers issues of autonomy. You can install the code yourself or pay the author a small amount to host it for you (he will do it for free if you are following under 64 feeds).
  • Scuttle for social bookmarking (instead of Delicious): In the wake of Yahoo’s sale and shutdown of Delicious, there is a renewed interest in free tools for social bookmarking. Scuttle, a rather mature project, seems to have been one of several beneficiaries. My Scuttle installation is at

In trying to switch away from proprietary services, I have found that there still a lack of good information comparing the different systems out there and giving folks advice on who might be able to help with things like setup or hosting. I really value hearing from other people about what they use and what they find useful but finding this information online still seems to be a struggle.

The wiki seems like the natural place to host or summarize this discussion and to collect and share information useful for those of us slouching (or running) toward autonomy in our use of network services. I invite folks to get involved in improving that already useful resource.

For example, this week, I spent a few hours researching free social bookmarking tools and produced a major update to the (already useful) social bookmarking page on the wiki. Of course, I can imagine lots of ways to improve that page and to collect similar information on other classes of network services. Please join me in that effort!

Software Freedom Day Boston 2011

This year, Software Freedom Day in Boston is being organized by Asheesh and Deb and OpenHatch which means a focus on increasing involvement in free software communities. If you are all interested in getting involved in the free software community in any way and at any level — or interested in hearing about how that might happen someday — this is a great event to attend.

For my part, I’ll be giving a short talk on getting involved in Debian.

The event will be held on Saturday, September 17 at Cambridge College — between Harvard and Central squares — with an after party at Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard.

In Defense of Negativity

I often hear criticism of "negative campaigning" in the free software movement. For example, in reply to a blog post I once wrote about an FSF campaign, several people argued against, "negative campaigning of any sort, in any realm." Drawing an analogy to political smear campaigns, some members of the free software community have taken the position that negative campaigning in general is not useful and that negativity has no place in our advocacy.

First, it is important to be clear on what we mean by a negative campaigns. I believe that there is a fundamental difference between speaking out against policies or actions and smear campaigns that employ untrue claims, ad hominem attacks, and that attempt to avoid a real conversation about issues. I will categorically condemn the latter form of smear campaigning in campaigns for software freedom or for anything else.

That said, negativity directed at negativity has had a positive effect in many social movements. I have supported and participated in "negative" campaigns against proprietary software, software patents, DRM, centralized network services, and the firms behind these practices. I’ve done so because I believe that if one is taking an ethical position, it is justified, and often necessary, to not only speak about the benefits of freedom but against acts of dispossession and disenfranchisement.

In some of the most effective social movements, unambiguously negative messages have been central. Should a campaign for abolishing child labor talk only about how valuable adult workers are to their employers or how happy kids are when they don’t work? Should a campaign trying to abolish land mines talk only about the benefits of bomb-free fields and intact lower limbs? Should a free speech organization only speak out about the social welfare brought by a free press and never against acts of censorship? These may seem like outlandish comparisons but you can find people writing, only a couple centuries ago, about how slavery should be abolished by arguing in favor of the benefits of paid labor. Even if the economic arguments in favor of paid work are strong, these arguments seems irrelevant and offensive today. Whether slavery is more or less efficient is a moot point. Society has rejected it because it is wrong.

We have made important strides toward eliminating injustices like child labor and slavery because activists waged decidedly negative campaigns against them and convinced others to join in opposition. In doing so, activists declared the status quo unconscionable and created an ethical responsibility to find alternatives and to redefine what was "realistic." While I will not suggest that the movement for software freedom is comparable in ethical weight to these other causes, I know that the free software mission is similar in kind.

Of course, if one does not think that user control over technology is an ethical issue but is instead merely a matter of choice, one will probably oppose negative campaigns. It is also possible that a particular negative campaign is tactically unwise in that it is unlikely to reach a large audience, unlikely to change people’s minds, or be difficult to carry out successfully. But such campaigns are a bad idea because they are ineffective, not because they are negative. Additionally, a movement that is purely negative and offers no reasonable alternative to the stated ill may also be unlikely to succeed. This is why, for example, I believe it is good that the FSF uses the large majority of its resources in the "positive" role of supporting free software.

For those that do treat technological empowerment as an ethical ideal, it is both justified and essential to condemn the systematic disempowerment of others through non-free software just as we celebrate the benefits of software freedom. "Negative" campaigns against proprietary software, software patents, and DRM in music have already led our community to important — if incomplete — victories. The desire to right wrongs has been a critical part of our movement’s success and of many others’. We would be wise not to give it up.

Dates and Memory

Recently, I was working with Daf and Rob on a little offline wiki project — more on that soon — and we realized that we needed to parse some dates in ISO 8601 format. One of us wondered out loud if there was a Python module that could help us. I offered to take a look.

Turns out, less than two months before, someone had uploaded just such a module into Debian. The maintainer? Me.

Die Technikmafia

Marcus Rohwetter has recently published a very detailed article about Antifeatures in the German monthly magazine Zeit Wissen. Although I’ve only read the article through automatic translation — unfortunately, I don’t read German — I’m hugely honored that Rohwetter has taken the time to engage with the idea so deeply and to help translate the argument for a much broader community than the free software community I come from and am best able to speak to.

A lot of what I’ve been trying to do in the last year or so is to figure out how to speak more effectively about the politics of technology control to audiences of non-technologists. Indeed, that’s the whole point of the antifeatures concept. I deeply appreciate the help of Rohwetter, and others, in that project.

Antifeatures at the Free Technology Academy

In addition to lecturing for two courses at MIT this term, I recently had the pleasure of giving a lecture on antifeatures at the Free Technology Academy — a program which offers Masters courses over the Internet. Quite a few of the FTA courses are about free software, free knowledge, and related topics!

It was my first time giving a lecture to microphone and an empty room. Although I found it a little tricky to adapt to the lack of any audience, the FTA folks put together a great video. I’m psyched that the course material will be available as open education resources for anyone who might want to incorporate it into another course.

If you’ve seen my LCA keynote about antifeatures (which is also available online), there’s not going to be a whole new in the lecture. If didn’t see it, you might want to check out the lecture. I’ll be in the online discussion group around the Lecture for the next couple weeks but you need to sign up to participate.

Annual Free Software Foundation Fundraiser

The Free Software Foundation is in the last week of its annual fundraiser and has still has a bit of ground to make up. The FSF needs members and donations to merely sustain its basic activity protecting free software and engaging in minimal outreach. So as I’ve done in the last couple years, I’ve written a fundraising appeal for the organization. That why today my face is plastered, Jimmy Wales style, all over the FSF website. (For the record, the last bit was not my idea and I find it a little embarrassing.)

My appeal this year begins with my feeling that as our lives become increasingly mediated by technology, the question of who controls technology becomes another way of asking "Who controls us?" Read the appeal for more.

That statement, like much of the FSF’s work, is not going to get very far with most users today. Most people don’t think of technology as the source of control, power, or autonomy. They don’t understand why software should be free or even what that might mean. Making this argument widely is something the FSF works hard to do. But supporting this work is a bit of a chicken-egg problem. The users we most need to reach have never heard our message and it can take some time to turn even the most receptive into supporters.

For those of us that do care about technology and the power it has over its users, it’s hugely important that we take action to support software freedom and organizations like the FSF that play a key place in this struggle. If we don’t, nobody else will. The pool of people who might support the FSF today is small — there are currently about 3,000 members — but the stakes are huge: A choice between a world of DRM, locked down mobile phones, and non-free network services on one hand, and the possibility of a world where there are free alternatives on the other. The FSF won’t win this fight alone, but it plays a critical role in it.

The FSF is a small, humble, and responsible non-profit and a little money can have a big impact. If you are not an FSF associate member, now would be a great time to join. Membership is $120 per year ($60 for students) and payable monthly. In preparing this appeal, I realized that my membership had lapsed a couple months ago and that my partner Mika was still donating at the reduced student price. We’ve personally fixed both these things and made an additional donation. If you are a member, you can check your status or make a donation. If you are not yet, Please consider joining us.

When Free Software Isn’t Better

I have an essay in the latest Free Software Foundation’s bulletin which FSF members should be receiving this week. I’ve also republished the article on my website as When Free Software Isn’t Better. The article confronts the fact that free software is sometimes not as high quality or featureful as proprietary alternatives and that most free software projects aren’t particularly collaborative. It reflects on what these facts mean for free software and for open source.

The Bulletin goes out to all FSF associate members. You should join to get a copy mailed to you in the future — but mostly you should join because doing so supports the work of the foundation.

Piracy and Free Software

This essay is a summary of my presentation at the workshop Inlaws and Outlaws, held on August 19-20, 2010 in Split, Croatia. The workshop brought together advocates of piracy with participants in the free culture and free software movements.

In Why Software Should Not Have Owners, Richard Stallman explains that, if a friend asks you for a piece of software and the license of the software bars you from sharing, you will have to choose between being a bad friend or violating the license of the software. Stallman suggests that users will have to choose between the lesser of two evils and will choose to violate the license. He emphasizes that it’s unfair to ask a user to make such a choice.

Over the past few years, pirate parties have grown across much of the developed world. Of course, piracy remains the primary means of distributing media across most of the rest. Advocates of access to information have gathered and organized under the "pirate" banner, representing the choice of sharing with friends over compliance with license terms.

The free/libre and open source software (FLOSS) and free culture movements seem to have a confused and conflicted reaction to all this. On one hand, major proponents of several pirate parties are FLOSS and free culture stalwarts and several pirate parties have made FLOSS advocacy a component of their political platforms. Pirate Parties’ clear opposition to software patents and DRM resonates with both FLOSS and free culture communities. On the other hand, FLOSS leaders, including Stallman, have warned us about "pirate" anti-copyright policies. Free culture leaders, like Lawrence Lessig, have repeatedly and vociferously denounced piracy, treated even the intimation of an association with piracy as an affront, and systematically distanced themselves and their work from piracy.

Should FLOSS and free culture advocates embrace pirates as comrades in arms or condemn them? Must we choose between being either with the pirates or against them? Our communities seem to have no clearly and consistently articulated consensus.

I believe that, unintuitively, if you take a strong principled position in favor of information freedom and distinguish between principles and tactics, a more nuanced "middle ground" response to piracy is possible. In light of a principled belief that users should be able to share information, we can conclude there is nothing ethically wrong with piracy. Licenses have the power of the law but they are protected by unjust "intellectual property" laws. That said, principles are not the only reason activists choose to do things. Many political stunts are bad ideas not because they are wrong, but because they won’t work and have negative side effects. Tactics matter too. Even though there might not be anything ethically wrong with piracy from the perspective of free software or free culture, it might still be a bad idea. There are at least three such tactical reasons that might motivate free software and culture to not support piracy or participate in pro-piracy movements and politics.

First, a systematic disrespect for copyright undermines respect for all licenses which have been of a huge tactical benefit to free software and a increasingly important factor in the success of free culture. Copyleft licenses like the GPL or CC BY-SA have power only because copyright does. As Stallman has suggested, anti-copyright actions are anti-copyleft. That needn’t be an argument against attempts to limit copyright. Indeed, I think we must limit and reduce copyright. But we must tread carefully. In the current copyright climate, I believe that copyleft offers a net advantage. Why should others respect our licenses if we don’t respect theirs? Looking at the long term, we must weigh the benefits of promoting the systematic violation of proprietary licenses with the benefits of adherence to free software and free culture.

Second, piracy is fundamentally reactionary. Part of its resonance as a political symbol comes from the fact that the piracy represents a way that consumers of media can fight back against a set of companies which have attacked them — with lawsuits, DRM systems, and demonization in propaganda — for sharing in ways that most consumers think are natural and socially positive. But piracy focuses on reaction rather the fundamental importance of sharing that drives it. As a result, most pirates do not support, or are even familiar with, a principled approach to access to information. As a result, many piracy advocates who speak out against DRM on DVDs will be as happy to use NetFlix to stream DRMed movies for $5 a month as they were to download for free. The best rallying cries do not always translate into be the most robust movements.

Third, through its focus on a reaction, a dialog about piracy avoids engagement with the tough questions of what we will replace the current broken copyright system with. A principled position suggests that it is our ethical prerogative to create alternative models. The free software movement has succeeded because it created such a prerogative and then, slowly over time, provided examples of workable alternatives. A principled position on free software did not require that one provide working new systems immediately, but it makes the development of creative, sustainable approaches a priority. Attacking the system without even trying to speak about alternative modes of production is unsustainable. Free software and free culture call for a revolution. Piracy only calls for a riot.

Piracy, in these three senses, can be seen as tactically unwise, without necessarily being unethical. By taking a principled position, one can go build on, and go beyond, RMS’s comment. On free culture and free software’s terms, we can suggest that piracy is not ethically wrong, but that it is an unwise way to try to promote sharing. Without being hypocritical, we can say: "I don’t think piracy is unethical. But I also do not support it."

Selectricity Source

After a semi-recent thread on debian-devel, I poked around and realized that I’d never actually gotten around to formally announcing the release of source code for Selectricity, a piece of web-based election software designed to allow for preferential decision-making and to provide "election machinery for the masses." Selectricity is useful for a range of decisions but it targets all those quick little decisions that we might want to decide preferentially but where running a vote would be overkill.

Things were delayed through a drawn out set of negotiations with the MIT Technology Licensing Office over how to release the code under a free software license of my choosing. I was swamped when things finally came through. Over time, I managed to forget that I never did a formal announcement, never setup a mailing list, and never did all those things that I have tried to teach other people in the Free Software Project Management HOWTO. Code just sort of appeared on my website under the GNU Affero General Public License. It was until the debian-devel thread that I remembered I’d never made a formal announcement. Sorry about that!

The git repository has been online and accessible through searches for more than a year now. Most folks who wanted the code seem to have been able to find it there. Indeed, a number of people have set up their own instances and a few have submitted patches to the code! But more visibility for the source means more empowered users, more visibility for free software, and more developers.

So I’ve shipped all the code into a project in Gitorious (its like GitHub, except free), announced things on the Selectricity Blog, changed the Selectricity footer of to include a prominent link to the source. I’ve also created a mailing list. The Gitorious project page includes a wiki.

I also want to mention this all here because the attention of the current development team seems mostly to have moved on to other projects. The current team seems able to keep the hosted version up and running, and even gets around to little improvements now and then, but there’s definitely room for new life and new leadership.

There are some nearly-complete and "complete minus further testing" features in the development tree that might provide low hanging fruit for folks interested in elections and decision-making who might want to get involved in Selectricity development. If you’re interested and know (or want to learn) Rails, feel free to check out the code, introduce yourself on the list or contact to coordinate.

Free Software Needs Free Tools

I finally finished an article I’ve had in one form or another for years about on the use of proprietary tools in the creation of free software. From BitKeeper to SourceForge to Google Code to GitHub, non-free tools and services have played an important role in free software development over the past decade and, I argue, continue to create a number of important, if sometimes subtle, problems for our community.

The article was published in the Spring 2010 FSF Bulletin which was mailed to all FSF associate members. I’ve also posted the article on my website and in PDF form as well.