FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Software Freedom Movement

by JEFF NICHOLSON-OWENS

In Alfredo Lopez’s article “Stallman, FOSS and the Adobe Nightmare”. I think that article gets some of Richard Stallman’s message wrong and ends up giving the open source movement credit for a freedom-based philosophy the open source movement disagrees with. I think the intention and enthusiasm to help people understand software freedom are present in the article but quite a few of the article’s details are either untrue or unwisely worded. It would be sadly ironic if people came away reading the article thinking that the underlying issue had to do with developing more powerful, reliable, and convenient software instead of the more important pursuit of our freedom to run, share, and modify published computer software.

Stallman’s movement is the free software movement which he started in 1984, not the open source movement started over 10 years later. Stallman has written about the disagreement between the free software movement and the open source movement multiple times (1, 2) and he raises this issue in every talk I’ve heard him give.

Lopez’s call for software freedom is good to see (I’m glad I’m not the only one out there writing stuff addressing software freedom on CounterPunch!) but it should be pointed out that the open source movement does not champion a user’s right to run, share, and modify published computer software (software freedom). That movement’s founders felt that pressing for software freedom might be objectionable to businesses. The open source movement was formed to speak to programmers so they can better cater to business interests (even going so far as to sometimes endorse software that would not meet the definition of open source software). Open source enthusiasts who help get us software freedom are doing us all a favor, and I’m grateful for their work. But their aim is quite different and sometimes that aim results in radically different conclusions which you can see quite clearly in Stallman’s essay “Why Open Source misses the point of Free Software”:

“The idea of open source is that allowing users to change and redistribute the software will make it more powerful and reliable. But this is not guaranteed. Developers of proprietary software are not necessarily incompetent. Sometimes they produce a program that is powerful and reliable, even though it does not respect the users’ freedom. Free software activists and open source enthusiasts will react very differently to that.

A pure open source enthusiast, one that is not at all influenced by the ideals of free software, will say, “I am surprised you were able to make the program work so well without using our development model, but you did. How can I get a copy?” This attitude will reward schemes that take away our freedom, leading to its loss.

The free software activist will say, “Your program is very attractive, but I value my freedom more. So I reject your program. Instead I will support a project to develop a free replacement.” If we value our freedom, we can act to maintain and defend it.”

Lopez calls what happened to Adobe “theft” but this term is problematic for precisely the reason the GNU Project has laid out. Adobe’s source code was copied without permission, not stolen, because Adobe still has their copy of that source code. As for whether the copying was right or wrong the GNU Project points out:

“Unauthorized copying is forbidden by copyright law in many circumstances (not all!), but being forbidden doesn’t make it wrong. In general, laws don’t define right and wrong. Laws, at their best, attempt to implement justice. If the laws (the implementation) don’t fit our ideas of right and wrong (the spec), the laws are what should change.”

The issue of the credit card information is another matter as that adversely affects others besides Adobe. It’s one thing for a proprietor to have a hard time; we’re better off if a proprietor finds it harder to continue distributing proprietary software and any money they make from that activity is ill-gotten gain. But the users shouldn’t have to suffer from proprietary software or from imposters using their credit card information. Fortunately credit cards are set up to deal with this, credit cardholders have rights that limit liability (at least in the US, as I understand it) and that could make this a relatively minor matter of canceling old credit card numbers, and having banks deal with imposters and Adobe for not properly securing their credit card information system. Adobe should certainly know whom to contact to alert them to get their cards canceled.

Lopez also uses the word “protected” in a way he should avoid when he says proprietary source code is a proprietor’s “private work product often protected by copyright laws”. Better to use a word that doesn’t carry the implication of preventing harm (as proprietary software itself is the harm). The program is restricted from being copied freely, from the user’s point of view. Copying the program doesn’t harm the program, not being able to share copies of the program harms the user.

Finally, when Lopez says “FOSS developers don’t have a cache of credit cards because they don’t charge for their software” that is not entirely correct—these developers might not charge for the software in the same way proprietary software distributors charge users—to get a copy of the program—but there are FOSS developers who charge for their labor and take credit cards as payment, thus they have credit card data to keep track of.

JEFF NICHOLSON-OWENS (“Dr. NO”) is a computer consultant in Champaign, Illinois, and conducts the radio program “Digital Citizen” on community station WEFT-FM. He can be reached at jbn@forestfield.org.

Copyright 2004 J.B. Nicholson-Owens Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 31, 2016
NEVE GORDON - NICOLA PERUGINI
Human Shields as Preemptive Legal Defense for Killing Civilians
Jim Kavanagh
Turkey Invades Syria, America Spins The Bottle
Dave Lindorff
Ukraine and the Dumbed-Down New York Times Columnist
Pepe Escobar
Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, a Woman of Honor, Confronts Senate of Scoundrels
Jeff Mackler
Playing the Lesser Evil Game to the Hilt
Steve Horn
Dakota Access Pipeline Tribal Liaison Formerly Worked For Agency Issuing Permit
Patrick Cockburn
Has Turkey Overplayed Its Hand in Syria?
John Chuckman
Why Hillary is the Perfect Person to Secure Obama’s Legacy
Manuel E. Yepe
The New Cold War Between the US and China
Stephen Cooper
Ending California’s Machinery of Death
Stacy Keltner - Ashley McFarland
Women, Party Politics, and the Power of the Naked Body
Hiroyuki Hamada - Ikuko Isa
A Letter from Takae, Okinawa
Aidan O'Brien
How Did Syria and the Rest Do in the Olympics?
David Swanson
Arms Dealing Is Subject of Hollywood Comedy
Jesse Jackson
The Politics of Bigotry: Trump and the Black Voter
August 30, 2016
Russell Mokhiber
Matt Funiciello and the Giant Sucking Sound Coming Off Lake Champlain
Mike Whitney
Three Cheers for Kaepernick: Is Sitting During the National Anthem an Acceptable Form of Protest?
Alice Bach
Sorrow and Grace in Palestine
Sam Husseini
Why We Should All Remain Seated: the Anti-Muslim Origins of “The Star-Spangled Banner”
Richard Moser
Transformative Movement Culture and the Inside/Outside Strategy: Do We Want to Win the Argument or Build the Movement?
Nozomi Hayase
Pathology, Incorporated: the Facade of American Democracy
David Swanson
Fredric Jameson’s War Machine
Jan Oberg
How Did the West Survive a Much Stronger Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact?
Linda Gunter
The Racism of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima Bombings
Dmitry Kovalevich
In Ukraine: Independence From the People
Omar Kassem
Turkey Breaks Out in Jarablus as Fear and Loathing Grip Europe
George Wuerthner
A Birthday Gift to the National Parks: the Maine Woods National Monument
Logan Glitterbomb
Indigenous Property Rights and the Dakota Access Pipeline
National Lawyers Guild
Solidarity with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against Dakota Access Pipeline
Paul Messersmith-Glavin
100 in Anarchist Years
August 29, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary and the Clinton Foundation: Exemplars of America’s Political Rot
Patrick Timmons
Dildos on Campus, Gun in the Library: the New York Times and the Texas Gun War
Jack Rasmus
Bernie Sanders ‘OR’ Revolution: a Statement or a Question?
Richard Moser
Strategic Choreography and Inside/Outside Organizers
Nigel Clarke
President Obama’s “Now Watch This Drive” Moment
Robert Fisk
Iraq’s Willing Executioners
Wahid Azal
The Banality of Evil and the Ivory Tower Masterminds of the 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran
Farzana Versey
Romancing the Activist
Frances Madeson
Meet the Geronimos: Apache Leader’s Descendants Talk About Living With the Legacy
Nauman Sadiq
The War on Terror and the Carter Doctrine
Lawrence Wittner
Does the Democratic Party Have a Progressive Platform–and Does It Matter?
Marjorie Cohn
Death to the Death Penalty in California
Winslow Myers
Asking the Right Questions
Rivera Sun
The Sane Candidate: Which Representatives Will End the Endless Wars?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia District Attorney Hammered for Hypocrisy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail