On Software (and Cultural) Freedom

Nina Paley, author/actor/director/animatrist of the excellent sita sings the blues, blogs about the FSF's double standards when it comes to freedom. To the FSF, Software Should Be Free!!1!, and it is willing to go to great lengths to accomplish that. For example, the FSF will create dracionian requirements on their Hardware endorsement criteria, that will most likely render it unusable, just for the remote possibility that they might convert a single soul to their religion. They will add propaganda to their documentation, and slap on a license that makes it illegal for anyone to modify or remove that propaganda. They will claim to make an update to that license, just to make their friends happy, but then do not make any effort to finish the job.

Most of all, the FSF is led by a person who deserves our respect for jumpstarting a movement that has made all this free software even possible, but whose atypical behaviour might be interfering with his message these days.

I have stated before that I'm not a member of the FSF, and that 'I have my reasons'. In case you were wondering: the above are my reasons. I can't be a member of, or be supporting of, any organization that uses such double standards in anything.

In the case of Debian, it took us a long time to come to the conclusion that the GNU FDL is a non-free license. And though we came to that conclusion through other arguments than "Culture should be free, too" (specifically, the arguments boiled down to "if it's digital, it's software, and software should be free"), I have since come to the conclusion that there is nothing special about 'digital stuff' that should mean it should be more free than 'non-digital stuff'. If I hand you a piece of music on a sheet of paper, why should you not have the right to redistribute and/or modify that, while you should have the exact same right if I were to hand you the exact same paper on a digital medium? That makes no sense.

So, in short, I agree with you, Nina: there is no Free Culture movement, and that's a shame; and while it would be nice if the FSF were to take a lead role in guiding such a movement, I find it highly unlikely that they will. The FSF may claim they care about Freedom, that doesn't mean they do; they care about Software Freedom. And while that certainly was an issue thirty years ago, when the FSF was formed, it isn't so much anymore today.

There can only be one conclusion: the FSF is obsolete.

software freedom no longer an issue?

You wrote:

[FSF] care[s] about Software Freedom. And while that certainly was an issue thirty years ago, when the FSF was formed, it isn't so much anymore today

I like the discussion on the double standard, I really do; but the above sounds quite odd to me. Saying that Software Freedom isn't so much any more an issue today is something I would love to be able to say, but that it's very far from reality or, at least, from the software reality I observe.

The software world is more and more dominated by non-free software, mostly running on computers which are away from the final users, in the so called "cloud". Several people use only that in their computing lives. Doing so, they are in much worse position than where we were when FSF was formed (as in the meantime you've even lost access to the binary).

I really wonder what is the basis for your claim above... Having reached a good availability of Free Software on desktops machines doesn't mean that the Free Software battle has been won, especially if in the meantime computations are massively moving away from desktops.

Comment by Stefano Zacchiroli (zack@debian.org) Sat 09 Jul 2011 11:01:23 AM CEST
Re: software freedom no longer an issue?

I didn't say it was no longer an issue; I said "it is not so much an issue anymore today". The difference is in "not so much". Sure, there are still battles to be faught; but today's world isn't the world it was 30 years ago.

When the FSF was formed, people thought Richard was crazy. He was fighting an uphill battle in trying to come up with a completely free computing environment. Today, there are completely free computing environments, and they can be used. It has been shown that this is viable, too, and free software is here to stay.

Yes, there are still problems, and no, I'm not saying we should stop fighting the battles that need to be fought. But it's easier to fight them today than it was 30 years ago.

Comment by wouter Sat 09 Jul 2011 11:43:31 AM CEST
These are fighting words. But I think the reality is less political and a bit more subtle, akin to what happened to Newton's physics when Einstein and quantum mechanics came long. Newton didn't become obsolete, when Einstein formulated his theories of relativity. Rather, Einstein and quantum physics extended the physics of Isaac Newton. Or, another way of looking at it, relativity and quantum physics restricted Newtonian physics to a sort of middle world between the very small on one hand and the very big and very fast.
Comment by C Sat 09 Jul 2011 10:43:56 PM CEST
Re: software freedom no longer an issue?
Sorry, when RMS started GNU, there certainly was lots of free software around, and the BSDs were rather close to be fully free. Please look around a bit, and stop falling for the rewritten history.
Comment by Horst H. von Brand Sat 09 Jul 2011 11:14:44 PM CEST
Re: software freedom no longer an issue?

Horst! What a surprise to see you here! I hope you get back and read my message/indirect greeting ;-)

Certainly, BSD was close to being complete, but still RMS made a huge, necessary contribution: Starting the ideological movement, setting a theoretical basis, and showing that it is possible at least to start that way.

Were it not for Stallman, we might have truly free software OSes, but they would have never get the traction and mindshare they got. Many of us here today were lured into Free Software many years ago first of all by ideological affinity.

Comment by Gunnar Wolf (gwolf@gwolf.org) Tue 12 Jul 2011 07:01:58 AM CEST
Yes, but

I agree with what you are saying. I found Joe's post a bit odd, but I think he's onto something. I lean more towards the visual arts (painting and photography) and I agree with Joe in that digital makes it easier to remix, but I agree with you in that this does not mean that analog makes it impossible, it just requires (much) more skill.

That said, my local experience is that most artists interested in Free Culture do not share the Free Software values, which is, I believe, the point Joe failed to make. I'd love to see a Free Culture movement, but right now I think there's close to none of that. In CC terms, there's way too many people focused on BY-NC-ND and too little on BY-SA or BY.

Comment by marcelo (mmagallo@debian.org) Tue 12 Jul 2011 05:13:05 PM CEST